On Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa told delegates attending the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) national congress that quality education is key to the growth of the country’s economy.
Speaking on the first day of the union’s ninth congress at Nasrec, Ramaphosa told 1 500 delegates from across the country that growing the economy, transforming it so that everyone participates in it and eradicating poverty is part of the seven priorities the sixth administration will focus on as highlighted in his State of the Nation address.
“Educators such as yourself have a trendemous task of shaping the minds of impressionable young people and also preparing them to make positive contributions to the world. So if you never thought that your role is important wherever you are, in whatever school you are, I stand here to tell you that your role of paying attention to that learner in your class is so important that when you look at it in the broader scheme you are actually an economic player. You are a key economic player because you are there to ensure that this young person’s mind is stimulated, their mind is opened up so that they become a capable participant in the economy of our country,” the president said.
Ramaphosa said education is an “important weapon” and the “real engine” South Africa can use to grow the economy on a higher trajectory.
“We all need to pledge here to commit ourselves to ensuring that the children and the young people of South Africa receive the best education possible and you are the people who are best placed to deliver that education. You are the best placed people to ensure that our young people are educated and we become an educated nation.”
Ramaphosa also said Sadtu must be effective in early childhood development (ECD) particularly now that ECD has been moved from the department of social development to the department of basic education. He said the teacher union must be at the forefront of developing programmes that will ensure that children have access to quality learning from a young age.
Ramaphosa raised concerns about the high drop-out rate of learners who do not make it to matric. Ramaphosa said he estimated that the drop-out rate is sitting at 45%, saying this was because almost a million children start school in grade 1 but in grade 12 only about 550 000 learners write matric.
“We have to ask ourselves where have these 400 000 or 450 000 gone to? This is a question that we need to occupy ourselves with as a government, as Sadtu, all of us need to ask ourselves where are they.”
He said however that the drop-out rate can be attributed to a whole number of socio-economic factors such as child-headed households and young children dropping out of school to go look for work to support their families.
Working with trade unions, Ramaphosa said government has developed the national integrated assessment framework that will look closely at some of the socio-economic challenges and find solutions to them.
He added that the government will also work hard to improve teaching conditions and ensure that there is safety in schools. On school safety, Ramaphosa said government is going to make sure that there is proper fencing, burglar alarms and functioning relationships with local police.
“This is what we would like to make available to you to improve your conditions of employment.”
Angie Motshekga, the minister of basic education, and Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, training and science, are both expected to speak on the second day of the congress on Thursday. The congress is expected to elect new national office bearers, with nominations set to open on Wednesday afternoon.