REMARKS BY THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION, PROFESSOR SME BENGU, AT A MEDIA CONFERENCE TO ANNOUNCE THE ADMISSION POLICY FOR ORDINARY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AND THE AGE REQUIREMENTS FOR ADMISSION TO AN ORDINARY PUBLIC SCHOOL =- PRETORIA, 19 OCTOBER 1998
The Director-General, Dr Chabani Manganyi, heads of Provincial Education Departments, senior national and provincial officials, members of the media
Word of appreciation to the media
Last Monday, during a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers, we launched the new policy for school funding.
I acknowledge the exceptional efforts by reporters and commentators in the print and electronic media, including reporters present today, to explain and interpret the new norms and standards.
It has been a complicated story to tell. Understandably, there have been some lapses.
But overall, you have performed in the best tradition of public interest journalism.
I thank you all warmly for what you have done, and I pledge the co-operation of my Ministry in enabling you to tell the story of education transformation in this country accurately, and with due attention to all shades of opinion.
Importance of today's documents
Today, in the presence of the Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM), we are laying another part of the foundation of our national public school system.
We are fulfilling another vital aspect of our 1998/99 Action Programme. In doing so, we are responding to important research and analysis on cost efficiency and productivity in our schools, conducted by the Education Sectoral Team for the Medium Term Expenditure Framework.
Acknowledgments to all who have assisted in developing the Admissions Policy
HEDCOM has a crucial role in policy formulation, because it advises the Director-General of the national department while the policy is in its formative stages, and it also recommends the finished policy to the Council of Education Ministers.
At every step in the development of this policy, provincial voices have made their contribution.
I want to pay tribute to the constructive involvement of the national teachers' unions in the several workshops at which the policies have been hammered out.
The governing body associations have also advised the department from their perspective.
The implementation of the new policies will depend, as always, on the understanding and professionalism of educators, principals, and governing body members.
The Age-Grade Norms and Admissions Policy
Ladies and gentlemen, today's policy documents deal with the rules governing access to public schools.
For that reason, today's documents are fundamentally important for the efficient administration of a modern national school system based on sound educational principles.
Our public schools are still emerging from the legacy of division by race and ethnicity. Different rules on admission to school applied to each part of the system.
The South African Schools Act, 1996 (SASA) is the legal framework for a united school system.
Today's policy document create, for the first time in our country's history, a common administrative framework to regulate access to all ordinary public schools, in terms of SASA and the National Education Policy Act, 1996 (NEPA). In addition, they build on the best current practice in our provincial systems.
Today's policy documents will do several important things:
Firstly, the admissions policy and age-grade norms will put a stop to laissez faire practice in the admission of learners to public schools. As in any other well-organised democracy, admission to school must be regulated in accordance with good administrative practice and the educational interests of learners. We do not agree with those who suggest that because most of our people are poor, or because of redress, or for some other reason, our people should not be expected to confirm to sensible rules. These policies are designed to clean up a situation where rules of admission, if they existed, have become dead letters.
Secondly, the admissions policy and age-grade norms respect, and reinforce, the statutory obligation placed on parents to ensure the compulsory school attendance of all young learners in school. It was only on 1 January 1997, when the South African Schools Act, 1996 came into effect, that compulsory attendance of all young South African learners became a reality for the first time.
The SASA determines the ages of compulsory attendance in this way:
"Fom the first school day of the year in which the learner reaches the age of seven years until the last school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of fifteen years or the ninth grade, whichever occurs first" [section 3(1)].
The age-grade norm has therefore been determined strictly in terms of this provision of the Act. A learner must enter grade 1 in the year in which he or she turns seven, and so on throughout the school cycle.
A situation has been allowed to prevail in many public schools, where little toddlers who are far to young for grade 1 have been allowed to enroll in that grade. More often than not, they have then been compelled to repeat (if necessary more than once) until they are deemed ready to benefit from grade 2. This is an abuse. It is immensely wasteful, and it must be brought to a stop.
Thirdly, the admissions policy document permits a learner to repeat a grade for educational or other sound reasons. But any learner will be permitted to repeat a year only once in each phase of the school cycle. This will curb another serious problem, namely the phenomenon of serial repeaters.
Our document states quite correctly that little of education value is gained by such practices. They result in large numbers of young adults in our schools who ought not to be learning any longer in a school environment. They result in a significant lowering of the matriculation pass rate, since few repeaters succeed. And they result in huge and wasteful costs which we cannot afford, and which we must now begin to reclaim, and put to more productive use.
Fourthly, the documents provide vital information of admissions for parents, learners, principals, school governing bodies, and provincial education departments. Both at national and provincial level, we have an obligation to ensure that such information is disseminated widely in as accessible a form as possible.
Proper preparation and flexible implementation
Ladies and gentlemen, the age-grade norms will come into effect from 1 January 2000, to enable provincial education departments and school authorities to prepare adequately. We will give every assistance.
We recognise a great need to embark on a programme of public education, aimed particularly at parents, but also at educators and learners, and we will do so.
The new policy must be applied justly, with due respect for unusual or exceptional circumstances. Heads of provincial departments have the authority to vary the terms of the norms in such cases, if the facts warrant, and if it is in the interest of the learner.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen of the media, permit me to say that today's policy documents are not Bills, just as last Monday's National Norms and Standards on School Funding was not a Bill.
A Bill is a proposed law that is introduces in Parliament by a Minister. After debate, amendment and approval, and when it has the President's assent, it becomes an Act of Parliament.
An Act of Parliament normally provides for specific actions to be taken by Ministers, in order to implement key features of the legislation. Such actions may be in the form of regulations, or norms and standards, or policies. Such actions are not Bills, and they do not have to go to Parliament for approval.
Today's document have been determined in terms of powers vested in the Minister of Education by the National Education Policy Act, 1996 and the South African Schools Act, 1996. I repeat: today's documents are not Bills. They are not being introduced in Parliament. They have been published in the Government Gazette today and I assure you that they are fully official!
I thank you.