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Programme Director,

Prof PH Havenga, Executive Director: Office of the Principal and Vice Chancellor,

Dr M Qhobela, Vice Principal: Institutional Development,

Prof VI McKay, Acting Executive Dean, College of Education (Chairperson for CMC Meeting),

Prof LJ van Niekerk, Acting Deputy Executive Dean, College of Education,

Prof PL Mabunda, School Director: School of Teacher Education,

Prof LDM Lebeloane, School Director: School of Educational Studies,

Members of the College Management Committee,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen.


It gives a great pleasure to be given an opportunity to participate in this dialogue on challenges and developments within the basic education sector in South Africa.  As a nation and a sector we know that teachers are central to education and teaching should be a highly valued profession. 

Looking back into the history of this University and the aspirations of the College captured in its vision and mission, one recognizes that UNISA, the pioneer of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) education programmes in Africa, continues to be the major role player in the field of education. 

The establishment of this college attests to the fact that the university is in-sync with the developments in the sector and in government.  This college can only take this role to a higher level.  Teacher education is one priority that we continue to focus on as government. Our teachers must have good knowledge of the subjects they teach, the content and pedagogic knowledge. These are the fundamentals of standard setting in any profession but these must be situated within the realities we face and the programmes within our national system.

Challenges Facing Basic Education

Programme Director, a lot has been achieved but a lot more must still to be done. Despite the government’s massive investment in education, there are still differences in the quality of education the learners get. Many schools still lack basic amenities like electricity, water, libraries and laboratories. It came as no surprise to us in the sector when South Africa’s education system was ranked 133rd out of 142 countries in the 2013 World Economic Forum index.

In their wisdom another international organisation, the Paris-based Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development put the challenges facing us succinctly in a paper released in January 2013, when they concluded: "Over 17% of public expenditure in South Africa is allocated to education, yet educational outcomes remain poor and highly unequal.”

Researchers at the Economic Co-operation and Development further argued that: "A dual education system exists in South Africa; the richest 25% of learners achieve acceptable outcomes while the average outcomes of the majority are extremely poor. Infrastructure, the number of teachers per student and teacher competency varies substantially between rich and poor schools,”

They further pointed out that: “South Africa bears the burden of a highly segregated and unequal education system inherited from the past with structural barriers that perpetuate the divide between rich and poor. Most learners attend school in their immediate neighbourhoods and the quality of schools and their success in the final matric exam; vary by the income of these neighbourhoods.”

As such, they pontificated that: “The children of poor parents attend, for the most part, low-quality primary schools that feed dysfunctional high schools with high repetition and dropout rates and low and poor-quality matric results. Children of the poor thus end up in low-quality jobs, are more likely to be unemployed and the cycle of poverty and inequality continues."

In short, the huge chunks of the apartheid education legacy still permeate our lives and, let us be clear, this can only be remedied by a fundamental restructure of various segments of society, more so those that have a direct bearing on education. I will expand on this point later in my address.

We have also observed that there is negative legacy of too many children who graduate from primary school but never reach Matriculation level. Only about 50% of all the learners who join our education system reach matriculation after 12 years of learning.

As result we have put in motion a plan in conjunction with our schools to support learners who are struggling with their learning. The grand idea is not fail them simply because they are slow learners. We now know the repercussions of repeated failure – learners become demotivated and drop out of school.

We are also facing a huge challenge of shortage of Science and Mathematics educators. This is compounded by the challenge of slow learner participation and success rates.

Another independent view of the challenges facing the sector comes from the Dreams to Reality Foundation which assists learners through providing extra tuition that is high quality, individually focused and flexible, and also helps with volunteers’ placements throughout South Africa. The foundation has also offered what they believe is a correct diagnosis of challenges facing our system. In a twelve point list of challenges they pointed out the following:

a.     Children are coming out of the schooling system without having mastered the three basic R’s of education that is the ability to Read, wRite and do basic aRithmetics.

b.    South African teachers do not have the basic pedagogic and content knowledge competencies needed to impart the skills needed by our learners.

c.     Resources are being used in a non-efficient manner with little accountability and transparency.

d.    Inadequate organizational support to teachers and bureaucracy in the educational department.

e.     Constant shift in South Africa’s educational curriculum.

f.     Failure of the Provincial Education Departments to deliver on their core responsibilities.

g.    South African learners do not have a culture of reading and a lack the motivational push to learn from their community and families.

h.     Teacher late-coming, absenteeism and an inability to enact the basic functions of teaching are endemic in many South African schools.

i.      Power dynamics at play between a seemingly all-powerful teachers’ union (SADTU) and the State.

j.      Lack of basic amenities, infrastructure and learning resources in South African townships and rural schools.

k.     Many learners in South African townships and rural areas come from families affected by poverty and hunger. Compounding the problem of course is that the majority of these learner’s parents are themselves having little or no education themselves.

l.      A lost generation of learners (drop outs) who are not educated nor working because of the state of South Africa’s education system.

These independent researchers and education specialists seem to have made just the right diagnoses similar to what our developmental blueprint the National Development Plan, concluded in November 2011 – The NDP says,

“Despite many positive changes since 1994, the legacy of low-quality education in historically disadvantaged parts of the school system persists. This seriously hampers the education system’s ability to provide a way out of poverty for poor children. The grade promotion of learners who are not ready in the primary and early secondary phases leads to substantial dropout before the standardised matric examination”.

Developments and Prospects for the Basic Education Sector

Sector Priorities 2014-2019

1.     Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

To respond to these myriad challenges as a sector we have resolved that we have to take the bull by its horns. Our priorities are anchored on a radical shift from the business usual approach of convening conferences and symposia to talk and make speeches. We have entered an era of business unusual.

It is within this context that the Council of Education Ministers’ (CEM) has resolved that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is to be one of our Fast Big Projects (BFR). The Big Fast Project methodology was first applied by the Malaysian Government successfully, in the delivery of its economic transformation programme.

His Excellency President Jacob Zuma first announced the adaptation of this methodology during his reply to the State of the Nation Address debate in June 2014. He renamed the methodology Operation Phakisa. Phakisa is a Sesotho word, which means “Hurry Up”, this highlights the urgency with which government wants to deliver on some of the priorities encompassed in the National Development Plan (NDP). The President said the methodology was designed to answer fundamental implementation questions and find solutions, as the country tries to address poverty, inequality and unemployment, among other challenges, as stipulated in the NDP 2030. 

We have in the basic education sector through the CEM, a body that represents all nine MEC’s and the Basic Education Ministry resolved that all schools should be ICT enabled and compliant by 2019.

To achieve this radical transformation agenda, we have already developed a preliminary business process plan on how to succeed in this area. We have also resolved that there should a conditional grant for ICT. Talks with the Treasury in this regard have begun in earnest. In addition, we have also resolved that the preliminary business process plan that we have developed need further scrutiny, and as such it will be referred to the Operation Phakisa Lab as part of broadening participation. The Operation Phakisa Labs are part of the business process to find fast big solutions to our intricate problems.

The Operation Phakisa Lab on ICT comprising of the Department of Basic Education experts, independent ICT experts, international bodies such as the World Bank and our own education stakeholders was launched by the Minister Angie Motshekga on the 10th December 2014.

The Operation Phakisa Lab focusses on four main strategic objectives namely, a) Electronic content resource development and distribution, b) ICT professional development for management, teaching and learning, c) Access to ICT infrastructure and lastly  d) Connectivity.

This process is driven at the highest office in the land i.e. The Presidency. This just gives you the snapshot of what we are doing in this area. It is a ‘Business Unusual’ approach.

DBE iCloud & TV

Some other exciting developments happening at DBE include the digitalisation of our workbooks/textbooks, imminent launch of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) iCloud and DBE TV in later this year.

Classrooms of the Future

On the 12th of September 2014 I had the rare honour and privilege to speak at the launch of the first of its kind for South Africa – a virtual school known as the UKUFUNDA Virtual School. Together with our partners, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) South Africa and Mxit Reach we have taken this giant leap in adopting the 21st century learning, teaching and professional development tool for our country. The launch of the virtual school represented the most important innovation in the South African education system.

UKUFUNDA Virtual School offers a wide range of free and open Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) aligned learning resources that can be accessed on more than 8000 mobile devices - from low-end mobile phones to high-end smart phones and tablets. It offers access to tutors, counsellors, mentors, coaches, and librarians. It is more like having a virtual school in your pocket.

The school contains a wide range of digital resources, tools and applications that support teaching, learning and teacher professional development.

2.     Teacher Deployment and Placement

There is now a greater policy certainty around Teacher Deployment and Placement.  We have completed a nationwide teacher profiling which has provided us with a useful and accurate information i.e. skills base of our workforce.

This information will eliminate previous problems wherein Provincial Education Departments’ (PEDs) couldn’t deploy teachers correctly resulting in qualified teachers teaching subjects that they are not qualified to teach; teachers in addition to staff establishments not being deployed; vacancies remaining vacant for long periods of time; forecasting of the type of teachers that need to be trained being inaccurate.

And, sadly in some cases this resulted in the slow pace of placement of the Funza Lushaka and other bursars. These and other challenges will soon be the thing of the past.

3.     LTSM

A total revamp of the manner we are dealing with the provision of Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM) is in the offing. We are now moving ahead with our plan to provide each learner - one textbook per-grade per-subject as per the recommendations of the NDP. We will achieve this milestone through a centralized or transversal procurement process to maximize economies of scale.

4.     Infrastructure (March towards the 100th  ASIDI School Milestone )

On infrastructure we are closely looking at costing, maintenance and management of all school buildings and physical plant to enable more effective use of infrastructure funds including development and transparency of unit costs. There is great impetus in improving infrastructure through new built programme and maintenance. We are also focusing on the provision of basic services such as water, electricity and sanitation. 

All this is done under the auspices of our ground-breaking built programme dubbed Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI)

Programme Director I am pleased to announce that nationally, (ASIDI) has to date delivered 97 state-of-the-art facilities in rural and economically depressed areas to give all our children a more equal shot at life. These are indeed dividends of democracy.

We are excited at the prospect of reaching the 100th School milestone within weeks from now. Our thinking is that when we reach the 100th ASIDI School mark, there should bells and whistles. Planning in this regard has already begun. We might even get the President of the country to do the honours of handing over the 100th School to the deserving community. This is indeed a significant milestone. As we always maintained we do indeed have a Good Story to Tell.

Throughout the length and breadth of our beautiful country we seek to deliver 527 state-of-the-art schools through ASIDI. By the time we complete this mammoth task we would have provided water, sanitation and electricity to 1000 schools as part of restoring dignity to our people.

Further progress on infrastructure include

a)     108 – Other schools under construction.

b)    342 – Schools that have received water for the first time.

c)     351 – Schools that have received decent sanitation.

d)    288 – Schools that have been connected to electricity.

5.     Districts’ Support

We have created a new model for districts’ support and monitoring. This gives us a better view of districts’ improvement plans implementation. The plan to strengthen district operations has been packaged around four key pillars.

These are:

1) Ensuring a clear mandate and effective structure for districts through implementable but flexible norms and standards derived from existing policy.

2) Ensuring the appointment of the right people in the right roles in all districts, and raising the bar on accountability.

 3) Defining/norming a minimum resource package for district officials’ in-order for them to do their work properly.

4) Guide and improve effectiveness of school support through codified but flexible essential routines and operations.

6.     Library Services

To improve reading we have taken a giant step in this regard. Through our partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) we have secured R78 million to provide library and information services to 150 secondary schools and 1024 primary schools especially in Limpopo and Eastern Cape in 2015 alone.  

There is a comprehensive plan in place to ensure that every school in the country by 2019 has some type of library and information services.

a)     Establishment of 1 000 fully functional school libraries by 2019

Minister Motshekga announced last week a fast track programme to deliver 1 000 fully functional school libraries by 2019. Schools that have existing libraries that are not functioning have been selected for the campaign. The benefiting schools where the libraries will be established have been allocated to the provinces on pro rata basis according to the number of schools in the province. The criteria for the selection of the schools were as follows:

  • There must be an existing structure.
  • The structure must have minimal resources.
  • The structure must be located within a functioning school environment.
  • The school must be serving historically disadvantaged learners.


The Department will develop a framework for collaboration with key departments like Department of Arts and Culture, stakeholders and interested social partners. Many organisations are at present involved in promoting reading and libraries in South African schools. The Department plans to coordinate these efforts and ensure synergy. The National Lottery is also likely to provide funds for school libraries. The programmes of SABC Education should also be aligned with the programmes of the DBE.

b)    Promoting Reading and School Libraries

As stated in the National Development Plan (NDP), South Africa needs a high quality education system with globally competitive literacy and numeracy standards. An intensive effort is therefore needed to promote reading in our schools and develop reading skills.

Research has shown that access to a wide range of interesting and relevant reading resources, both stories and information, has the largest impact on reading levels for home language and additional languages. In a study commissioned by Reading is Fundamental, the meta-analysis of 44 rigorous studies on the impact of access to reading materials found that access improves children’s reading performance, the amount they read and their attitudes to reading and learning. The development of different models of school libraries is essential to provide access to such reading resources.

While there are a number of provinces that have made progress with the provisioning of school libraries, a great deal remains to be done.

For this reason Minister Motshekga has initiated a campaign based on the theme that says:  “A reading nation is a leading nation”.

7.     Rural Schools (Multi-grade, Farm & non-viable

In the interest of maximum utilization of limited resources we have embarked on the process of merges, closures, rationalization, and twining of non-viable schools.

The problem is more acute in rural schools especially schools we refer to as farm schools. However our focus is system-wide – also looking at Multi-Grade, and Small schools even in urban environment.

We have created the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure. These regulations have created a clear legal position on what constitutes a small or large school. It should come as no surprise therefore when certain non-viable schools are closed, merged or twinned with their more resource intensive counterparts. 

8.     Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST)

There is also a special focus on Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST). We have already established the MST Directorate to drive the sector improvement mandate at the Basic Education. Consequently, we have also de-established the Dinaledi and Technical Schools Conditional Grants into the new combined and system-wide grant to be known as MST conditional grant.  A special Big Fast Results Operation Phakisa Lab on MST is underway to develop a long-term strategy in improving the teacher content knowledge on these subjects and greater learner participation and success rate.


9.     Curriculum 

The universal free and compulsory quality education as dictated by the 60 year old Freedom Charter will be predicated on a sound curriculum and quality teachers. In the arena of curriculum, we have finally found a winning formula. We have transformed our curriculum, with the latest implementation of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) to ensure that it is accessible to all our educators and learners.

Our curriculum has also been benchmarked against leading nations in the world and found to be comparable, confirming that our standards are comparable to the best in the world.

The year 2014 marked the completion of the implementation of CAPS throughout the education system. It was a year when the first cohort of Grade 12 learners wrote the CAPS-aligned final examinations for the National Senior Certificate. This now signals stability in the curriculum landscape.

I can assure the nation today that there is no plan in the pipeline to tinker with CAPS as policy certainty and curriculum stability are important ingredients for the delivery of quality basic education in our lifetime. We are only focusing on development of business process, planning and monitoring capacity to ensure full curriculum implementation and coverage. There is an Operation Phakisa Mini-Lab focusing on Curriculum and Teacher Development.

10.  Incremental Introduction of African Languages

On the Incremental Introduction of African Languages great strides are being made. Our pilot project is this regard has reached Grade 2 in 248 schools and we are targeting 48 Free State school in Grade this year. 

This programme will be rolled out throughout the country as resources both monetary and human become available.

11.  History

We are contemplating making the teaching of History as a subject compulsory. Research has also shown that History is an important subject to promote social cohesion and valuing diversity by demonstrating the contributions of different race, ethnic, religious etc. groups to the liberation struggle and to the long term development of the country.

Evidence form the Sri Lankan Education Ministry’s Social Cohesion Programme indicated that history as a compulsory examinable subject contributed to the promotion of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Sri Lankan identity.

The Education Ministry in post conflict Northern Ireland ensured that learners had experience of Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU), which is a compulsory part of the school curriculum and Cultural Heritage programmes. These programmes are designed to ensure that learners learn about each other's traditions, history, and culture. The EMU programme addresses the need for children to feel confident in their own identities, while the Cultural Heritage programme helps them learn about the religious and political beliefs of the other communities in Northern Ireland.

As a sector, we are conducting conduct research to determine whether it would be advisable for South Africa to make History a compulsory subject.

12.  Inclusive Education

In the area of Inclusive Education, we have established the District Based Support Teams (DBST) to promote inclusive education through training; curriculum delivery; distribution of resources; addressing barriers to learning; leadership and general management.

The DBSTs are made up of a group of departmental professionals consisting of transversal representation from a range of Units and not only Inclusive Education.

Provincial Education Departments have achieved varied success in establishing functional DBSTs. We will continue to monitor this through our District support mechanism I spoke about earlier.

13.  Immediate Interventions

Through the Annual National Assessment (ANA) we have identified areas for challenges throughout the different phases with the senior phase being your killer phase. If you recall, last year our performance ANA with a specific reference Mathematics was under 15% and you will agree that this is a national disaster! We must agree that this is an embarrassment to us as a sector but a major challenge to take drastic steps because the situation is indeed desperate.

Amongst others we have established a Maths office - they are rolling the 4+1, programme. The programme simply means one day a week preferable Monday is set aside for teacher training on the week’s curriculum content.  The grand idea is that while teachers are fresh from training, they then can impart knowledge to the learners in the remaining four days.

This is indeed a desperate programme to deal with a desperate situation.

Diagnostic Self-Assessment for Teachers

In addition, we have begun to implement the Diagnostic Self-Assessment for Teachers in Aptis- English First Additional Language. To date 612 teachers have been undergone necessary testing in all nine provinces. From July 2015, this roll-out will be followed with a Diagnostic Self-Assessment of Teachers offering Mathematics.

In this endeavour we are assisted by our state-of-the-art Teacher Centres’. I am happy to report that we now have 141 Teacher Training Centres (including 60 that are fully ICT compliant supported by our generous partner Vodacom). We firmly hold a view that the classroom is a centre piece of learning and teaching. And, at the core of this learning and teaching is a competent and confident Teacher. Teachers are the backbone of any functional education system. It is within this context that we decided that the best way to deliver quality education is to continuously upgrade the content knowledge of our teachers. We have set a target of 500 teachers to be tested per Teacher Centre in 2015. 

The Department of Basic Education will also be finalising the development of Accounting and Physical Science Diagnostic Self-Assessment by end of 2015.

By the end of the 2015/16 financial year we would have completed four (4) subjects using the Science Diagnostic Self-Assessment tool.

These assessments will assist the Department to determine the content gaps and other needs of teachers and determine focussed Teacher Development Programmes.

This initiative has a direct impact on the functionality of Teachers Centres.  The success of the Diagnostic Self-Assessment is directly dependent on the viability of Teacher Centres’ as hubs for professional development.  The Department expects Provincial Education Departments’ to support these hubs.  The Mpumalanga Education Department has made a commitment to recapitalize all Teachers Centres’ in 2015/16 financial year. These plan augers well in meeting our targets of 500 tested teachers per Teachers’ Centre. The Minister has announced that the Diagnostic Self-Assessments as a tool will be launched nationally in May 2015.

ANA results amongst others revealed that we have to work with our teachers in both mathematical skills and language. It also revealed that schools don't complete the curriculum for different reasons including lack of respect for teaching time. As I’ve explained in details our short, medium and long term plans, I can assure you all that we are on top of the situation. Having said that education remains a societal issue hence we will need all help we get muster to achieve our ambitious targets.

Having outlined all of these challenges and interventions I have tacitly been pointing to the areas that we would like the UNISA College to consider in its current and future work.  Opportunities for the specific application of these can be achieved through the opportunities that exist in the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development and the Minimum requirements for Teacher Education qualifications.  We would like to urge the college to have further discussions with DBE and DHET officials on the details.    

In conclusion, we appreciate the invitation extended to us to discuss these critical matters and for your willingness to participate in the process of taking further the gains made and meet the varied challenges in the field. We have pledged that we shall spare neither strength nor courage to see to it that the South African children regardless of class, gender colour or creed receive quality education in our lifetime.

I thank you.

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Speech delivered by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education Honourable Mr. Enver Surty at the Dialogue on the Challenges and Developments within Basic Education sector held at the Unisa College


Written By: abdullah hendricks
Date Posted: 3/16/2015
Number of Views: 11259
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