Government has welcomed President Jacob Zuma’s invitation to serve on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Education First Initiative which is aimed at promoting the achievement of quality, relevant and inclusive education for all in the world.
Zuma was invited by the UN Secretary-General to be one of the ten inaugural Member State Champions for the Education First Initiative, during the UN General Assembly in New York, earlier this week. The champions will provide support to the UN Secretary-General in order to ensure strong visibility and the success of the initiative.
“The invitation indicates the high regard with which South Africa is held in the world as a nation that is working hard to reverse the impact of three centuries of colonialism and apartheid in education and all other spheres,” said Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj in a statement.
The Democratic Alliance has raised its objection invitation, claiming that South Africa has not achieved much in education.
Maharaj said this was incorrect. He highlighted that South Africa could count many achievements over the past 18 years in reversing the impact of a racist education system which was designed to subjugate the majority.
Among the achievements, were the separation of Basic and Higher Education in 2009 by the President so that each could receive undivided attention.
“At the Basic Education level, government had to deal with the impact of poverty on learner performance and also factors such as weak school management, teacher knowledge, low levels of accountability and limited resources all of which affected the way schools performed.
“Systematically, government is addressing these shortcomings and progress is being made. Most importantly, we want to achieve the goal of universal access to education,” Maharaj said.
Furthermore, over eight-million children are now in no-fee schools and government has also succeeded in facilitating universal access to primary education. The proportion of girls attending primary, secondary and tertiary education is improving significantly.
The government school nutrition programme feeds more than eight-million children in more than 20 000 schools, increasing their performance in class.
Government is also on track to meet its target of having 100% coverage for Grade R by 2014, Grade R enrolment has increased from 300 000 to more than 700 000 between 2003 and 2011.
Work is on-going to eradicate mud schools, with R8.2-billion having been allocated to the programme. New schools are expected to be officially opened next month in the Eastern Cape, replacing mud schools.
The matric percentage pass rate has increased from 67.8% in 2010 and 70.2% in 2011.
Maharaj added that government was working on improving the quality of teaching maths and science as well as the teaching of literacy and numeracy. “We also want to achieve more university level passes.”
Government is also working hard to improve literacy and numeracy in primary schools and has instituted Annual National Assessment (ANA) tests to enable to objectively assess the health of the education system below Grade 12.
“The 2011 ANA results confirmed our belief that the levels of literacy and numeracy are very low, Grade 3 learner average scores are 28% and 35% for numeracy and literacy respectively. We want schools to use the results to produce school development plans so that we can systematically improve education outcomes.
“The target is to have 60% of Grade 3 learners performing at required literacy levels, at least 60% of Grade 9 learners performing at required mathematics levels, and 175 000 Grade 12 learners pass with a bachelor’s pass by 2014,” said Maharaj.
On school management, government has set a target of producing more than 40 000 teachers by 2014 and the institutions offering Foundation Phase teacher education, will be increased from 13 to 21 over the next four years. Some of these will be revitalised former colleges of education.
On textbooks and learning materials, government has directed the Department of Basic Education to improve the distribution logistics so that books arrive in schools on time next year to avoid the problems that arose in Limpopo and other provinces.
The President is currently processing the Presidential Task Team report on the Limpopo challenge and will make an announcement once he has concluded the process.
Maharaj said government was continuing to work with the Eastern Cape to improve the situation in the province.
“A lot of progress is being made in improving higher education access and outcomes. To reduce finance as a barrier to accessing post school training, allocations for loans and bursaries increased from R3.3-billion in 2010/11 to R5.5-billion in 2011/12, with R17-million focusing on learners with disability.”