"Actions for Angie": Amend the Quintile System and Tackle Competency Testing
Honourable Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Members
Other public Representatives
It is now just two months after the general elections, and, like many of my Provincial counterparts, I am new to the education portfolio as MEC. This budget is thus particularly important as it outlines the direction in which the National Department is heading as we all prepare our own Provincial Strategic Plans for the next five year period.
As the DA, we support the National Development Plan and many of our priorities in the Western Cape are aligned to it. We are therefore pleased to see that many of the allocations in this budget are directed towards programmes aligned to the National Development Plan.
Chairperson, the Minister pointed out in her speech in the National Assembly last week the measures her Department is taking as part of the pro-poor package. These are excellent.
However, there is another thing that needs to be done in order to assist the poor – and that is the amendment of the Quintile system.
This system, whilst acknowledging the poorer schools and making special provision for them to obtain extra funding, is still failing the poor in many communities. The way in which the system has been implemented has the effect that if a school is in an area that is regarded as more affluent than other areas, it receives less funding from Government, even if it is in fact serving very poor learners. In the Western Cape we have tried to alleviate the effects of this by allowing some schools in Quintile 4 to apply to be no-fee schools and even by expanding our school nutrition programme – with the agreement of the DBE - to some schools in Quintiles 4 and even 5, which serve very poor communities. This has provided some assistance, but we need to change this system in order for schools that genuinely serve poor learners to receive the requisite support from National Government.
The Quintile system is disadvantaging the poor, madam Minister, and I urge you to re-look at how it is implemented as soon as possible, given that there has been no movement in addressing this issue in the last few years.
The Minister's comments in her budget speech last week to the effect that she wants to ensure that her department attains quality efficiently are most welcome.
A quality education is the key to providing opportunities to our youth, and can set them up for success or failure later in life. It is therefore incumbent upon us to take whatever steps we possibly can to improve the quality of our education system.
It is our view that the quality of education in our country has been sorely lacking for far too long. It is not just our view either. It is shared by many in the commercial and professional world, who are desperately concerned that the graduates they receive are not suitably qualified for the jobs they need to fill.
It is shared by research, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) survey, which indicates that while there has been an improvement in the performance of mathematics and science education at grade 9 level in SA, we still perform poorly when compared to other surveyed countries. In fact, in 2011, South Africa was only one of three countries – with Botswana and Honduras – where grade nine students did the grade eight tests conducted in the Grade 9 survey.
Even this did not do much to improve SA's overall ranking. Our performance was so poor that the grade 8 learners of all the participating countries, except Ghana, outperformed South Africa's grade 9 learners. Our best performing learners also only approached the average performance of the top performing countries.
It is against this backdrop that we, in the Western Cape, have taken positive steps to improve on quality, one being the institution of competency testing for markers in the NSC examinations. And yet, strangely, we remain the only province to have done so.
We look forward to seeing the recommendations of the Ministerial Committee Report on the NSC.
However, it is worth noting that in February 2013, Umalusi was quoted in the Business Day as "strongly recommending" competency tests for matric exam markers, saying they would "go a long way in the identification of competent markers".
They did, however, indicate that they would have to "navigate" the issue carefully, in the light of the fact that SADTU had objected to these tests, saying it would be "unjust" to introduce them.
I find it difficult to understand exactly what is unjust about ensuring that the people who mark our matric papers are able to do the work themselves at a suitable standard. If they are, it will be no problem for them to pass the competency tests. If they are not, is it just that they adjudicate on the competence of our children?
The Minister needs to tackle this issue head on, and quickly, if she is serious about attaining quality in our education system. The 2014 NSC exams are a mere 88 days away.
It is all good and well for the other provinces to "beat" the Western Cape when it comes to percentage pass rates, but when these pass rates are calculated on fewer learners finishing matric and no quality control in respect of marking, it is making a mockery of our country’s matric qualification.
The Western Cape will continue with our competency tests and we will continue with our strategy to retain as many learners as possible in school until they complete matric. We believe that if the Minister could motivate the other provinces to do the same, she will be leaving a legacy in our country that will last for decades to come.
As outlined in the National Development Plan, the Western Cape Government supports the shift in strengthening the quality of implementation and provision of Grade R schooling in our country – especially in relation to teaching. The Western Cape Government will be prioritising this, this year, and hope to see further increases in our budgets to effect these changes in years to come.
Lastly, we look forward to the announcement of the Minister's Broadband policy. Broadband is the future and is essential for almost every aspect of life nowadays. In the Western Cape we have already introduced a number of on-line initiatives in the administration that allow the WCED, and more specifically our districts, to monitor and assess school resources, absenteeism trends, academic targets and the capturing, planning and reporting of all school visits.
However, we are committed to expanding e-learning and e-teaching as soon as possible, and there is no doubt that there will be shared benefits between the provinces – especially when it comes to e-learning and its resources.
Chairperson, I am of the view that some significant gaps in the Minister's budget speech are the importance of increased access to special needs education and technical skills development in schools. There was also limited mention of parental involvement, learner discipline and safety. All of these are fundamentally important to improving the quality of education for ALL our learners.
The basics are in place, it is now a question of whether we have the determination, stamina, political will, capacity and the necessary budget to succeed. Ultimately, we need to ensure that the best interests of the learners are served first and foremost – ensuring that they receive the best possible education.
So as in former years we have had "Tips for Trevor" when the Honourable Manuel was Finance Minister, I would like to recap two crucial points for the Minister’s attention and call them “Actions for Angie”.
- The review of the quintile system, and
- Ensure competency testing for matric markers is implemented across the country as soon as possible.