Speech by Minister Debbie Schäfer, Minister of Education Western Cape
Premier, thank you for hosting these Awards at Leeuwenhof again this year. It really is one of my favourite days of the year, and I’m sure it is one of yours too. What a delight to interact with and be inspired by young people with such bright futures ahead of them, and what a privilege to do it in such beautiful surroundings. I appreciate your ongoing support to our Department and sector, and the recognition that education really is the way we will grow and develop the adults of tomorrow, who will develop our economy, which I know is close to your heart as well.
Looking to the future
Last week, I attended the national Basic Education Lekgotla, for discussions on a wide variety of issues in the education sector – from learning losses and dropouts, to Early Child Development and inclusive education. But one comment from a young man representing an NGO really stood out for me. In all his engagements with stakeholders, he noticed something important. He said that overseas, they talk about the future. Here, we talk about the past.
This is true – we do get bogged down in what has gone before in our country. And I am not advocating that we forget it or dismiss it. We must recognise what has gone before and learn from it. But we need to look ahead as to what we want our FUTURE to look like and make plans to achieve it.
This is true of our more recent past as well, having gone through two years of the Covid- 19 pandemic. It has taken a profound physical, emotional and financial toll on our sector and on our province. I again thank all our staff, learners, and parents for the work they have put in over the past two years, in extremely difficult circumstances.
But we do need to start thinking about our post-crisis world. This week, the Presidency announced the decision to return to full-time attendance across all schools. We have welcomed this decision, because we know – and I think our teachers especially know – just how dramatic the learning losses are amongst our children, and just how much of a tragedy this is for their futures.
I know that this will take some adjustment – again - getting back to (almost) normal. But, knowing just how much resilience and strength our schools have shown in getting learners back to school on a rotational basis, I have no doubt that we can work together to get our children back to learning full time. And we have a monumental task on our hand to try and catch up the lost time.
But today, I would like to live in the now, and celebrate what we have achieved over the last year, and what we have to look forward to in the future.
The NSC 2021 results
I must admit something: I was extremely worried about this year’s matric results, because we weren’t 100% sure which way it would go.
On the one hand, our Class of 2021 was in Grade 11 during the highly disrupted 2020 school year – and their grade that was one of the last to return to class. We knew that they had missed a lot of class time that year, and had to catch up so much work.
On the other, with the mid-year exams cancelled, the Class of 2021 had a very stable matric year, with more days in class than other years have had. I also know that our schools, districts and Head Office did phenomenal work in holding afternoon and weekend classes, providing revision materials, online tutoring, and the like. I thank you for these efforts, which really paid off.
I said, last year, that the Class of 2021 had big shoes to fill. And boy, did they fill them and more. You know most of the highlights by now, but I’ll never tire of sharing them!
And all of this, with over 6 000 extra candidates writing, during a pandemic. I wasn’t joking when I called this class our Superstars!
Our schools, too, had plenty of good news to celebrate.
One of the things we look out for each year is how many of our schools have not achieved a 60% pass rate – this is the level below which we consider underperformance. I am pleased to report that the number of schools in this category has decreased from 52 in 2020, to 40 in 2021.
But make no mistake: we are not satisfied with this number. We will continue to work with these schools to ensure that they too can raise their pass rates. And I urge them to look to the examples of other schools that have managed, through hard work and with support, to increase their pass rates dramatically. I think of Scottsville High School, where I celebrated with learners receiving their individual results two weeks ago. They achieved the highest increase in pass rate in the province from last year, more than doubling it to over 60%, and doubling their Bachelor’s pass rate while they were at it. The Principal assured me that they have their sights set on increasing it further.
If they can do it, our other schools can too.
We are also seeing something extremely positive in comparing our school quintiles. For starters, our quintile 3 school pass rate surpassed the quintile 4 schools this year. I have my issues with our quintile system, as many of us do, but I don’t want to take away from this point: we are closing the education inequality gap in our schools. We have worked hard to do this, and the effort is paying off. Let’s keep going.
And just to top it all off, we now have two districts in the national top ten.
Metro North Education District retained their top 10 spot from last year, tied in fifth place and increasing their pass rate to 85.87% - congratulations to Director Wendy Horn and her team for this commendable performance. It is so wonderful to see one of our former National Teaching Award winners continuing to inspire excellent results.
And our new entrant to the top ten is Eden and Central Karoo Education District. Director Jewel Jonkers, you and your team are obviously doing something right there, with the largest increase in pass percentage across the districts to 84.33% - that’s over 5 percentage points more than last year! Congratulations to you too.
Speaking of increases in pass rate, I want to make a special mention of Metro East Education District as well. For the last 7 years they have occupied position 8 out of 8 districts. Along comes new District Director Landeka Diamond, another former National Teaching Award winner, and they have moved up to position 7 in her first year in office, with the second highest increase in pass rate, to reach 77.14%. Landie, we support your goal of over 80% next year! Your focus on giving every child a promising future is commendable.
Congratulations to all of our districts on their work last year, with almost all achieving over 80%. Given the conditions we have faced over the past two years, our district offices have had a very tough time, and I want to acknowledge that and thank you for your efforts.
National Teaching Awards 2021
It’s noteworthy that our former National Teaching Award winners (and specifically women in leadership) are excelling as district directors. It also gives me an excuse to talk about one of our other incredible achievements this year: our department’s performance at the 2021 Awards held in October last year.
Out of our 14 nominees, 9 placed in the top three in their categories – this is quite something when you consider that there is one nominee from each province in each category. So it really was the Western Cape show in 2021!
I especially congratulate our three category winners:
I also wish to recognise the effort that is put into mentoring our teachers for these awards, and to appreciate the time that our former winners have set aside to participate in webinars for prospective applicants and other support mechanisms. We see our former winners taking up senior leadership roles, so I have no doubt that our 2021 winners will be at the forefront in the years to come.
I would like to recognise the work that our Superintendent-General, Brent Walters, and his team have put in over the past year. SG, this is your first set of matric results as Head of Education, and what a set they are. You are guiding the WCED through some of the toughest times we have faced, and your steadfast leadership is making a real difference amongst our staff and in our schools.
Also in their first year in their new roles, our DDG for Curriculum and Assessment Management, Haroon Mahomed, and Chief Director of Assessment and Examinations,
Bertram Loriston, can also be extremely proud of these results. You and your officials work long and hard while many of us are enjoying the December break, to ensure that everything runs smoothly and we can be assured of the quality of our province’s matric results. Congratulations to you on a successful exam and results period, and some stellar results.
A special thank you is also due to the matric teachers and parents of 2021. Without your constant, generous, and vital support to our learners, we would not be celebrating as we are today. Please, never think that your efforts go unnoticed.
And finally, to the Class of 2021: you had a mountain to climb over the past two years. You have demonstrated real character in not just meeting expectations, but exceeding them. I have no doubt that you all have bright futures ahead of you, no matter where you find yourself. We are so very proud of you.
For those who did not make it through, please do not give up. You still have the opportunity to improve your marks through the June supplementary exams. Please don’t forget to register before the 18th of February. We have seen your courage over the past two years – we believe you can make it.
There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that our Class of 2022 meets this standard, but for now, let us celebrate the success of our matriculants of 2021!