South Africans to have 14 years of school?
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The National Development Plan (NDP), the final version which was handed to the president on Wednesday, calls for significant changes to the basic education system – on top of similar changes in policing, the civil service, and economic adjustments. But perhaps none of the other recommendations would be as far-reaching as a seemingly innocuous proposal on pre-schools.
- Read the full plan here (PDF)
"Make two years of quality preschool enrolment for all five-year-olds compulsory before Grade One," the NDP recommendation reads.
Although a previous draft of the plan had suggested that two extra years of school would be beneficial, making pre-school compulsory, and a linked recommendation that the state funds pre-schools to provide universal access, were not included.
Such compulsory pre-schools would have to house around two million children, with an implied need of around 100 000 pre-school teachers.
And the extra capacity needed will have to be required at a time when the NDP also calls for urgent action in eradicating infrastructure backlogs at schools, and ensuring that minimum standards are met by 2016 – while Education Minister Angie Motshekga refuses to publish such minimum standards.
The NDP also calls for the implementation of an incentive scheme for schools – with the intentional exclusion of well-performing schools – which replaces an initial proposal to measure teacher performance individually.
In November 2011, the draft NDP said teacher's salaries should be linked to their performance. In its final version, however, it notes that factors outside the control of teachers (such as the socioeconomic status of pupils and the level of school infrastructure) affect education outcomes. So, instead of individual measurements, it proposes "focus on those areas where teachers working collectively can make a difference".
Though the plan does not put forward a specific scheme, or speculate on how much money would be appropriate as an incentive, it does suggest measures to exclude good and excellent schools. Schools would need to improve results by at least 10% to qualify, it says, which would eliminate schools that already have pass rates of 80% or higher. It also says improvements should be recorded for at least three consecutive years before rewards are doled out.
The move away from assessing teachers individually is in line with objections raised by teacher unions, including the powerful South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu). But related measures – and harsh criticism of unions – remain in the final version of the NDP.
The plan highlights "the lack of cooperation between key stakeholders, particularly unions and the government" as a contributory factor in poor education outcomes, and suggests that government takes a hand in the education of union leaders, because a lack of expertise among such leaders makes "it [is] difficult to get unions to move beyond the issue of salary increments to the core professional concern of improving the quality of education".
The NDP also remains determined that union influence over the appointment of school principles should be eliminated, and that teachers should be required to show minimum competence in their subjects. However, that will apply only to new teachers, with new tests every five years or so after appointment.