Chairperson of the NCOP, Mr Mahlangu, the Deputy Chair in her absence, the Chief Whip, Members of Parliament present, the two MECs who are here - thank you very much, colleagues - our guests, and ladies and gentlemen, now that the Chairperson has cut down my time from 20, as initially indicated, to 15 minutes, let me start off by responding to some of the comments made by colleagues so that if I run out of time, the speech will be for circulation.
I want to start off by expressing appreciation for the contributions that have been made by members with regard to basic education, which does confirm our belief that the success of the sector of education will start where it begins, which is with basic education.
We are not oblivious to the challenges that are confronting us, but are grateful that all of us appreciate that basic education remains very basic to our success. Therefore, the partnership that we can get here with members, provinces and colleagues will go a long way.
I want to respond to a few things that have been raised by colleagues without necessarily debating them. I want to emphasise that we should not mislead ourselves and say that the whole system is in a crisis. That is why we keep on misleading people. It's the education of the African child that is in crisis. We have to note that so that our attention and support are focused on that.
The education of children in other communities still remains quite good. That is what is holding the system together. We appreciate that. However, we should not create an impression that there is a huge crisis, with everybody crying wolf, when there is no wolf. The wolf is in African schools, and that is where we are supposed to be focusing our energies. That is where the crisis is.
I will also be failing in my task if I fail to appreciate premiers. I think we are privileged as a sector because of all the things that premiers do in provinces. I can assure you that they chose the best that was there in their parties.
We have a very good team of MECs, very dedicated and hardworking MECs, and all of them rise above politics. That makes me very hopeful that, nationally, whether the DA or the ANC is in power, we will indeed overcome because we have a team of very strong MECs in all the provinces, who are doing their best to get the system going. For that, I must really say to the NCOP, which is in a way focusing on the provinces, that we have a very strong team nationally. All our MECs have been able to rise above provincial differences. All MECs are aware of the fact that we are saying education is every child's right, and every child has to have access to quality education.
We can say with pride that most provinces have been submitting their turnaround strategies. It's going to be useful at our next camp to look at what lessons we learnt from one another and how we can strengthen the sector and move out from there. My appeal, and excitement, when I was invited to come here, was to interact with the members of the NCOP on how we can make education a societal issue, mobilise everybody across political divides on the issue, and also look at the things that we should be doing.
Amongst the things that I want to raise - which are also ``wolves'' that people create - is that the reasons for underperforming are quite different. I want to advise members that when they pay a visit to schools which are dysfunctional, I can tell you the reasons they are going to give you. You can even write the report before you go in - I'm responding to you, Comrade Chair - it is poverty, unemployment, crime, teenage pregnancy, etc. They are all going to tell you the same story. It's going to be about everything else but them. If you go to a highly functional school, they won't even tell you about how they have fought criminals, fed children or stopped pregnancies; they will tell you that it's teamwork, dedication, hard work, etc. That is what they will all tell you. What has happened during the visits that we've been undertaking with colleagues is that we went into the real substance, which told us what the problems were. Don't even ask them what the problems are; go and find out where they are. Go to the time books and see if those very teachers have been on time and on task all the time. Teachers don't attend school. That is what we've been saying quite regularly.
We want to mobilise colleagues and say that as you make education a societal matter, go to the time books and see which teachers have been coming to work, which ones have been leaving on time and which ones have been staying. Go to the children's books. Don't ask questions; go to the children's books and see if they have been writing. Don't use any anecdotal stories because they won't help you. They will tell you stories which are not useful. Your school visits won't be useful unless you have a structured approach on how you are going to get the results.
As I get to the speech, I will also highlight that, as a department, we are positioning ourselves to make sure that when we say that education must be a societal issue, with our provincial structures, we are able to interact with communities in ensuring that as we mobilise people we are able to work together in making sure that education is a societal issue.
Check books and talk to learners; they are the ones who know what is happening in the classrooms. There is no way even the principal can know which teachers speak on their cellphone, which teachers don't come to the class, or which teachers talk about their children. It's only the learners who can tell you. So don't even ask them; go to the learners, they will tell you the story. You will know what the truth is.
I'm also saying to our people that poverty is being used as an excuse. I keep on saying that we should intercept poverty. It's been there; it will be here forever. That is what they are going to say to us. The main focus of education is teaching and learning. That is what the whole thing is about. My colleagues from the provinces will tell you that the only thing the top school in the country, which is in the Western Cape, and an African school in Limpopo, which is in the top 10 category, share between them is not good infrastructure, it's not teachers - Sadtu will tell you that we have been giving them "microwave" training - what is common between them is discipline and focus on the task.
With poor infrastructure and poor communities, what is common between the top schools in the Western Cape and in Limpopo, in the deep rural areas, is not infrastructure; not poverty. It's discipline and being on task and on time all the way. This means that that is what works. As people move into making education a societal matter, we also want them to assist us in ensuring that our teachers are on time and on task all the time, as the President has been calling for.
We will indeed address infrastructure. I will be talking to that quite shortly. But that is not what schools that succeed tell us has been their success story. It's not the amount of infrastructure. Some of the schools where we have put the top infrastructure- high-level infrastructure, which hon Mashamba was talking about- don't necessarily give us results. This means that it is not where we have to go and look for results. We have to go and look for results on what works.
Having said that, let me quickly get into what I had prepared for the debate and possibly also reflect on what members have said so that members should not say that I have not reflected on what they have said. I have taken note. Some of it is good counsel. I don't think I need to respond to that, but it is just something we need to take into consideration as we plan. If I don't respond, it's not because it's not important; we have taken notes and we will factor it into our planning.
The decline in our 2009 matric results from 62% in 2008 to 60% in 2009, which really got me into hot water, necessitates that we look into new strategies at all levels in the system to address the old issue of how we can enhance the culture of learning and teaching in our schools and improve outcomes. That's why most of our MECs are engaging in the things they will do differently to get different outcomes. Again I am proud that most of our MECs have been engaging with what is to be done differently to get different outcomes.
The strides we have made by dismantling the apartheid legacy are undermined by the fact that we are not getting the results that we are looking for. We are proud that we have turned around the massive repetition problem in the early 1990s in the early grades. In Grade 1, overall enrolment has dropped from 165% to 114%.
We have lots of repetition in the system - kids just failing between grades, and because they are not measured at Grade 12, people are not aware that we have a lot of wastage in the system. We are improving that quite drastically. The number of children who continue their schooling into the last three years of high school has increased remarkably. Again, Chair, this goes back to your point on what happened to the one million kids who were missing between Grades R and 12. Some of them go to further education and training, FET, colleges; they do not necessarily go to matric. It is how the system works. If you calculate from Grade 1 to Grade 12, it won't add up to 1:1 because some of them divert, thereby becoming 1:0,5 in the middle. We are also quite concerned about the fact that some of them do indeed drop out.
We are proud that between 1970 and now we have improved the enrolment or retention rates from 30% to 90%. That is why in the township schools we find that we have a crisis with high schools. This is because the planning was for three primary schools to one high school. We knew that only one third was going to reach high school. It's only now that we are having lots of blockages, hence the huge infrastructure backlog, because the retention and number of kids going up to matric have increased almost threefold. Whereas only one third went up to matric, two thirds now go up to matric; but yes, we are worried about the third that does not reach matric.
Even though we score badly - we also get lambasted for things that we tell the world - it's we who presented ourselves for the international tests so we could benchmark ourselves. Indeed, when the results came back, we were not happy at all. The picture, as Nick Taylor has just recently written, is nuanced. We have not gone back, but we have not improved either.
Again, people just want to glorify the old apartheid days. What was working under apartheid is still working. White education was working. Black education did not work under apartheid. We have not been able to make drastic moves, and that we admit. But we should not create a sense that we have reversed. We have not, but we are not making the improvements that we want.
Again, others will cry wolf with us that there is a crisis when they know things are going very well in their education system. Education in white communities is going very well. Fifteen years down the line, life for white people is still hunky-dory and very good. We are happy about that, but the crisis is, as I have said, in black education. Therefore, that is what we need to address. The point I'm trying to make is that we have not reversed, but we have not improved either.
Quality continues to be our biggest challenge. That has been raised by different members. I want to quickly run through the things that we are trying to do, together with our provinces, in addressing the things that we want to do differently to achieve different results. We admit that the results we are getting are not the results that we are looking for. We want more, hence we are prepared to work harder, faster and smarter. We therefore will run through the things that we are doing in working harder, faster and smarter.
One of the main things that we are working on with provinces is what we call the Basic Education Action Plan. With regard to this plan, which we are working on with provinces, we will have to monitor it with you as Parliament and support provinces in the implementation of the targets.
The first target involves the Rapid Assessment and Remediation Initiative. We are looking at schools that performed below 20%. The Western Cape, Gauteng and some other provinces don't have that major problem; it is in some of our bigger rural provinces. In the Western Cape, there was only one school; in Gauteng, there was also one school below 20%. In other provinces, for instance in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, we have more than 500 schools which performed below 20%. Through this programme, we are looking at the Rapid Assessment and Remediation Initiative through which we can intervene in those schools, see what the problems are and, this time, decisively act on those problems and correct the situation.
We are looking at ways of improving our national senior certificate, NSC. One of the causes, as we have already highlighted, is around the grouping and subject choices that our children make. Some of the kids, because we emphasise maths and science, even though they want to do law, also want to do maths. They are not sure what they are doing physical science for. This is to help our children make the correct choices and combinations which are relevant to their future.
We also want to improve the teaching in those subjects, because we still have lots of problems in the teaching of maths, science, accounting and English. We are looking at all those interventions which we have to make with regard to improving our national senior certificate.
We have already spoken a lot about curriculum implementation support. You will recall that every other person who had an interest in education raised concerns about the curriculum. We can say with pride that we have identified what the problems are. We are addressing them and have a clear programme in addressing all the issues or challenges around the curriculum.
Again, we are looking at teacher development support. Anybody who is in education will tell you that the system stands and falls on teachers. You can have everything else, but if your teachers cannot perform, you have a problem. They are your tools of labour. If you have a taxi, but your driver doesn't drive, you are out of business. Teachers remain the core and the most important factor in our education system. We are working on progress and need to look at teachers.
There are major infrastructure issues which we have inherited. I have just highlighted some of the challenges around our infrastructure. As much as we had a backlog of poor infrastructure that we inherited from apartheid and homeland governments, we also had to create new infrastructure to cope with overexpansion. The education system has multiplied threefold since we took over. That two thirds that used to drop out under apartheid, or those many kids who were not able to go to school because they had to pay fees, are now able to go to school. Our infrastructure has not been able to cope with the expansion that we have. As a result, we have not been able to correct or remedy the infrastructure that we inherited from apartheid.
We have, again, a massive programme that we are beginning to co-ordinate nationally to assist provinces to deliver the infrastructure that we have. We are excited that the Presidency and Treasury have committed to using the capacity that was used to build the stadia to intervene in schools. As soon as the stadia programme is cleared, we are going to use the same capacity to intervene in schools. Through capacity, we are confident that we will begin to address some of our major infrastructural backlogs that for years we have been unable to deal with.
We have also spoken about the adult literacy programme, and colleagues have also raised it. We have a very successful programme, which we call "Kha Ri Gude", which is meant to break the back of illiteracy amongst adults. It's going very well. We will give you a report next time.
The other matter that I want to raise is around the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit, Needu. It has also been spoken about quite a lot vis--vis the inspectorate. I thought I should speak to you about what Needu is and what it is not. We will shortly operationalise Needu, which will start off immediately with the Rapid Assessment and Remediation Initiative to assess where the problems are and create and develop measures to intervene in those schools. There have been lots of discussions about what Needu will and will not do.
Needu is a mandate that we received as the ruling party in Polokwane to establish a National Education Evaluation and Development Unit for the purposes of monitoring, evaluation and support. It will be a professional facility dedicated to doing precisely that. It will evaluate everybody. So, inspection will fall under it. Inspection is not the be-all and end-all. It's going to evaluate anything in the system from the national department to the provincial departments, educators and the whole system in its entirety.
It has an element of development in that where it picks up problems, it will help us design development initiatives. If our problem, when we do an inspection, is about the capacity of our teachers, we will know what to do with it. If it's about the capacity of our officials, what do we do with it? That's what Needu is going to be doing. We are already making it operational.
Again, we'll be very happy to come and raise that with you when we have more time so that we don't take much of your time now. Needu's role will be to assess and develop strategies for the improvement of the quality of educational outcomes and support schools to achieve these.
We are proud to say that we have built up the national Department of Basic Education, but systems and structures of that single department do not speak to the objectives that we want to achieve. To ensure that the national department is able to fulfil its mandate in line with the mandate of Basic Education, it has become imperative to strengthen departmental capacity at national, provincial and district levels. We are working with our provinces to ensure that they are positioned to support schools, as much as we are working hard to position ourselves to support provinces.
We have restructured the national department to enable it to meet its core constitutional mandate of setting national policy and monitoring it, and evaluating all provinces and the entire basic education system. That is our mandate; it's in the Constitution, and we do it nationally. We set up policies; we monitor everybody; we evaluate everybody.
Again, as I said, we are quite privileged that from where I stand we have major co-operation with our provinces. So that it should not be a major issue as to how we co-ordinate the system to make it work well. We are working with provinces to ensure that they too are properly positioned and structured to implement national policies aimed at supporting schools.
What we have found out is that our provinces, all of them, have structured themselves in different ways. Some have got themselves into a corner in the way they have structured themselves. They are not able to do the task that they are supposed to be doing. You find that within the same province different regions have different structures, capacities or resourcing strategies. We are working with provinces to ensure that we have the best structure nationally to ensure that we are indeed able to respond.
Chairperson, I do not want to take advantage of the fact that you gave me more time. Let me move to the last point, which is about the 2010 World Cup and our ``schools cup'' adventure.
We are doing the countdown and, again, making 2010 exciting for schools. We are inviting you to join us in our 2010 Football World Cup School Adventure where all provinces are involved. Already, each province has symbolically adopted some of the 2010 Fifa World Cup participating nations. Between now and May 2010, I hope that learners and teachers in the whole school community will have learnt about the adopted countries and their people.
My 2010 School Adventure will culminate in an exciting football competition in May 2010, in which teams of learners from each province will play one another in the South African Schools Football World Cup. We will precede or maybe even pre-empt the winning country, because each province is going to be representing one of the competing countries. Perhaps the winning province will be giving the lucky country the luck to win!
I want to assure you that the school year has not been shortened in 2010, which was the concern of most people. We have compensated for the time that we will lose by increasing the numbers within the terms that are there. We have not lost much time regarding 2010, which has been the concern for most communities.
In closing, in line with the President's call for education to be made a societal matter, we are appealing to political parties and individual politicians in the House to go out there and help us to mobilise constituencies to make education a societal matter.
I am saying to all opposition parties that we can fight about everything else, but let us not fight about this matter. Let's just ensure that every child has the right to education. Education is the human right of every child. We can make our politics on everything else but not on this issue, by protecting education as a national asset and at least as one thing that unites us as South Africans. We are appealing for education to be the one thing that unites us, all of us.
For our part, we are supporting communities through the social mobilisation branch of our department. We are strengthening our school governing bodies, SGBs, and learner representative councils, LRCs, and creating a forum of nongovernmental organisations, NGOs, academics and business to interact with us and give the support that they want to give in provinces in a co- ordinated manner.
We are systematically working to make education a societal matter, and we trust that you will play your part in this momentous task of turning the system around and making us a nation proud of our education achievements, because at the end of the day we are all South Africans.
We can differ on everything else. We are appealing, again, for this to be a unifying factor. We are committed, as a department, to playing the game. Again, I am appealing to communities, and especially to activists, comrades and politicians who are here to say that this is a South African one and not a political one. Let's work together on it. I thank you, Chair. [Applause.]