Impact of ASGISA & Mechanisms to Reduce School Dropouts: Department briefing

Basic Education

12 June 2006
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Meeting report

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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 June 2006
IMPACT OF ASGISA & MECHANISMS TO REDUCE SCHOOL DROPOUTS: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Acting Chairperson:
Mr R van den Heever (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department Presentation: Impact of ASGISA
Department Presentation: Mechanisms to reduce the number of youths out of school

SUMMARY

The Department of Education made presentations to the Committee on the impact of ASGISA, and on mechanisms to reduce the number of youths who are out of school. The Department aimed, under ASGISA, to achieve greater access and "equality of quality" education at all levels. The statistics on enrolments and the number of Africans in professional positions, proved that great changes and improvements had been achieved in the country’s education system. However, dropouts remained a challenge, and the Department wished to divert dropout students to the Further Education and Training Colleges. The special projects adopted as part of the ASGISA programme, focussed on quality improvement and development support, on accelerating Higher Maths and Science passes; and on recapitalising and expanding these colleges. The Department insisted that the core subjects of IT, language and maths skills be incorporated in all programmes. The support of the Portfolio Committee on no-fees schools, the development programmes, implementation of the National Curriculum Statement and reading programmes was requested. It was noted that the Department would benefit from an effective marketing campaign.

Members raised questions on the equality of education, the focus of the New Curriculum Statement, the role of the Department in assisting provinces to develop models, actions to be taken against under-achieving educators or schools, the phasing out of outdated programmes, and the differences between the new projects and those which had been implemented in 1992. The necessity for a public relations campaign, the aim of the campaigns and the approach adopted in their planning was clarified. In relation to the youth presentation, it was clarified that it hoped to avoid the necessity of importing skilled workers to South Africa by improving its own programmes.

MINUTES

In the absence of Prof S Mayatula (ANC), who was out of the country, Mr R van den Heever (ANC) chaired the meeting.

Department of Education (DOE) on the impact of ASGISA
Ms Penny Vinjevold, Deputy Director-General: Further Education Training (FET), stated that in the analysis of how the country could achieve accelerated and shared growth, it had become clear that rapid skills development for all South Africa’s people was key to its economic growth. The three main areas covered by the presentation were education and the economy; education provision and contribution to accelerated and shared growth; and special ASGISA projects.

In order to strengthen South Africa’s economy, it was necessary to accelerate access to quality education at all levels of the education spectrum, and to strengthen the quality of early childhood development, general education training, further education and higher education.

Ms Vinjevold indicated that there were currently 12 million learners enrolled in South Africa’s schooling system, 400 000 students in the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, and 700 000 students in higher education. The Department was aiming to stabilise the schooling system at 12 million learners, and to double the number of students at FET colleges. DOE had set a target for the colleges of 1 million students by 2010, with high-level vocational education. Ms Vinjevold showed a graph depicting school enrolments over the past seven years, which indicated that a million more learners, most of whom were previously marginalised, were enrolled now than in 1994. This mass growth was an unprecedented phenomenon on a worldwide scale.

Ms Vinjevold highlighted the problem of learners dropping out in Grades 11 and 12, due not only to poverty, but also to their receiving insufficient reading and writing skills in the first three years of their schooling careers. For that reason, the Department aimed to markedly upgrade the quality of reading, writing and calculating education in the first three years. Another important reason for the dropout rate was that learners were not interested in general education, preferring to enter into the job market more rapidly. DOE wished to divert the 200 000 learners, who were being lost on a yearly basis, to FET colleges.

In 2005, 17 000 more children had passed the Senior Certificate on a more demanding examination. The aim of the Department was not so much to get a hundred percent pass rate across the board, but to give more African children the opportunity to pass on a higher-level curriculum.

Ms Vinjevold proceeded to give the Department’s programme for early childhood development (ECD), where an integrated approach was envisioned. It was not always ideal to place 0 – 4-year-olds in care, and although circumstances often forced people to do so, many would benefit from being left at home, in a family environment, provided it was safe and cognitively stimulating. The Department would therefore not target a universal enrolment for this age group.

60% of children were in Grade R. She wanted to alert the Committee of the challenge to improve the quality of education at this level. Educators at this level need to be trained to understand that working class children needed to move dramatically from everyday knowledge to conceptual knowledge. There had been improvement in access to resources such as equipment, nutrition and safe environments.

In general education, there was universal enrolment up to Grade 9, and this level needed improvement in the quality of teaching and learning. By 2008, all grades would be taught according to the new National Curriculum Statement (NCS), which had been commended by the Cambridge Education Examining Authority as being very "high level". That curriculum had a particular focus on Africa and South Africa and its challenges and problems. It would be incrementally implemented through teacher training. Learners would exit their school career with a National Senior Certificate.

Ms Vinjevold explained that as part of the ASGISA programme, the Department had adopted three special projects. The first, QIDS-UP, was a quality improvement and development support programme. Many schools lacked basic requirements such as water, electricity, IT, desks, chairs, and particularly textbooks and library books. With the budget provided, some of the poorest schools from each province would be selected for improvement of infrastructure and basic equipment, to lead to improved teaching and learning outcomes. One of the difficulties in implementing this particular project was that each school, depending on the community, the province’s allocation, and other factors, was different.

The second special project was Dinaledi Schools, which aimed to accelerate the number of passes in higher Maths and Science, especially among African learners, from 25 000 during 2005 to 50 000 during 2008. Currently 17 000 of the 25 000 passes were achieved by white students and the project aimed to change that profile. Therefore the 400 schools selected under this project were schools with a history of African higher grade and standard grade Maths provision.

The third special project was re-capitalisation of FET colleges, which would start in 2007 with the phasing out of outdated programmes. New programmes would be introduced that met the needs of the economy, at an accelerated rate.

Many people believed that the relevant vocational skills that are needed in the country were "quick" skills, acquired through short courses in welding or brick-laying. However, the 21st century required IT, good judgement and problem-solving abilities that were not usually taught through short courses. In addition, people who had passed these short courses were usually not eligible for promotions, or able to move into other areas of their preference, but were trapped in certain positions. For this reason, the Department required that vocational colleges must offer Maths, Language Studies, and Information Technology Studies as compulsory subjects.

In conclusion, Ms Vinjevold stated that the sustainability of the aims of ASGISA depended on keeping a global view on education. Contributors to education must accelerate and share growth. The three priority special projects were particularly worthy of attention to achieve the aims.


Discussion

Mr G Boinamo (DA) commented that even though there clearly was an intention to improve the service of education in the country, he asked when the Department would equalise the quality of education. There was a big chasm, in terms of quality, between private schools, Model C schools and public schools. Further reasons for school drop-outs would include the vast distances between learners’ homes and the schools which they attended, the lack of employment after matriculation, and poverty. He enquired how these problems would be dealt with, in order to make education attractive to learners.

Ms Vinjevold responded that the quality of education had improved. She disagreed with the statement that there was a big difference between private, former Model C and public schools. There were very good public schools scattered throughout the country, some uneven Model C schools, and the largest number of schools with a pass rate of 20% was in the private school sector. Some public schools, despite trying circumstances, were doing outstanding work. The 17 000 extra learners who had passed Matric in 2005, compared to the previous year, were all African learners from both the Model C and the rural township schools. The Department had found that schools improving their higher grade Maths exemptions were from rural places in Limpopo. Evidence of positive changes showed in the Matric results, and also in visits that were being made to schools. The number of Africans in professional jobs was indicative that the quality of education had changed. She acknowledged that there was still a long way to go. She asked for the support of the Portfolio Committee with the no-fees schools, the QIDS-UP project, implementing the NCS, and getting all seven to ten-year-olds to "read a book a day". She further acknowledged that although poverty issues did undermine the Department’s ability to ensure high quality education for everyone, its food and nutrition programme was highly commended. She would welcome suggestions for improvement. She added that all DOE’s studies showed that matriculants’ chances of finding employment had doubled. Those who had received endorsements had even greater chances of finding employment, and those with higher education had a 95% chance of finding employment.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) expressed her gratitude for the way in which the presentation set out DOE’s aims for delivery on the aspirations of ASGISA. She asked how NCS was unique in preparing learners for the challenges of ASGISA. In addition, she wanted to know how teachers would be trained to implement the NCS, to avoid importing other educators to teach the new programme.

Ms Vinjevold said that the main difference between the NCS and the old system was that DOE had dropped what was offered in the standard grade, and had shifted the curriculum towards the higher grade level, which was cognitively more demanding. Many learners who had studied on standard grade level were denied the "learning and earning" opportunities of those who studied on higher grade. The NCS contained 29, as opposed to the previous 100, subjects, and contained between 25% and 75% new content. The new Matric examination would demand extended reading and extensive writing.

Ms Vinjevold explained that it was well established, worldwide, that it was extremely difficult to get the relevant people into vocational education. Skilled people with the sector knowledge to teach were lured into the professional arena, and they often did not have the pedagogical skills to convey their knowledge. A one-week orientation training course was being offered to educators to familiarise themselves with the new programme.

The Department further wanted to move lecturers from being employed in the current public service system, to colleges, so that it could get engineers, IT people and others to give short courses to the full-time lecturers at the colleges.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) asked how the Department was assisting the provinces to develop a good model for strengthening the management of the new programme.

Ms Vinjevold acknowledged that management had the potential to undermine the delivery of good quality education. The Department had introduced to the Committee of Education Ministers a proposal for a mandatory pilot training course for principals, to be introduced in 2007. In order to improve the functioning of district officers, the Department was working in consultation with an Indian delegation. India, in spite of its huge schooling population, had managed to get their districts to influence the quality of education. This delegation was to look at five of the country’s 79 districts, and to make recommendations for the July Lekhotla how to strengthen the districts.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) was very excited about the new developments in education. For these initiatives to work, it was necessary to ensure that schools were functional across the spectrum, and that educators were adequately trained. He asked what would be done about educators who, despite being given the opportunity to obtain the necessary training, did not do so, and as a result lacked the necessary capacity to teach. He further enquired what was being done to ensure that there were adequately trained teachers with the necessary capacity in every single school. Lastly, he wanted to know what action would be taken against dysfunctional schools.

Ms Vinjevold replied that by the end of the year there would be a framework in place to focus on those teachers who required training for the implementation of the NCS. Although many of the nation’s teachers were capacitated to teach their subjects, some were not committed to delivering quality teaching. All the mechanisms were in place to suspend and remove those people, and penalise those schools who wilfully did not perform to standard. Sometimes the mechanisms were not used when public officials defaulted. It might be necessary either to toughen the mechanisms, or to support people in accessing and using them.

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) asked if there were any mechanisms to ensure more students in the FET colleges. She also wanted to know how the phasing out of outdated programmes was to be introduced at FET colleges.

Ms Vinjevold replied that a large recruitment campaign was underway to attract people into the FET colleges, for which the Department had engaged the assistance of the Youth Forum. At a national level, brochures had been developed, and the topic was being addressed at each forum. Although the provinces were tasked with the issue, the colleges must market themselves. She added that DOE would be taking students from Grades 11 and 12 to the various colleges, to show them what was being offered, and would also be offering bursaries. The Department aimed at recruiting 100 000 more unemployed young people into the FET system in the current year.

Ms Vinjevold continued that the Department would phase out the old programme at N1 level in 2007. The old N2 level programme would be phased out in 2008, and the N3 programme would be phased out in 2009. Such a move would always constitute a dilemma. Even though the old programmes were outdated, one could not move too quickly, because that could destabilise the system. For that reason, they would offer an N1 examination in 2007.

Mr I Vadi (ANC) commented that in 1992, the National Party had introduced their Education Renewal Strategy (ERS), aiming at expansion of vocational education, which was believed to be able to solve the country’s problems. It had failed, and he wondered if the new system was attempting to repeat those attempts. The objective of education should not be just to empower people for employment, or develop the economy, but foster broader values. He questioned whether the nation, including all stakeholders in education, had a clear understanding of what DOE and government were attempting to achieve in education. He did not think it was possible to achieve the aims outlined in the presentation without a national will.

Ms Vinjevold responded that a sustainable education programme must be broad, and must not only aim to ensure employment. It was for this reason that DOE included maths, IT and language studies in all its programmes. Literature studies would foster understanding that employment was not the sole aim, Life Skills contained health and citizenship components. SARS wished to introduce a course to promote an understanding of why citizens should pay taxes. In each of the vocational subjects there were theory and practical components. The Department’s new vocational route would therefore not follow the narrow focus of the previous ERS.

Ms Vinjevold suggested that in selling the Department’s vision, it might be necessary to find some catch phrases. She believed that DOE had the right policies in place. The analysis of what needed to be done for ASGISA had made them even more confident that they were moving in the right direction, with all the access and acceleration strategies in place. However, she agreed that the public did not have an understanding of the Department’s objectives and operations. She believed it was necessary to move away from the complex, conceptual understanding of what was being done, and find something that would express what the Department was doing for the next three to five years. Educationalists were not always good at marketing, and needed to utilise public relations officials to translate the Department’s objectives into a marketable concept.

Ms M Mentor (ANC) commented that dealing with the nation’s education problems in the same manner that had been employed since 1994 would lead to failure. She was of the opinion that although government departments often were well able to assess problem situations, they failed in addressing the actual work to redress the problems. A project approach was needed for the special projects. This would allow for thorough planning, carefully examination of the problem, breaking it down into its various components, and involvement of the role-players. The project sites would be the schools, the FET colleges, and the higher education institutions. She cited an example based in the school project site, where problems could be experienced with educators, learners, curricula, involvement of parents, management of the school, and so forth. The issue of resources like textbooks, and so forth, should be addressed. Then it was necessary to plan for the implementation of the entire project, mapping out the whole cycle. The cycle should be divided into mini-projects to address each component of the problem. She further explained that monitoring and evaluation systems should be built into the project from inception to delivery. She felt that a new broad, all-inclusive approach, without breaking down the matter, would result in the Department "missing the boat". She asked if there was a time limit by which the Department would evaluate the programme, both in terms of qualitative and quantitative indicators, to see what exactly it had delivered.

Ms Mentor agreed with Mr Vadi that the Department would be failing if it produced artisans who did not understand what was required of them in terms of the nobler issues such as non-racism.

Mr Vinjevold responded that everything mentioned by Ms Mentor as components of the project approach were already being implemented by the Department’s programme. In terms of the three ASGISA special projects planned, she invited Ms Mentor to inspect DOE’s instrument for checking on the progress of matters such as colleges’ implementation of programmes from 2007, their infrastructure developments, and so forth. The Minister was appointing a group of seven external people to check the instrument, and so report on the progress of implementation of the programme.

Mechanisms to Reduce the Number of Youths that are out of School

Ms Vinjevold stated that the details of this presentation were largely included in her first presentation. After careful analysis, DOE believed that the FET colleges should not offer short courses, attempting to pass out people quickly into the job market. They were aiming to recruit 100 000 young people from Grades 10, 11 and 12, and young people who have been out of school for a few years, into the FET colleges. The focus was particularly on 16- to 21-year olds. The funding formula provided 80% of the monies. An infrastructure audit revealed that the majority of colleges had 5m2 per FTE (full-time equivalent), meaning that there was plenty of space for expansion. In addition to that, on the current public service lecturing system, lecturers still taught from 8am to 3pm, and the times could be expanded into the evenings and weekends.

Ms Vinjevold continued that the crisis in the construction industry and in civil engineering was that the workers on site, subordinate to the engineers, were most critical and that the construction industry wanted to import workers at that level. The Department had now prepared a curriculum for this sector, and, with their site experience and conceptual knowledge provided by the course, it would be possible to recruit people locally. These kinds of programmes were aimed at bringing many more young people into the job market.

Discussion

Ms Mentor suggested that if foreign workers were imported, each imported worker should mentor a local person, so that a time limit could be imposed for the importation of skills.

Ms Vinjevold noted the suggestion, but stated that the Department’s aim was to educate South African youths so that there would be no need to import.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Vinjevold for her informative and stimulating presentation, and for the various assurances in terms of progress that was being made in the education spectrum.

Tabling of Draft Committee Programme for Term 3; and Minutes of Meeting of 9 May 2006

The Draft Programme for Term 3 was tabled.

The Chairperson informed the Committee that there were various matters in the minutes that required clarity, which the secretary was attempting to verify with the Department. The minutes were then proposed, seconded and adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.

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