Ladies and Gentlemen,
It feels good to be among great women of this country together launching the Inaugural Women’s Legacy Dialogue. It is encouraging that the Inaugural Dialogue is billed as a conference that must focus on ‘what needs to change’ and on the role of women in ‘bringing about a different outcome.’
Quality education plays a fundamental role in transforming society. I therefore wish to express my sincere gratitude to the organisers for inviting me to share with you successes and challenges in education only a month after the World Cup, when we can still feel the positive energy it generated.
It is significant that this dialogue takes place in August, during Women’s Month, only 4 days after national Women’s Day. During Women’s Month, we celebrate heroic struggles of women and salute our veterans, including those who led the 1956 March: Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophy Williams, Rahima Moosa and Florence Matomela.
We also pay tribute to other pioneers and gallant leaders who were produced by the struggle: Charlotte Maxeke, Madi Hall-Xuma, Frances Baard, Dorothy Nyembe, Adelaide Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Mandela and many others.
The 1956 historic march by over 20 000 women against the draconian pass laws was a clear demonstration that women were highly politicised and well-organised. This is precisely what we must learn from them.
It is due to efforts of these selfless women, that 54 years later, women can freely gather, as we have done today, to tackle challenges facing our country and contribute to the building of a non-sexist society.
Allow me to start with a reflection of successes we have made as a country and as a Department in charge of basic education.
Clearly, South Africa is committed to transforming gender relations and to women’s empowerment. We have a progressive Constitution that guarantees the right to education, and have introduced gender-sensitive legislation, like the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act.
In 2009, Chief Statistician Pali Lehohla observed in Engendering Statistics that “the early years of the 21st century have seen great improvements in the absolute status of women globally, with gender inequalities decreasing quite substantially in a number of sectoral areas such as education and health.”
We have delivered on Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals calling for the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015. In this regard, as the Chief Statistician has confirmed:
“The primary enrolment rates of girls about doubled in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, rising faster than boys’ enrolment rates. This substantially reduced large gender gaps in schooling” (Engendering Statistics, 2009: 2).
Research has shown that 98% of young people aged 7 to 15 are involved in education programmes. Youth literacy in South Africa is at 90%, which is above the average of developing countries. The adult literacy rate has reached 77%, bringing South Africa in line with the average for developing countries.
We have developed a comprehensive Action Plan for improving basic education – Action Plan to 2014, Towards the realisation of Schooling 2025.
Despite these successes, we also have challenges including those pertaining to the implementation of Outcomes Based Education. A brief overview will enrich our understanding of where Outcomes-Based Education comes from, its challenges and reasons for its review. There are three main periods in the history of OBE in South Africa.
The first period saw the introduction of OBE by Minister Sibusiso Bhengu, in 1997, with the aim of overhauling the education system that was unequal and undemocratic.
At that stage, schools were segregated on racial lines. Classrooms for black people were massively overcrowded and teachers had limited training. Learners only learnt and knew the bare minimum given the emphasis on rote-learning. Such was the system, popularly called ‘Bantu Education’, that sparked the 1976 Students’ protests.
OBE was seen as a tool of educational transformation vital for entrenching values of a democratic and equal society bent on eradicating poverty, creating jobs and delivering a better life.
The second period was from 2000 – 2009, the period of review and implementation. OBE came under attack from inception.
Its criticism centred around the complexity of curriculum documents with which teachers had to work and teachers’ under preparedness for it as well as expectations that they would create their own learning resources.
Therefore, three years after it was introduced, former Minister Kader Asmal, second education minister of post-1994 South Africa, reviewed the curriculum, in 2000. This review tried to fix the curriculum and address the problems that had been identified.
In this period, the National Curriculum Statement was produced and implemented. But the same problems continued.
From around 2005, more concerns were raised, including teacher workload and too much time spent on paperwork. And this meant having a serious re-look at what is expected of teachers, teaching and the implementation of OBE.
The third period was from 2009 to the present. In 2009, more calls were received for a serious rethink of OBE. Minister Naledi Pandor, who took-over from Minister Asmal, established a Commission to investigate implementation-related problems.
This Commission has made proposals about how implementation of the curriculum can be strengthened so that teachers’ workload is reduced and there is more time for teaching. And this is what informs the current review of the curriculum.
Another problem with OBE is that each time people speak about it, they reflect a different understanding, obviously creating much confusion. It will help to comment on curriculum review in terms of each of these understandings, five in all.
OBE as the values that underlie our approach to transformation:
These values are embedded in the Constitution (of 1996) as well as in the outcomes we want to achieve and are expressed in the Introduction of the revised National Curriculum Statement. They revolve around the goals of healing divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and human rights.
The aim was to produce learners who would identify and solve problems, who would make decisions using critical and creative thinking, and would participate responsibly in social life. These values are central to us and they remain fundamental.
OBE as an assessment burden:
Many teachers believe that the way the curriculum is organized places too many burdens and too great a workload on them.
It does this in three ways: first, through overloading the curriculum in primary schools, second, through not spelling out clearly enough what it is that teachers should teach on a term by term basis, and third, by making them spend too much time filling in forms and reporting, rather than teaching.
The current review aims to reduce these burdens by making the curriculum easier to read and understand and by reducing the marking and reporting requirements.
OBE as a method of teaching:
Many teachers believed that OBE’s progressive methods of education for more discovery-based learning in fact meant that teachers should no longer teach. This was so fundamental a misunderstanding that in many classrooms teaching stopped altogether.
Our review of the curriculum is intended to dispel the myth that the teacher has no role in the classroom. We see the teacher’s role as being in class, on time, teaching. This means a return to teachers teaching to ensure that learners learn and the knowledge they gain is meaningful.
OBE as a curriculum requiring specific levels of subject knowledge:
It is often said that OBE requires certain levels of teacher subject knowledge. But many teachers in our schools have been negatively affected by the legacy of our past. Much more intensive and targeted professional development for teachers is therefore required. This we are fully committed to provide.
We are focusing especially on teachers’ numeracy and literacy capacities. But we are also committed to ensuring more and better exposure to both the home language and a first additional language from Grade 1. Mother tongue instruction is our starting point. But we also believe that immersion in more than one language from an early age is essential for improved learning outcomes.
OBE as a resource-intensive curriculum:
OBE had expected that teachers and learners would learn to use a variety of learning resources and not textbooks. But this assumed that teachers and learners had such resources and knew how best to use them.
It also assumed that this was equally possible in both resource-constrained and resource-rich environments.
The review has recommended that one of the major areas we should focus on is the delivery of textbooks more efficiently to schools.
If we are to improve the quality of education as the current review intends doing, we have to ensure, among other things, that each learner in each grade has a textbook for each subject.
We are aware this will not be an easy task. But working with provinces, communities, parents, teachers, and learners we can do more. Education is and has to be approached as a societal issue.
Therefore, we would have achieved desired outcomes of this Dialogue if, at the end of the day, we have agreed to work together to mobilise the entire education sector, Corporate South Africa, the labour movement and civil society as a whole, to lend a hand in improving the quality of education.
Quality education is a condition for building a better life for all our people, in particular, women and the poorest of the poor. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, rightly said:
“There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition and promote health – including helping to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.”
Lastly, to borrow a phrase from the ANC’s NGC Draft Discussion document on Strategy and Tactics (2010), it is crucial to focus on education because: “Access to quality education for all is critical not only to economic and social development, but also a key instrument of social mobility and addressing inequality.”
Government cannot bring “about a different outcome” alone. Working together we can achieve equal opportunities and progress for all.
I thank you.