Bold ministerial moves

Education minister Naledi Pandor has warned that underperformance in the education system will be tackled more decisively.

She said the “levels of underperformance in our education system are unacceptably high” and that apartheid and inadequate resources could no longer be used as excuses for “failures on our part”.

“All the departments of education will have to improve their performance substantially. Faster action on agreed priorities and effective support and monitoring of the system will be strengthened,” she said.

Pandor’s warnings were part of her education budget speech titled “Affirming excellence and challenging mediocrity”. She had this to say on these topics:

On free primary education:
“The time may have arrived for South Africa to offer all children free primary education in law. This would place us in step with modern democracies worldwide. That subject is an aspect Parliament could reflect on in detail.” Pandor said she believed the country should be able to afford free primary education, but that this would not necessarily prohibit parental contributions.

On school fees:
In 2007 more than five million learners – 40% – will benefit from the department of educations no-fee policy. Pandor said there had been “worrying” inadequacies and administrative gaps in the introduction of the policy. The department was working with provincial departments “to address the reported failures” in the policy’s execution.

The department also would look at financial support to fee-charging schools that admit poor learners and exempt them from fees, but receive no compensatory support.

On saving for children’s tertiary education:
The minister announced the launch of a three-year pilot project to encourage parents to save for their children’s studies after school and promote access to study opportunities after school.

The department and the Association of Collective Investments (the unit trust branches of financial service providers) have set up the Fundisa Fund, to enable the state to match the monthly savings of parents towards children’s studies after matric, be that at a further education and training college or a university. The matching grant component will be funded from the private sector, while the National Student Financial Aid Scheme has made R20-million available.

On quality improvement
In 2007 all provinces will support the Quality Improvement and Development Strategy for the Upliftment of schools. This means the targeted poorest schools will receive additional resources and development support. More than R2-billion has been allocated to the programme.

On the Education and Management Information System:
The department conducted an audit of data from public schools and said it would act against dishonest school managers who are inflating data about the number of registered learners in their schools and those who dont keep records.

On early childhood development:
Pandor said early childhood development was one of the department’s “poor performance areas”. The sector receives low levels of funding, but Pandor announced a 40% increase from last year for early childhood development.

On reading, writing and numeracy:
The department will introduce the Early Grade Reading Assessment to help teachers encourage children to read. A national systemic evaluation will be conducted in 2008, which will indicate how well the schooling system is performing in providing basic skills.

On literacy:
A mass literacy campaign will be introduced from 2008, which demanded an additional R850-million for adult education and training programmes.

On violence:
The department will increase efforts to tackle violence in schools. “I am calling on parents and communities to support us to create safer schools. We have to do more to teach our young people to have respect for one another, to be tolerant and to manage conflict for non-violent behaviour and conflict management.”

On teenage pregnancies:
Pandor said a new set of guidelines on dealing with rising levels of teenage pregnancy will be issued to schools shortly and would address the roles of young mothers and fathers. The guidelines would urge parents to take responsibility for their children’s actions.

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