Discussion with American Independent Schools Association

Basic Education

05 August 2002
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Meeting report


5 August 2002

Chairperson: Prof Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Speech by Minister of Education, Prof K Asmal, Introducing the Debate on the Education Budget, NA 6 June 2002 (See Appendix)
Introduction / The South African Parliament - taken from Parliamentary Directory 2001(see
www.parliament.gov.za )

Portfolio Committee held a discussion with the American National Independent Schools Association on matters relating to education. The Chair explained the structure of the South African Parliament and the functions and achievements of the Parliamentary Committee. The delegation was keen to hear about the level of public participation in the making of laws and inquired as to anything that could be done by them for South Africa. The Chair replied suggested the possibility of "twinning" schools so that a particular school in the US would have a South African counterpart that it would stay in contact and build relationships with.


Madam Speaker
Honourable members
Members of the education community
Students from Fezeka High School in Gugulethu and Phoenix High School in Manenberg

I am sure that this House will no doubt appreciate that the work of the Department of Education, together with the Provinces, covers a wide spectrum of activities, which are geared to providing learning opportunities for all South Africans, from the cradle to the grave. These details are spelt out before you in the Department's Strategic Plan.

As it is not possible to deal with all our many activities within the confines of a budget address, I therefore wish to use this opportunity to highlight some of our achievements in our efforts to build a completely new education system, out of the ashes of the old. In doing so, I am reminded of the haunting words of the black American poet, Melvin B Tolson, when he said that:

"Out of abysses of illiteracy,
Through labyrinths of Lies,
Across waste lands of Disease...
We Advance"

Honourable members, despite the many hardships we have faced, we can confidently claim that we have indeed advanced. We have laid the foundation for the non-racial, democratic basis of the first truly national South African school system.

Eight years into our new democracy, we have started to write a common history. Prior to 1994, we had no unifying South African experience. Each of the many parts of our nation experienced that history in a different way as they lived through different parts of it. There was no shared experience, no common memory that bound us together; but only our disparate and fragmented pasts.

Now we are developing an emerging history, which bind us all. Like Tolson we too can say:

"Out of the dead-ends of Poverty,
Through the wilderness...
Across the barricades...
We advance!
With the Peoples of the World...
We advance"

Since social unification in 1994, we have begun tracking and analysing the changes in our society. We have one census, one voters-roll, one Constitution and one education system, in which we all participate. We therefore have a common starting point for debates. We have national baselines against which we measure our growth. In this sense we are all part of documenting these historic steps towards building a new nation.

Using these new benchmarks, I have been able to report regularly to the nation on progress in education. These reports include our publication on "Achievements since 1994" and the "Quarterly reports to the President on the State of Education", which I compile on the performance of both the national and the provincial departments of education. In this climate of democratic accountability the Ministry of Education is ready to be measured.

In opening up our processes, we have created the conditions for a new discourse about education among all South Africans. The views expressed have been sharp and sometimes extreme, but they nevertheless all form part of a common South African identity, which is our social mission.

In recognition of a nation-builder who has become very much part of us, and for his passion for the safety and security of our school children, I announce the dedication of our Safe Schools Campaign to my former Cabinet colleague, comrade and friend, the late Steve Tshwete. Hamba kahle, comrade Steve - your work will live on.

Our nation-building efforts as the Ministry are informed by our constitutional mandate. In pursuing this mandate we have isolated two themes, which guide our work and determine our focus. In the first instance we emphasise access; access to the goods and services that a department of education should provide.

Our first test for laws, policy or any decision that we make is the question of equitable access and how this will affect the ability of the poor to benefit from limited state resources. As a result we have introduced some remarkable provisions. The poorest 20% of our schools get seven times as much non-personnel funding as the richest 20%. Anyone who earns less than ten times the school fee set is entitled to automatic exemption; there is no discretion on this. And no child may be excluded or penalised for want of fees.

In all our laws we have protected the rights of the poor to access general education. Regrettably, despite the protection of the law, we know some schools are turning away children because their parents are unable to pay school fees or provide school uniforms. School authorities are duty bound to protect the best interests of the child; by denying them access to schools, they deny them hope.

As I am sure members will no doubt appreciate, access is not just about expanding learning opportunities. It is also about ensuring that our children, especially the poor, exercise their right to basic education in conditions that enable them to learn effectively. It is about access to quality infrastructure. As indicated in our School Register of Needs, we have made remarkable progress in dealing with the infrastructure backlogs in our schools, especially in the provision of on-site water and sanitation, and in the number of classrooms built. However, while much has been achieved, we still have a long way to go to eradicate all the backlogs inherited from our shameful apartheid past.

In line with the President's injunction that no child should learn under a tree, we will intensify our efforts in ending the conditions of physical degradation in our schools. Such conditions threaten the health of students and teachers alike, and radically restrict the social and teaching activities of the school. To this end Provinces have been requested to submit Business Plans indicating how they will deal decisively with this matter in the next Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) cycle.

In regard to participation rates, we are effectively at full enrolment in our General Education band, with Gross Enrolment Ratios over 100% in many areas. We are continuing to expand the system in various ways. One of the most significant ways is in the provision of a pre-school year for all children. This is being introduced in 2 800 community based sites, all located in the areas identified by the President for urgent intervention. By 2010 we plan to have all 800 000 children aged 5 in a reception year.

Another significant area of expansion is the inclusion of children with special educational needs, be they physical, emotional or intellectual. These children will no longer be isolated in special schools at the margins of the education system. They will now be mainstreamed into specially prepared schools, which are being built at present. Currently, teachers are being trained to absorb these children into their normal learning environments. It is estimated that there are a large number of children with special needs that are out of school at the moment. Their inclusion will therefore be another major step towards truly universal access.

We have also increased resources for literacy and adult education. The illiterate and the under-qualified are the poor. We have now created opportunities for them to participate effectively in the education system. Adult Education centres have formal recognition. Their programmes focus on relevant issues like SMME Management, Technology, Hospitality and Tourism, and Agriculture. In 2001, the education community spent R248 million on ABET; last year it increased to R822 million, and by 2004 we will spend in the region of R1.2 billion. In addition, Government has allocated R110 million to the Ikhwelo Poverty Relief Project over three years for the establishment of sixty more Adult Education Centres nation-wide.

Further education has also seen significant developments, which will enhance access for millions of our youth and adults who have not been part of the vocational stream of education. We are turning our Technical Colleges, following a painless restructuring process, into high status institutions, with significant capacity, and revising the programmes to meet the needs of individuals, industry and communities. Through these efforts we will remove the stigma associated with vocational and technical education by demonstrating its value in the labour market.

In higher education, after protracted debates, we have been able to build a national consensus around the restructuring of our institutions. All role-players now agree on the need to refocus and strengthen the system of higher education.

Madam Speaker, much has been said in this House over the past years on the need for the radical transformation of the higher education system. This call is sure to gain momentum after Cabinet's recent decision to approve Government's groundbreaking proposals for the transformation and reconstruction of higher education.

These proposals mark a turning point for higher education, away from a divisive past shaped by the geo-political imagination of apartheid planners, to a confident future, in which higher education will effectively meet the needs of the whole nation and not a select few.

There are areas in the current system, which perform reasonably well. However, the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the system are compromised by the paucity of graduate and research outputs; the quality of teaching; the incapacity of management and governing bodies; the lack of representivity among staff; institutional cultures that have not transcended the divides of the past; and the emergence of increased competition between institutions.

Our response to this unacceptable situation has been decisive. It is one that will touch every higher education institution in the land. The new system will comprise twenty-one higher education institutions, consisting of eleven universities, six technikons and four comprehensive institutions, plus the National Institutes of Higher Education for the Mpumalanga and Northern Cape Provinces. But while the reconstruction of the architecture of the system will provide the institutional basis for change, it is not at the heart of the transformation process.

Transformation requires that the system be expanded and made accessible to a broader and more diverse group of students. We propose to increase the participation rate from 15% to 20% over the next ten years, by recruiting an additional 200 000 students into the system. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will support these students. This scheme is undoubtedly one of our most successful mechanisms to promote equity and redress in higher education, where R800 million in loans and grants have been allocated to students this year alone.

Transformation also requires that we pay attention to the curriculum in higher education and to the quality of teaching and learning. I will soon be calling a conference with key role-players in higher education to address this matter, so as to ensure that the curriculum reflects the values and ethos of our democracy.

In addition, the power structure and the culture of the formerly privileged institutions must undergo fundamental change to reflect the constitutional and political imperatives of our society.

The strategies for the transformation of the higher education system are at last in place. The Higher Education Act provides for a three-month period in which role-players can make representations regarding their views on the Government's proposals and I look forward to these responses. Much work will need to be done in the coming months. However, we have no choice; we must turn the higher education system around. We must transcend the divisions of our past if we are to meet the aspirations and hopes of future generations of South Africans.

Madame Speaker, it is clear that we have vastly improved access to education, and are continuing to do so. We are therefore in full support of the objectives of the Global Campaign for Education, and to the fulfilment of the Dakar Declaration of 2000, pledging education for all by 2015.

The second theme, which I mentioned earlier, which frames our efforts is that of success. We cannot build a high quality education system by simply increasing access. We also need to ensure that our learners are able to achieve their true potential. The importance of this is reflected for example in higher education, where only 15% of students who enter the system actually graduate. This is clearly an enormous waste of both human and financial resources. It is for this reason that we will deal squarely with improving success rates in the implementation of our National Plan for Higher Education.

Honourable members, I am sure that you will agree that without doubt the matric results of 2001 have been a key milestone in our efforts to ensure success. From a starting point of below 50% not so long ago, we have improved the national pass rate to above 60%. However, they are only one indicator. We have therefore gone beyond them and enquired more deeply into the soul of the system. What we found in schools was not very healthy.

Some schools have failed to embrace the values and symbols of our new democracy. We have found that religion, in certain instances, was being handled in a very insensitive way. We have found a culture of bullying and abuse. We have found teachers who preached democracy, but acted like dictators in the classroom. We do not wish to expand access to these types of learning areas. We have therefore embarked on a number of initiatives that seek to change the ethos of our schools, so that they support a democratic climate and promote the values enshrined in our Constitution.

Our primary instrument in this regard is through the revision of the National Curriculum Statement, based on firm, irrevocable support for outcomes based education. Apart from a necessary streamlining of its design, the statement provides profound new directions with respect to human rights, national identity, an appreciation of the great diversity of this nation, and innovative approaches to learning. This new statement will be introduced into the Foundation Phase in 2004.

We have also played a leading role in the national campaign to instil a moral purpose in our society, through our associated Values in Education initiative. Building a common national identity, national symbols, heritage and history are all part of our agenda, as are the efforts to get sport, music and art in schools. The Ministry's South African History project has a special focus on the content and quality of history teaching and the revitalisation of indigenous knowledge as part of the curriculum.

These are all very important achievements, which have changed not just the way we do our business, but also more importantly the very reasons why we do it. We have tried to ensure that all role-players engaged in education share a passion and a commitment towards our special responsibilities.

But sadly, our successes are threatened. Vigilance is the price of democracy and we cannot allow our hard-won gains to be compromised. There are two threats currently confronting us; one is indiscipline and the other is HIV/AIDS.

We have recently seen another bout of unacceptable and undisciplined behaviour by some students. They have damaged property, burnt buildings, and looted from the poor. In doing so they have burnt their own homes, stolen from and injured their own mothers and fathers. And of course they have given away their own education.

We must remind our students that we should, in the words of that great revolutionary Bertolt Brecht,

" Never forget that men like you got hurt, that you may sit here...and now don't shut your eyes, and don't desert, but learn to learn..."

The overwhelming majority of our young people, both black and white, want a new life for themselves, especially those that have been deprived in the past. The few cannot be allowed to destroy these hopes and dreams. The majority deserve our support while they study to become the future leaders of our country.

Madame Speaker, there is a need for serious debate about the whole matter of discipline and accountability in education. Discipline must be a central component of all we do. For real change to take place, we require the highest levels of ethical and professional behaviour from our administrators and officials, as well as from our teachers and lecturers.

However, we hear too often of cases where people simply do not do the job they are paid to do. We must never be weary of making the highest claims for our new democracy. We must not flinch from demanding the highest expectations of our education departments, of our schools, of our universities and technikons and indeed all our institutions of learning.

The second threat confronting us is that of HIV/AIDS. It stands to undermine all our success; its threat is a real and a current one. This threat is undoubtedly compounded by the levels of sexual abuse found in our sites of learning. Last week we held the first National Conference on HIV/AIDS and Education, which was attended by over five hundred delegates from all parts of the country. Together we applied our collective wisdom in developing a creative and humane response to the crisis.

One of our more immediate interventions has been our recent meeting with the Deans of all the University Faculties of Education, to consider plans to vastly increase the capacity for teacher training. We are not in a crisis but we have projected an increase in the demand for teachers, partly as a result of HIV/AIDS. We are therefore looking to the universities and technikons to assist in recruiting and training many more teachers for the future.

Madame Speaker, mine is a small Department, whose budget is insignificant in relation to national spending in education and which operates under the framework of our Constitution, with the Provinces. Our successes are therefore not ours alone to claim. They are a result of the hard work displayed by all those that have worked hand in hand with us on this sometimes difficult but necessary journey.

In this regard I must express my appreciation to all our partners. This includes the teachers and their unions, the university and technikon communities and the MECs for Education together with their officials.

I wish to thank the donor community, both local and international, for their continued support and the solidarity they have shown for our transformation agenda.

My sincerest gratitude goes to the Portfolio Committee, under the leadership of their able Chairperson, Shepherd Mayatula, which has virtually sat in permanent session this year.

My special thanks go to the Deputy Minister, Mosibudi Mangena, who has led his areas of responsibility with a quiet passion and dedication. The fruits of his efforts are already evident in the area of Mathematics and Science. His involvement has cemented a patriotic alliance that supersedes party political interests.

I must also pay special tribute to my Director General and officials, who have had to work inordinate hours to meet the new challenges posed. Finally, I must praise my personal staff for their continued support.

We have had a good year. We look forward to further improved access and even greater success, in the coming year. Our key focus areas will be on consolidating our gains in further education and higher education, on early childhood development and children with special needs, and on the implementation of the new National Curriculum Statement with specific focus on teacher development and support. I look forward to reporting on progress in these areas in 2003.

Madame speaker, when one is closely involved in a matter, it is natural to identify the pathologies, the concerns and the problems, as honourable members are likely to do so. But my role was to provide an overview. I can only report with pride that we have made remarkable progress in many areas. It is on this basis, without diminishing the important work still to be done, that I invite you today to celebrate with us the great strides that we have made in moving from apartheid education to a just and democratic order.

But in our celebrations, let us not forget the telling words of that great poet William Blake, adapted to the South African context, when he said:

"I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem"
(In South Africa's diverse and pleasant land)

Our own Jerusalem, honourable members, is an education system for the 21st century, and together we will build it.

I thank you.

Issued by the Ministry of Education, 6 June 2002


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