Minister Angie Motshekga: Basic Education Sector Lekgotla

Keynote Address by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, at the Basic Education Sector Lekgotla held at the Saint George Hotel, Pretoria

Programme Director

Deputy Minister: Mr. Enver Surty

All MECs present

DBE Director General: Mr. Mweli Mathanzima

Heads of Provincial Education Departments

District Directors

All Senior Officials

All Education Stakeholders’ Representatives

Organised Labour

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Morning, Sanibonani, Molweni,

Programme Director, I am indeed privileged and honoured to address you this morning as we officially open the 2017 Basic Education Sector Lekgotla.

Programme Director, this year our country celebrates a centenary of the Struggle icon, Mr. Oliver Reginald Tambo. Fondly known as O.R. Tambo � he was a fervent anti-apartheid activist and revolutionary who led the African National Congress (ANC) for more than two decades. Comrade O.R. was born in Bizana, in 1917.

In his address at the funeral of Comrade O.R. Tambo, held in Johannesburg on the 2nd May 1993, the late founding father of the new South Africa, President Nelson Mandela said:

Oliver lived not because he could breathe. He lived not because blood flowed through his veins Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people. He lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an aspiration, a vision.

Today, I invoke the spirit of O.R. for two reasons: 1) He was an exemplary student, a mathematician and a teacher. 2) As President Mandela said, O.R. lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an aspiration, a vision.

Programme Director, we have to ask today whether our teachers, educationists and education managers embody the spirit of O.R � that of hard-work, honesty and selflessness? Do we have a clear idea of the true state of our basic education today? Are our teachers an embodiment of hope and inspiration to their learners? We, as political principals, do we have a clear vision for the future of the African child in particular and all South African children in general? Do we really love our children – considering that we are the custodians of their dreams?

Programme Director; these may sound like rhetorical questions, but in fact, these questions ought to jolt us into action as we begin 2017. There could be no success in the basic education sector until we collectively display the characteristics of O.R – love, hope, aspiration, and vision.

This 2017 sector Lekgotla comes hot on the heels of our announcements of the 2016 National Senior Certificate (NSC) Examination results. We announced the results with fanfare and aplomb buoyed by the upward trajectory of in the NSC Examination results. Well done to the Class of 2016!

In this regard, we convey our sincere gratitude to all MECs, Heads of Education Departments, District Directors, teachers and principals for the job well done. We can indeed pat ourselves on the back for this achievement of the Class of 2016.

We certainly have started 2017 on a positive note. The early indications from the school functionality visits by various officials and political principals show that it is all systems go for the Class of 2017.

However, history has taught us that to sustain the positive first-day momentum – schools require consistent monitoring on basic schools functionality issues. We urge all provinces to pay particular attention on the following matters:

Appointment of teachers for all grades and subjects

Timely procurement and delivery of LTSMs

Infrastructure maintenance and refurbishment.

Water and dignified sanitation

Learner Transport

Dealing decisively with the nitty-gritties of admission and registration

Programme Director; this Lekgotla cannot afford not to take a critical look at the recent international benchmarks tests. The results of recent international studies, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015 and the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ IV) show that the performance of South African learners is improving, symptomatic of a system in an upward trajectory.

The TIMSS 2015 results confirmed noteworthy growth patterns; which when compared with other countries since 2003 at the Grade 9 level, South Africa has shown the largest improvement of 87 points in Mathematics, and 90 points in Science.

The preliminary SACMEQ IV study results further affirmed the upward trends; and showed that for the first time, South African learners at the Grade 6 level achieved Mathematics scores above the significant centre point of 500 points. More importantly, the largest gains were evident within the historically disadvantaged sections of the school system.

We must understand these results in the context of what one education analyst has dubbed: a poorly functioning but slowly improving system. Simply put, this is not the time to pop the champagne yet. The positive trends in these international studies come off a low base. We must do more to address low participation rates and poor learner outcomes in Mathematics, Physical Science and Languages. We must redouble of our efforts to ensure that our learners have age-appropriate reading and numeracy skills.

Programme Director; it will be remiss of me if I do address the issue that dominated headlines towards the end of last year � the so called 20 percent Mathematics pass rate. The breast-beating and teeth-grinding discontent generated by a policy shift last year to no longer make Mathematics compulsory in Grades 7, 8, and 9 is unwarranted. In responding to the hullabaloo, the so called 20 percent pass requirement scandal, the University of KwaZulu-Natal academic, Professor Wayne Hugo summed it up succinctly, he said of our policy shift: It’s a good short-term decision for a poorly functioning but slowly improving system.

Programme Director; nobody of sane mind can argue against the importance of Mathematics education, or Mathematics and Science-based careers. The need for science-based education is as old as humankind and will be useful for as long evolution continues unabated. That said – we must not fall into the trap of making Mathematics the be-all and end-all of our education system.

In all honesty, we came to the policy decision to let thousands of learners’ progress to the next Grade without having passed Mathematics because the effects of Grade repetition are dire. We opted to work with scientific research that shows that pupils who fail lose interest, drop-out, become problematic, and act out. We are alive to the fact that Grade repetition enormously increases ineffiencies in the system as a whole. In short, there are no 20 percent promotional requirements anywhere in our system.

Programme Director; we convened this sector Lekgotla to address one of the key perennial problems in the sector � i.e. learner drop out, grade repetition and low throughput rate.

In this regard, we must accelerate progress in the implementation of the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA). The NSLA is an overarching Integrated Framework in order to address all issues that contribute to under-performance in the system and includes a reporting tool which informs provincial and district activities and programmes to improve overall learner performance in line with Action Plan to 2019 � Toward Schooling 2030.

It is clear that if we have to further improve the outputs of the schooling system, we will have to continue to improve the fundamental quality of learning and teaching well before Grade 12. Research is showing that the major root causes of dropping out of school towards the end of secondary school are weak learning foundations.

Therefore, the most important priority must be to improve the quality of learning and teaching in the early Grades, so as to ensure that learners are equipped with the skills needed to cope with the curriculum requirements of the higher Grades. We are therefore increasingly prioritising interventions and policies that target an improved quality of learning and teaching, and implementing accountability systems to ensure that outcomes are achieved.

The Action Plan to 2019: Towards the realisation of Schooling 2030 represents a unified sector plan to coordinate and focus activities on a set of goals, with measurable indicators attached. The National Strategy for Learner Attainment attempts to give effect to the targets set out in the Action Plan by committing to specific strategies to improve learning and teaching in the schooling system.

Another specific way to prioritise an improving quality of basic education is to foreground learning outcomes in the activities throughout the sector, especially literacy and numeracy outcomes in primary school. The redesigning and strengthening of a national assessments system is a current focus to this end. A well-functioning national assessment system is critical if the sector is to be united in pursuing better learning outcomes. The National Development Plan (NDP) enjoins us to strengthen accountability and improve management at the school, community and district level. It further states that by 2030 we must achieve a target of 450 000 learners being eligible for a Bachelors programme with Maths and science.

Programme Director; to achieve these noble goals and targets, it cannot be business as usual. We need to ramp up consequence management throughout the sector. We cannot bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich when there are schools that recorded a zero percent pass rate, when districts achieve below 50 percent and some provinces continuously perform below 60 percent. As political principals, we must refuse to be like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed on manure. We must demand accountability at all levels. We must restore the classroom to its heydays as Holy Grail of teaching and learning.

Programme Director; this Lekgotla must distinguish itself from many conferences, and symposia that are a dime a dozen in the sector with no discernable implementable outcomes. We must learn to be results driven. We must focus on improving the lot for the African child in particular and South African children in general.

Programme Director; we must accept that the condition of the African Child is in a nervous condition. Our children are plagued by higher rate of teenage pregnancies, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and bullying amongst others. Compounding these social ills is the general high disease burden in South Africa – made worse by the rapid increase in new HIV infections among young girls and AIDS related deaths of parents and care-givers. This is a tinderbox, or a deadly cocktail – these coalesce to make a Better Life for the African Child an uphill climb. There must a paradigm shift in the education of the African Child � the issues of Care and Support must foreground any attempts at improving learner outcomes. We can no longer afford to treat Care and Support as a Cinderella programme of what is referred to as core curricula activities. Curriculum coverage and social support for our learners is not mutually exclusive. Instead, they complement each other in a seamless fashion.

We owe South Africa children no less than a high performing basic education sector that is socially responsive. It must be characterised by high levels of care, love and support. These will result in high levels of throughput, above-average learner outcomes and overall effiency of the system as a whole.

Today, I am making a clarion call to all teachers, educationists, education managers to take into heart the abiding principles of Comrade O.R i.e. love, hope, an aspiration. We must lead by example, and be an inspiration to our learners.

Programme Director; we must as a sector have no mercy to all those teachers who use fake qualifications to enter our system. These fake teachers go against everything that this country stands for as a sanctuary of hope and progress. We must rebel against teachers who abuse their learners either sexually, verbally or physically.

At the very least we must through deeds not words give hope to our children that tomorrow will indeed be better than today. After- all, we are the repository of their dreams. We must rebel against those who turn off the light of hope resulting in broken dreams. We dare not fail.

I am of a firm view that Quality Education must happen in our lifetime. We owe it to the people of South Africa and future generations. As one of the finest sons of Africa, Frantz Fanon once said: Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it Our mission is crystally clear. We must deliver a Better Life for the African Child in particular and South African children in general. We don’t have a luxury not to succeed and fulfil this mission. We must surrender our very being to the children of South Africa.

I thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa