BuaNews (Tshwane)

1 June 2012

South Africa: Early Childhood Development Gets Govt's Attention

Pretoria — Government has released figures which show that school enrolment in Grade R doubled between 2003 and 2011.

"The doubling of Grade R enrolment between 2003 and 2011 from 300 000 to 705 000 is a major achievement. It appears that the Department of Basic Education is on track to meet its target of having 100% coverage for Grade R by 2014. Per capita spending on Grade R increased from R2 158 in 2008/09 to R3 109 in 2009/10," says the Mid Term Review Report officially released by government on Friday.

"We have committed ourselves to improve the quality of basic education, to this end we have increased the number of children benefitting from Early Childhood Development," said Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, releasing the report.

In addition, government says workbooks to assist with the learning programme for both educators and learners have been developed and distributed.

According to the report, the printing and distribution of 24 million workbooks in all official languages for Grade 1 to 3, and in English and Afrikaans for Grade 4 to 6, is a major achievement by the education department.

This, the report says, is an important milestone towards increasing access to good quality written material to all learners, regardless of where they attend school.

"The department is also exposing teachers to national assessment standards, and contributing towards ensuring that all teachers cover whole curricula. In 2012, workbooks will be extended to Grade 9, increasing further access to quality written material," the report says.

However, the report says that despite the massive annual increases in budget for the country's education system, the increased expenditure has not resulted in a marked improvement and the outcomes were less than satisfactory. The reason - poverty.

The report says that for a developing country, South Africa's spending was high on education, yet it was outperformed by countries spending less per capita on education with the economy struggling to harvest the skills it needs for its growth.

This year education received up to R207 billion from the national budget tabled in February with projections that this may rise to up to R236 billion over the next three years.

The report also puts the blame at the door of the country's public schooling system, highlighting problems such as weak school management, low teacher knowledge and limited resources as affecting schools performance.

The problems at school level affected the post-school training arena. This means few learners reached matric, and fewer still achieved a bachelor's pass in mathematics.

"The huge numbers of learners who exited without a pass were unprepared for the world of work and had limited opportunities for further education and training. Many of the learners who reached Grade 12 operated at literacy levels below Grade 12," reads the report.

It said the skewed enrolment in universities, which resulted in more learners in humanities, meant universities produced fewer graduates with the skills required by the economy. Low throughput rates at universities and Further Education and Training (FET) colleges further limited work opportunities for young people and impeded the development of skills for the economy.

However, on Friday Chabane said more learners were entering learnerships - 11 300 artisan learners entered training in 2011, exceeding the target of 10 000 for 2011.

He further noted that the overall pass rate for Grade 12 had increased in 2011, but with fewer learners passing at bachelor's level and passing maths. He said the Department of Education was implementing measures to address teacher quality.

Progress had also been made with regard to allowing poor learners to attend school and 70 % of learners are no in no-fee schools.

"This is a critical step towards achieving the goal of free education for our nation as envisaged in the Freedom Charter," said the minister.

The report also noted that this was an important development that partly contributes to the retention of learners in the education system, along with the National Nutrition Programme. The programme feeds approximately 8.8 million learners in 20 905 primary and secondary schools every school day throughout the academic year.

Meanwhile, the report notes that the 2011 Annual National Assessment (ANA) results for Grade 1 to 6 learners confirmed what previous surveys found - that levels of literacy and numeracy are very low, with Grade 3 learner average scores of 28% and 35% for numeracy and literacy respectively.

President Jacob Zuma announced the introduction of the easements in 2009. They were initially aimed at measuring the health of the education system below Grade 12.

Now the government demands schools use these assessments results to produce school development plans.

"In addition, [the Department of Basic Education] should standardise the way in which [the Annual National Assessment] is conducted in order to increase the assessments' credibility. Furthermore, there is a need to make the ANA results per school publicly available to enable parents to benchmark their schools' performance," says the report.

It is not just the overall figures that reflect that the country is unable to meet international and national goals for education. Previous data also show that there is a wide disparity in education figures among regions, with poor provinces such as Limpopo and the Eastern Cape trailing behind metropolitan centres like Gauteng and the Western Cape.

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