South African History Project & South African National Literacy Initiative: briefing

Basic Education

05 March 2002
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


5 March 2002

Prof S Mayatula

Documents handed out:
South African History Project Presentation
South African National Literacy Initiative


Department briefed the Committee on the South African History Project. The main issues arising out of the history project included a focus on the promotion of a history which will empower South African learners to learn about their past as well as that of the African continent in order to fully appreciate their being part of the African continent and also to relate better to fellow Africans from up north.

The South African National Literacy Initiative presented its structure and the progress made to eradicate illiteracy through its non-formal learning approach. Problems with this campaign was the acceptance of the concept of volunteerism and also the lack of resources.


South African History Project
The Director General, Department of Education, Mr. Mseleku, stated that it was important to look into the past to be able to plan for the future. This was the concept behind this whole project to ensure that all products of education; such as scientists, lawyers, accountants, had a human side to their level of education. This was to avoid past experiences in the apartheid system where some professionals transgressed their professional oaths in support of the system.

Ms Bham, a departmental official in charge of the project said that there was a general feeling within society and in some cases policy makers that children should not be exposed to the horrible events of the past as in processes like the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, but children themselves had shown an overwhelming will to know more about these events.

The History Project was launched in 2001 at the Fort, Cape Town. The department was planning a national history celebration schools competition culminating in the Heritage Day celebrations on 24 of September 2002. This was the Minister's History Project to educate children about their past and would simultaneously help those educators who were not from backgrounds where oppression was prevalent to become more aware of the past and be able to narrate it to their learners. The Department of Education was in the process of provincial workshops together with provincial departments to realise this objective. Through oral tradition, the Department hoped that they would impart a new skill to those educators who had not been exposed to this method of education and thus be able to improve the teaching of history.

She informed the committee about the various training measures on the pipeline for the next three years. Importantly, she pointed out that the time frame of the project was from July 2001 to June 2004. The Director General stated that the presentation by Ms Bham was an overall overview of a project aimed not only at school education, but a nationally inclusive project, thus it stretched beyond the school arena. This was consistent with the Freedom Park project, which aimed to enlighten learners about the origins of humanity from time immemorial.


Mr B Geldenhuys (NNP)- asked if the history of colonialism, especially in South Africa would be covered. Would serious human rights abuses on other parts of the continent be included?

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) hoped that the project would bring about an empowering historical education that would benefit all South Africans. He welcomed this project and hoped that history would be put in its proper place and perspective.

Mr R Ntuli (DP) asked what did the department have in place to validate history as presented by various sources? Secondly he enquired on issues of how interpretation within a context could be handled, not only in the school system, but also in higher education.

Ms E Gandhi (ANC) was intrigued when reading the Information Booklet on History and Archaeology. Interpretation should be flexible because archaeology was dynamic as new information filtered through. She would like to see students interpreting the events themselves so as to inform their understanding and invited comments on the issue.

The DG replied that archaeology develops through bringing in evidence with the chronological order of events and he added that there is a close link between history and archaeology in this respect, a mutually reinforcing relationship.

Ms J Bham replied to the issue of Human Rights abuse elsewhere by saying that yes, the focus would be on Africa as a whole and our own history because we are also Africans and our history should reflect this.

On the issue of validation of history, she pointed out that part of the focus should be on how knowledge or history was constructed. We should also look at who writes the history and try to understand their background and inherent influential factors.

Ms P Mnandi (ANC) pointed out that when she studied history in the past, she felt that she was being deprived of knowledge about African History. She ended up knowing more about Europe than about Africa. Some of the training projects were very short to impart knowledge in a meaningful and effective way to the educators as some had not been exposed to oppressive conditions during apartheid and the oral tradition way of communicating knowledge.

Mr S Ripinga (ANC) asked on the issue of methodology and sources, how was the department going to involve indigenous resource persons?

Mr M Mpontshane (IFP) pointed out that the differentiation between the different school levels was not clearly indicated in the project. Who would be involved in the compilation of questions?

The DG stated that this project was a supporting engagement for the mainstream History Education curriculum. It was not comprehensive; it was rather a programme in addition to the existing school curriculum.

Ms Bham said that the history of Africa was a challenge for the department to fully integrate into the school curriculum, particularly in the pursuit of the anti-xenophobia campaign. The focus was based on government priorities as well as departmental priorities to come up with a strong approach towards this challenge. On the issue of indigenous resource persons, she pointed out that a full-time post, which would ensure the integration of such information, had been created as well as ensuring community and provincial input into the project. Part of ensuring that indigenous knowledge was included would be promoted through the set-up of community archives.

South African National Literacy Initiative
The DG stated that in 1999, Professor K Asmal, Minister of Education, consulted various stakeholders within the education sector and came up with nine priority areas. This was the concept encapsulated in the Tirisano Campaign and one of the areas identified was the issue of illiteracy, especially amongst adults who were beyond school going age which informed the establishment of the SANLI.

The main objective of the programme was to mobilise the various resources to ensure that adult learners could access certain levels of literacy to enable them to participate effectively in the social and economic spheres.

Ms M Malele, departmental official stated that the project was concerned primarily with non-formal forms of learning. The project was using existing capacity, such that there was no introduction of new structures.

A major focus was on the rural areas and semi-urban areas, especially in the informal settlements. She informed the committee that they worked very closely with the National Skills Authority, a Department of Labour programme to ensure that the two programs complement each other in terms of developing skills according to the Department of Labour's skill requirements.

The emphasis was on capacity building for Non-Governmental organisations as well as community-based organisations involved in the literacy project. Research and development was another area of the project which incorporated the monitoring and evaluation of the impact of literacy institutions in reducing illiteracy rates as well as information to support the improvements in service delivery by agencies involved in the project.

The literacy programme had to focus on the preferences of the learner, specifically around the issue of mother-tongue education where English and Afrikaans were the languages of choice for individuals to learn through as a second language. In the progress report six provinces had completed their plans for implementing the programme. In this regard, a pilot study was conducted to inform strategy formulation. An educator handbook, educator packs and learner packs had been designed based on the pilot. A strategy document to monitor, support and report on the project had been put together and a system along similar lines with a database design and baseline survey was being set-up.

Specific issues for the project include an adult literacy project in the Presidential Nodal Areas, a DANIDA (Danish Agency for International Development) funded project in KwaZulu-Natal for 4 500 additional learners as well as a project with Unisa where 75 000 learners will be made literate in 2002.

Key outputs for the 2002/03 financial year and beyond include, working in partnership with the NSA to facilitate the accreditation of institutions and organisations involved in adult literacy through relevant SETAs. They hope to facilitate more programmes to reach the 15% set as a target for the 7 million illiterate adults in this financial year. In conclusion, main-streaming the literacy initiative as a necessary component of all social development programmes was an expected outcome as well as the implementation of a rigorous media campaign to make literacy a public agenda.

Mr C Aucamp (AEB) asked if the department had figures about people already literate through this initiative as well as the ABET system.

Ms D Nhlengethwa (ANC) asked if the project had conducted research in other countries on how they reduced their illiteracy levels.

Mr B Ntuli (ANC) asked about the lack of volunteers in certain places like the case of the Northern Cape as to where exactly was the problem.

Mr R Ntuli (DP) asked if there had been an audit of the number of unemployed teachers to see how human resources could be utilised better?

Ms P Mnandi (ANC) pointed out that this literacy campaign was not as visible as it should be. What could be done to make this more visible and serious in the eyes of the public?

The DG replied on the issue of international research by saying that five delegations had been sent to Cuba to observe how they tackled their illiteracy problem. Some elements of the Cuban approach had as a result been incorporated into the project. In projects like these, drawing on international experience was of utmost importance.

On the issue of an audit of unemployed teachers, the DG pointed out the Department had tried such a measure especially in the case of Maths and Science teachers, but the reply had been disappointingly poor. Even if the response was good, these people could not just be coerced to volunteer for training towards teaching the adult learners.

Ms Malele stated that there were learners being taught through the collaboration with Unisa project and others who had already graduated. The number of those currently involved was about 78 000. On the issue regarding the Northern Cape she pointed out that the problem there was on a lack of enthusiasm on the concept of volunteerism. Another persistent problem hampering the project was a lack of resources.

The meeting was adjourned.


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