Opening remarks at Council of Education Ministers’ meeting by Mrs Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education
2 Jun 2011
Deputy Minister Surty
Heads of provincial departments of education
Officials and staff,
I think we all feel some measure of relief since the Implementation Forum for Basic Education has been duly constituted and, going forward, should be able to discharge its duties as required.
We’ve all taken note of progress made and current challenges some of which are to be expected as this route is a first for all of us.
But nobody has to remind us that to the extent that we fulfil the terms of the Delivery Agreement which, with pen in hand, we signed, so shall we stand or fall.
In the past few weeks, we all took to the podium to account to the people and to share our plans for the current financial year with all our provinces and the nation, entreating provincial legislatures and Parliament to approve our budgets.
Boldly, and with much resolve, we articulated specific areas of focus on which we vowed to deliver, sparing neither strength nor courage.
The action plan
Our task is therefore to deliver on those goals we set freely and publicly committed to achieve. Linked to this is the whole question of aligning all our efforts to both the Delivery Agreement and the Action Plan.
It is quite critical for all of us to align our plans to the Action Plan ensuring they all speak to the strategic direction and outputs we’ve committed to. If we fail to substantially move on this endeavour, then the delivery-driven education system we undertook to build will never see the light of day.
There’s much we need to sort out at National Office, and have started doing so, including the whole realignment of the department which must be harmonised with the dictates of our new mandate. Council of Education Ministers (CEM) will be kept abreast of this process as it will no doubt impact on our modus operandi.
Even before we presented our budget for 2011/12, we convened, with Deputy Minister Surty, a series of meetings with Branches to track and influence progress in line with our commitment to make 2011 an even better year than 2010.
Colleagues will recall that we reported on our resolve to convene such meetings at the January (2011) meeting. This matter of defending the gains we made in 2010 will find more expression under “Matters Arising” when we consider progress reports on intervention strategies for improving Grade 12 performance (A.6.2). It is a matter whose importance was underscored by the April CEM meeting, in Cape Town.
Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QLTC)
We have invited teacher union leaders to come and discuss the QLTC programme with us. We should remember that this is a partnership programme and no party should decide unilaterally on a programme jointly agreed and developed.
I guess after this we will need a process to again relook at the campaign. Definitely, with time passing by, there is clearly a need to reassess the relevance of our strategies for current times.
The campaign remains critical for mobilising communities and stakeholders in the context of ‘education as a societal issue’.
Deputy Minister Surty will speak to proposed amendments to the agenda, but I wish to refer to just a few items.
Annual National Assessments - a substantive issue
Given the importance of Annual National Assessments (ANA) to the nation and to the agenda of education transformation we’ve set in motion, we believe it is imperative to handle it as a substantive matter.
The nation awaits the outcome of the first ANA with bated breath. We’re also looking forward to the finalisation of the process, particularly given the fact that we could not adhere to the initial date we’d set due to the amount of work required to complete such an assessment covering millions of learners.
Most importantly, as we said when we laid down the rationale for embarking on such an exercise, we are eager to finalise the process as it must yield critical information on what it is we need to do substantially to improve learning outcomes.
It is for this reason, in spite of time constraints, that we have charged our examinations team with the task of preparing a substantive analysis of ANA results. We want to be and have got to be thorough in this process so that we can use lessons thereof in our preparations for the 2012 ANA.
We all, as the national department and provincial education departments, have a duty to turn ANA into a key instrument, like matric exams, and utilise it effectively to showcase the new direction we are taking to turn the corner. An honest appraisal of ANA is therefore critical.
International studies on assessments tell us that the value of these tests is mainly determined by the readiness of the system to understand and use them strategically in their education policies, plans and programmes. It is therefore very important for us to do just that; by ensuring that they are integrated in our plans and their outcomes are fully utilised to inform the system.
In view of the fact that we are only receiving ANA results today from theHuman Sciences Research Council (HSRC), we are unable to give a full analysis of its findings at this meeting and therefore propose that we should arrange a short special CEM meeting on the day we will be reading the results to the public.
Whilst we will only be releasing Grade three and six results only to the public, as a sector we need to analyse all these (grades) results and discuss their utilisation by the sector.
I must share with you colleagues that in terms of the Eastern Cape, the plan was first to allow the province to stabilise on the key destabilisation factors of temporary teachers, collapsed scholar transport, the school nutrition programme and the non-delivery of books.
On the Eastern Cape court case, the judge ruled that the province should reemploy temporary teachers. Yes, this has indeed taken place and the problem continues with the province threatening to even double its 2010 overspending.
The province had decided to transfer scholar transport to the department of transport and decentralise school nutrition to schools.
Though not finally running perfectly I can assure colleagues that progress is being made.
The next phase of the plan involved dealing with the difficult parts of underlying problems which had led to this crisis which, in summary, revolve around management of excess teachers, displaced teachers and many other problems such as ghost teachers.
You would know that problems included challenges around financial management, organisational culture, educational planning, implementation and monitoring, I have to admit that the province is working very hard to deal with the challenges and they need to be commended for that.
As national, we have deployed Mr Mweli as a leader of the intervention team in the province and he will be working with teams from Department of Basic Education (DBE), National Treasury and the Department of Public Service and Administration.
Colleagues, based on the reports we received from the Auditor General’s office, Umalusi, Treasury, National Education and Evaluation Unit (NEEDU) and the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS), a number of our provinces are hovering over some of these very dangerous trappings that can be as disastrous as the situation in the Eastern Cape. We will be visiting provinces with the Deputy Minister and will want provinces to begin to address concerns raised by these bodies about their performance and share with us how they are responding.
Literacy and Numeracy Strategy
On the presentation of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, through the office of the Director-General, we have already requested provinces to send us their Literacy and Numeracy strategies. We will examine these, and against the United Nations model, give you feedback on our views.
We would also want to hear from you on how these strategies are monitored through provincial monitoring tools.
I have also planned that after receiving your strategies, we will request Gauteng and the Western Cape to come and share their reading strategies, and any province interested could also present. The idea is to share best models, critique one another and learn from each other.
Central procurement of textbooks
On central procurement of textbooks, we are working with national Treasury to investigate the implementation of this decision along the model that has been used for managing ARV’s procurement.
To avoid confusion and complications around existing contracts, the first phase will look at the phasing in of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) resources and within three years hopefully the country would be having a procurement programme that puts first the interest of learners before that of business.
Whilst appreciating the importance of building vibrant businesses, the priority would be on ensuring that there are adequate books in the hands of teachers and learners.
We felt that the issue of Literacy and Numeracy Workbooks is for noting. We have learnt from the previous challenges and will this time have a more efficient system.
It will be important again if provinces also share with us their views and recommendations on how these books, content and method in particular, could be further improved. Professor MacKay would no doubt appreciate this.
Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi)
As agreed last November, Asidi (Item A.6.4.1) remains one of our flagship programmes for 2011.
It is precisely for this reason that it is prioritised in the 2011 State of the Nation Address and in our Budget Vote speech.
Improving gate-way subjects
The same goes for gate-way subjects (under Item A.6.2). They remain equally important. It is this that informed the January request to provinces to prepare intervention strategies on how to improve performance in Physical Science, Geography, Economics and Civil Technology. Again, just as is the case with intervention strategies for Grade 12, implementation and delivery are operative words in this regard.
I found the report on school furniture to be extremely eye-opening, and thus the thought to bring it before this council. In future, we’ve got to look more carefully at the norms and standards for school furniture and consider a review of provincial specifications on this matter.
From the report, it is disturbing to note that our systems are unable to give us reliable information on a key matter such as transport. Most provinces had earlier reported that they did not have serious challenges with furniture but the report reveals otherwise. What is even worrying is the wasteful qualities we use to buy and maintain this resource.
I visited a school in one of the provinces and discovered that a heap of plastics clearly showing that quality is a major problem. We cannot support capital at the expense of our children. We don’t buy poor quality furniture in our homes and have our own children sitting on crates and all sorts of things, so we should not do that to our learners.
Support to teachers and schools
As a sector, we remain seized with the mammoth task of seriously impacting on and reaching out to the main protagonists in the classroom, where it all matters – the teaching force.
Of late, the staff here has taken a keen interest in McKinsey’s report on How the world’s best-performing school systems come out top (2007). A principle that appears to have captured their imagination is that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” (Ibid, p. 40).
You would know of the efforts we must take in recruiting the right talent for this noble profession to counter the conventional wisdom of reserving for teaching all those who could not find something better to do. To this we must add the dreary subject of excess teachers some in total recess.
To cap it all, these groups of teachers, old and new, suffer from a common enemy – inadequate, if not invisible support from districts. And districts would say, it is the provinces, and so goes the witch-hunt, as in Salem.
Colleagues will recall that I reported to Parliament that “we’re very worried that 18 of our districts are underperforming; and we are very much aware that provinces are also not performing satisfactorily in different areas”.
After making all sorts of commitments to the nation, it is indeed disheartening to be asked to respond to media reports saying many schools have not received allocations from provinces.
I believe, this is one matter deserving due attention if we’re serious about making 2011 an even better year than 2010.
As committed in the budget vote speech, in the month of May I’ve interacted with the Auditor-General to start addressing as a matter of urgency the concerns raised regarding our provinces, mainly the six sitting with the ugly speck of qualified reports.
DBE officials are also engaging provinces on this matter. We have given a clear directive that resources and support should be dedicated largely to the six provinces requiring assistance.
In October 2010, when we signed the Delivery Agreement, we pledge[d] ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage (Freedom Charter) until we had laid the foundation for and set our country firmly on an irreversible trajectory of an improved quality of basic education.
Now, as we speak, we are into the eighth month of the Delivery Agreement and therefore, in every issue we tackle, we have to ask ourselves whether or not we are doing so in a manner that is consistent with the spirit of this Agreement. Thus, the importance of this morning’s meeting.
How we tackle issues should help us say if our efforts and methods appropriately advance Outcome 1 of the 12 Outcomes of national democratic South Africa, that is, an improved quality of basic education.
You will recall the level of emphasis we placed on the imperative of implementation starting with the CEM Meeting of November 2010, wherein, without mincing words, we called for “an urgent need for a big leap”.
We said at the time: "We need a big leap if we are to achieve any of our targets in the Delivery Agreement."
This is exactly the same message we took to the National Assembly in April 2011, when we opened the debate on our budget vote, under the theme – “A delivery-driven basic education system” – and committed to consolidate our efforts with a Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit.
I therefore invite all of us to help ensure, through conscious participation and meticulous implementation of decisions, that the agenda of CEM consolidates all efforts aimed at achieving an improved quality of schooling for our country’s children, in every province, every district and every school.
Supplementary examination results
Before closing, allow me to share a bitter-sweet experience – results of the 2011 supplementary exams. It is a sweet experience because there was a marked increase in performance across all provinces, ranging from 0.9% to 2.8%. National performance increased by 2%, from 67.8% to an overall national performance of 69.8%.
The bitter side of the coin is the unsettling number of candidates who do not sit for their supplementary exams, thus calling into question the very logic of investing limited resources in this exercise. Of the 101 904 candidates enrolled only 78 423 wrote; 23 481 candidates staged a ‘no show’. Clearly, this is food for thought.
Lastly, an interesting line I think we should always bear in mind, as a receipt for success, from McKinsey’s report, is that: “Success will go to those individuals and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change”.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Basic Education
2 Jun 2011
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