/ 16 July 2014

Motshekga looks to history to fix SA’s pride

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revealed on Tuesday that her department was conducting comparative studies and research on countries that enforce history as a subject. 

“A country that chooses to hide its heritage and historical footprints from its children takes the risk of having them repeat the mistakes of their predecessors,” said Motshekga.

She said research so far had shown that as a subject, history has a number of positive effects such as contributing to nation building, national pride, patriotism, social cohesion and cultural heritage.

This comes barely two weeks since ANC MPs who sat in Parliament’s oversight committees on communication and telecommunication and postal services proposed that the public broadcaster, the SABC, should broadcast the national anthem twice a day to improve patriotism, social cohesion and moral regeneration.

Motshekga revealed her plans in Parliament as she delivered her department’s budget vote for 2014/15. She said the government was planning to aggressively and radically turn around the country’s basic education system.

She said that while progress has been made on access, equity and redress, the government will now put emphasis on attaining quality.

“Our own internal assessments and international benchmarking assessments confirm that whilst progress has been made on access, equity, and redress, the emphasis in this administration will be on attaining quality efficiently,” said Motshekga.

Department’s focus
The basic education minister said the department’s focus from 2014 to 2019 would be on consolidating achievements made so far, and then driving home the theme of improvement on quality and efficiency throughout the entire schooling sector with a renewed emphasis on curriculum coverage, and the need to strengthen quality, efficiency and accountability in provinces, districts and schools.

“In the next five years we will make more aggressive, radical changes and appropriate interventions to turn our education system around,” said Motshekga.

Motshekga said they have “moved boldly” to reconfigure the basic education department internally for an even better performance.

She said that in line with heightening accountability and enhancing service delivery, the department was invoking sections of the National Education Policy Act to hold badly performing districts and provinces accountable.

“The time has come to place responsibility and accountability where it belongs.”

Budgets and aims
Motshekga said the department will closely track learner performance in order to ensure that its interventions are working and that they are decreasing the drop-out rate and increasing retention levels in schools.

To ensure this, Motshekga would hold an education lekgotla with all nine provinces in the first week of August to detail and align plans to improve quality and efficiency.

Motshekga’s department has an overall budget of R19.680-billion for 2014/15, an increase of just over R2-billion from the last financial year which was R17.592-billion.

The budget allocation to provincial education departments is R186.147-billion. It will exceed R200-billion in 2015/16, said Motshekga. “This, once again, confirms government’s commitment to education,” she added.   

Among Motshekga’s plans for the next five years is to:  

  • promote universal access to education by ensuring that all children between ages seven and 15 are in school;
  • incrementally increase the number of Grade 12 learners who can gain entrance to university from 172 000 in 2013 to 250 000 in 2019, and work to improve the quality and quantity of passes; 
  • continue to eradicate mud schools and other inappropriate structures, particularly in the Eastern Cape, and to provide the necessary resources needed for proper schooling to take place; 
  • introduce a national de-worming programme that will be linked to the national school nutrition programme to maximise the health and cognitive benefits of school meals; and
  • to develop a broadband policy for schools.

DA: Yay and nay
The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) spokesperson Annette Lovemore said Motshekga making history a compulsory subject has been a demand of the ANC-aligned South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), and could be divisive.

“We are concerned that history can so easily be used as an ideological tool, as it was in white schools by the National Party during the apartheid years … It can so easily be divisive. Sadtu has called for history to be ‘relevant’. We call on the minister to open her proposals, once she has them, for thorough public comment on exactly what is ‘relevant’ and on the impact of various possible syllabi,” said Lovemore.

She said the government will have to be as transparent as possible in handling such a sensitive issue.

But the DA admitted that the government has done well in achieving the numbers. “You have achieved quantity within education. With very few exceptions, all of our young people between the ages of seven and 15 are in school. Grade R is available to almost all our pre-school children,” said Lovemore.

“Secondary schooling is a constitutional right, and it is available to all. For the development of a system that, in theory anyway, does not discriminate on a racial basis, and is open to all, we salute you.”

But, counterproductively, the government has aspired to quantity before addressing quality, said Lovemore. She said the quality of education in South Africa, by every international and national measure, is poor.

“We feature extremely low on every scale that measures the basics of all learning – numeracy and literacy. And the quality of our education is poorest for the poor,” she said.

Lovemore said the country’s low-skilled youth had little chance of complete independence from the state. “Young people who are destined never to break their cycle of poverty,” she said.

The education offered to young people must be of such quality that it is fit for the purpose of allowing every child to develop and reach his or her potential, no matter what the specific inherent abilities of that child might be, she said.