MEC of Education Address to the 6th International Networking for Education Transformation (iNet) National Conference
Networking for Equity and Excellence
Premier of the Western Cape Helen Zille
The Honourable Dr Bunwaree, Minister of Education, Mauritius
Chairman of iNet, Mr. Nick Stuart
Ms Elizabeth Reid CEO Specialist Schools and Academies Trust
Ladies and gentlemen
Let me add my welcome to iNet and to the delegates to this prestigious conference. In a time when my Ministry and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) have committed themselves to a significant turn-around strategy for schooling in this province, it is important that we draw on the broadest possible experience and that we do not lose sight of the international context within which we work.
Obviously South Africa cannot expect to escape the challenges and opportunities of being part of the global world and the global economy. We would be naïve to think that the tangible link between globalisation and education will be any less real for South African learners than it is anywhere else in the world. For that reason we will follow the inputs of the various eminent speakers at this conference with great interest and, I have no doubt, we will learn much from them.
At the same time, as a result of a number of factors, we also have to deal with another reality - a reality of poor outputs, high drop-out rates and low system's productivity.
For this reason, I welcome this opportunity to speak to you today. I will briefly address some of the challenges we face in education in the Western Cape and the many interventions this administration has undertaken to improve the quality of education for all learners in the province so that they can compete successfully with their national and global peers.
While the Western Cape's education system is the best in the country, it is not yet characterised by the kind of excellence that this government aspires to. We are cultivating an ill-prepared youth unable to take advantage of life's opportunities or contribute meaningfully to an open, democratic society - let alone compete in an increasingly tough and unforgiving global environment.
If we are ever going to be able to compete internationally, we have to benchmark our standards against first world countries, not just against other provinces in South Africa, because, as a country, our performance at every level - primary and secondary - is falling way below international standards.
The levels of disparity between us and the global environment are growing. We find ourselves in a position where we are, as Nick Taylor, former Chief Executive Officer of JET Education Services puts it, "reproducing gross levels of inequality in our society, rather then serving as a conveyer belt out of poverty".
Our literacy and numeracy results are way below international standards. In the Progress in Reading Literacy Study of 2006, South Africa scored the lowest of the 41 countries tested, behind Slovenia, Iran, Indonesia and Morocco. This is despite the fact that South Africa tested Grade 5 learners whereas Grade 4 learners were tested in other countries. The average South African score was 302, as compared to the international average of 500.
The results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2003 (TIMSS) showed that South African Grade 8s scored the lowest mean mathematics mark and the second lowest mean science mark as compared to 46 other developed and emerging countries. We scored lower than Serbia, Tunisia, Palestine, Botswana and Ghana.
Our own recent independent literacy and numeracy assessments for Grade 6, based on internationally benchmarked levels, in November 2009, indicate that the situation is not dramatically improving. The percentage of learners achieving 50% or more for literacy across the Western Cape is 48.6%, and only 17.4% in numeracy.
Given these disparities, there are certain fundamentals that we need to get right first, before we try to compete at the higher end of the global environment.
If we do not correct levels of basic literacy and numeracy, our young people will simply fall further and further behind their international peers. Therefore, before we can even begin to compete globally, we need to set a number of things right.
This includes having our 5 Ts in order.
Time on Task
Teacher preparedness and knowledge
Ensuring that Textbooks and other materials are available
Ensuring equitable access to Technology interventions And, Testing
Teachers and learners also need to ensure that they are Present, Punctual, and Prepared.
In November of last year we launched our strategic plan for education. This plan, together with the above, intends to improve education outcomes within the province, focusing on three critical areas: improved academic performance in Literacy and Numeracy (Grades, 3, 6 and 9), improved National Senior Certificate performance, and the reduction in learner drop-out rate.
We have set targets for each of these areas and through a sustained, focused and systematic approach we intend to achieve the targets that we have set.
In all of this Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a major role. It offers the potential for improving the quality of education, especially in schools that have inadequate teaching and learning resources, and helps us to come to grips with the many challenges that we face, particularly in areas such as mathematics and science.
It also plays a major role in bridging the gap in respect of the shortages of teachers and overcrowded schools. We therefore need to embrace this opportunity and explore every available avenue with stakeholders in order to determine how our technology in education programme, known as the Khanya project can be rolled out to every school in the Province over the next few years.
So far, as referred to by the Premier, key ICT capacities and facilities have been implemented in most of our schools in the province. A total of 807 883 learners are already reaping the benefits of the project and 24 494 Educators are being empowered to use technology optimally for curriculum delivery.
Therefore we are successfully creating a technology-focused learning environment that will deliver curriculum to each and every learner and enable us to achieve our objectives laid out in the strategic plan.
Another intervention of ours is replicating centres of excellence. Given the location of iNET within the Specialised Schools and Acadamies Trust, delegates will be interested to take note that in the province, we have committed ourselves to the creation of specialised focused schools, focusing on, amongst other aspects, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
This is an important part of this administration's infrastructure plan, which plans to provide four STEM centers of excellence in the next 5 years. This will see existing facilities expanded, such as the Cape Academy in Tokai and Centre for Science and Technology (COSAT) in Khayelitsha as well as the creation of new facilities. The main driver of this initiative is to provide learners from underprivileged backgrounds with access to world class teaching and facilities.
In addition, we have looked carefully at a number of features of the so-called academy schools in the United Kingdom in an attempt to identify factors that have produced in many places positive changes. Many of these features are easily duplicated in models currently available in the Western Cape. For instance, in South Africa, every school has a legal entity, is governed by school governors which stand in relationship of trust towards this legal entity, and all public schools are public benefit organisations in terms of tax legislation. Therefore, donations attract tax benefits.
All these are features of the academy school system in the United Kingdom. We plan to replicate best practice within this academy model to the benefit our schools in the Western Cape.
While there is no quick fix in education, we believe that through the combined efforts of learners, teachers and parents, as well as support from the WCED, we are confident that we can achieve our targets set out in our strategic plan.
If we continue to increase the levels of competency in literacy and numeracy in this province, as well as giving our educators the skills and tools to transform their schools and education systems, we will bridge the gap that exists between us and our international peers, allowing us to compete effectively in the global arena.
Thank you once again for holding your conference in the Western Cape. I wish you every success but also much enjoyment.
Minister of Education, Donald Grant
Cell: 072 724 1422
Tel: 021 467 2377