An improved matric pass rate, hugely increased enrolments from primary to tertiary level, and reinvestments in teacher training are among the signs that South Africa is improving access to quality education, President Jacob Zuma told Parliament on Thursday.
Delivering his State of the Nation address in Cape Town, Zuma said the country's matric pass rate had gone up from around 61 percent in 2009 to 78 percent last year, and that university and college pass rates were improving each year.
"Through the annual national assessments, we keep track of improvements and interventions needed, especially in maths and science," Zuma said.
The number of children attending Grade R had more than doubled, from about 300 000 to more than 700 000 between 2003 and 2011, he noted, adding that a Draft Policy Framework towards Universal Access to Grade R has been gazetted for public comment, with a view to making Grade R compulsory.
Around eight-million South African school children are exempted from paying school fees, while nine-million children are getting food at school.
More schools to replace mud and other unsuitable structures are to be built, Zuma said. To date, 370 new schools have been delivered throughout the country via the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, a national programme to tackle school infrastructure backlogs in the country.
The R8.2-billion public-private programme aims to eradicate the 496 "mud schools" in the country, provide water and sanitation to 1 257 schools and electricity to 878 schools by March 2016.
From 22 July until 6 December 2013, the initiative handed over one school per week in the Eastern Cape, which has been prioritised under the programme.
The government is also investing in teacher training and the re-opening of teacher training colleges in order to meet the demand for a skilled workforce, Zuma said on Thursday.
In the tertiary sector, enrolments at universities have increased by 12% since 2009, while Further Education and Training (FET) college enrolments have increased by 90%, Zuma said.
To meet the growing demand, the budget of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme has been increased to R9-billion.
Twelve new FET colleges are to be built, in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, Zuma said, complementing the recent establishment of two brand new universities, Sol Plaatje in the Northern Cape and the University of Mpumalanga.