Statement delivered by Mrs Angie Motshekga following a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers (CEM)
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for responding to our invitation. The Council of Education Ministers has met in Pretoria for the first time in 2017.
As you might have observed it has been a busy start to the year in the sector.
We began the year as always with the release of the 2016 National Senior Certificate (NSC) results. We subsequently held a fruitful Education Sector Lekgotla.
We emerged from the Education Lekgotla with clear recommendations in terms of the interventions that we need to implement in order to realise our long term goal of improving the quality of the education system in our country.
Council of Education (CEM) gives us the opportunity to reflect on developments in the sector and to determine the way forward with the appropriate policies that will assist to make improvements in the system.
I am therefore delighted to share some of the policy decisions and robust discussions that took place at Thursday's CEM meeting.
National policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy
The rate of learner pregnancy in South Africa, highlighted by improved reporting in the Department of Basic Education (DBE), has become a major social, systemic and fiscal challenge not only for the basic education sector, but crucially, for national development.
Teenage pregnancy among school girls can impact negatively on the country's ability to ensure these girls complete their schooling, which is also goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
We want all of our young girls to stay in school and get a quality education.
Teenage pregnancy impacts the lives of thousands of young people, often limiting their personal growth, the pursuit of rewarding careers and their ambitions, with incalculable impact on South Africa's socio-economic systems.
The 2015 Annual School Survey reported that an estimated 15740 learners fell pregnant in the academic school year with some girls being in Primary School, Health Department data indicates that this number could be even greater.
In many cases girls who fall pregnant while in school drop-out or rarely return to school post pregnancy, thus ending any prospect for a descent career.
This undermines the Department of Basic Education's endeavor to ensure that all learners remain in school for the duration of their schooling especially girls so that they can have an opportunity to improve their quality of life.
Currently a gap exists within the DBE to guide schools in dealing with learner pregnancy since the withdrawal of the Guidelines to Prevent and Manage Learner Pregnancy in Schools known as Measures in 2012.
The Measures were withdrawn because the schools were found to misinterpret the clause on period of absence of the girl learner from school post pregnancy and forced learners to stay out of school up to a period of 2 years.
This was challenged in a court case which then instructed the Department to withdraw the Measures since they were unconstitutional and discriminated against the pregnant learner's right to education.
To close this gap the DBE developed a National Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy.
This policy has been through the relevant consultative process and was approved by CEM for implementation.
The Policy addresses the high rates of pregnancy among learners; the familial and social context within which this occurs; options for reduction of unintended and unwanted pregnancies; management of its pre- and post-natal implications; limitation of associated stigma and discrimination; and, importantly, the retention and re-enrolment of affected learners in school.
This Policy seeks to ensure the accessible provision of information on prevention; choice of termination of pregnancy (CToP); care, counselling and support; frameworks for impact mitigation; and guidelines for systemic management and implementation.
In particular, it commits the basic education system and other role players to providing the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) crucial to optimal sexual and reproductive health.
The aim of CSE is to ensure that young people gain the knowledge and skills to make conscious, healthy and respectful choices about relationships and sexuality.
It provides an age-appropriate, culturally-relevant and right-based approach to sexuality and relationships, which explicitly addresses issues of gender and power, and provides scientifically accurate, practical information in a non-judgemental way.
Of central importance this Policy asserts the Constitutional rights of pregnant learners to continue and complete their basic education without stigma or discrimination.
Specifically, it confirms that there should be no exclusion of pregnant learners who must be allowed to remain in school during their pregnancies and return as soon after giving birth as is appropriate for both the learner and her child.
For its part, the school is required to accommodate the reasonable needs of the learner to ensure that her right to education is not disrupted or ended by pregnancy or birth.
At the end of the day we need to ensure that our learners are educated and know what they are getting into when it comes to sexual activity and advise and support them to access relevant forms of contraception, but also for those learners who do fall pregnant we do not want them to be expelled from school or denied the right to education - which has happened in the past.
Second chance matric support programme
In 2017 we are seeing the country wide roll-out of our Second Chance Matric Support Programme.
The interest generated by this programme on the ground has been immense and it is clear that many who did not have the opportunity to complete their NSC examinations for one reason or another have taken the opportunity to do so now.
The first phase of the Second Chance Matric Support Programme is the supplementary examinations which commenced on the 22nd of February 2017.
More than 92,000 candidates have enrolled to sit for the examinations in 5 928 centres around the country.
The examinations are proceeding without major incidents. The supplementary exam will be concluded on March 30th. Registration for the next phase closes this week on the 15th of March.
The June sitting of the examinations; this is where progressed learners who took the option to modularise will be able to write.
This sitting will also include those who enrolled in the second chance programme who were previously in Matric before the introduction of the National Senior Certificate in 2008.
For those learners who will need to rewrite their entire NSC to pass they will sit for the November examinations at the end of the year when the current cohort of Grade 12 learners write their final examinations.
We have recorded lessons on community radio stations and Facebook discussion forums with experienced teachers who are helping learners with the various subjects.
We are hoping to see as many learners as possible complete their school leaving qualification so that they may have a better opportunity for a successful future.
Multiple examination opportunity guidelines
The decision relating to offering the progressed learners multiple examination opportunities or as we have called it the opportunity to modularise has been a learning curve.
We have found it important to set strict guidelines or criteria to assist principals in making the decision as to which learners qualify for modularisation.
We do not want a situation where a principal will advise a learner to modularise in a bid to protect their pass rate when in fact that learner would have a high probability of passing.
These guidelines for modularisation stipulate that the learners must attend school regularly, they must be progressed learners, they must meet their school based assessment criteria, they must first write the preparatory examination (trials), they need to have failed more than three subjects in those preparatory examinations and the final decision is determined by the school based on these criteria.
Examination irregularities remain a challenge in the sector. Earlier this year we dealt with reports regarding the leaking of questions papers.
As a Department we are working to strengthen the examination regulations to better deal with irregularities.
We have identified a need to tighten the regulations to ensure that offences such as the group copying are eradicated.
We want to hold educators or the adults responsible in assisting learners accountable.
We have also noted the changing environment in terms of the role played by technological advancements and social media.
CEM received a proposal with amendments to the regulations and the process to make changes has commenced and we hope to be in a position to implement the revised regulations for the 2017 sitting of the NSC.
We want these regulations to not only assist us in dealing with learners who violate them, but we want to be able to deal harshly with officials and teachers who are found to be involved in wrong doing as well.
National school nutrition programme
An evaluation report has been conducted on the National School Nutrition Programme by the Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation; looking into its impact on learners as well as the effectiveness and efficiency of its roll out.
CEM has approved an implantation plan that seeks to implement the recommendations that have come out of the report's findings. The report is comprehensive so I will not go into all of the findings.
However one of the findings was that on days when learners are fed Soya, they do not eat. It was suggested that an alternative that is more appealing to learners is found, but one that does not impinge on the nutritional value of the meal.
It was found that in some schools they are unable to have the meals prepared by 10am and as an intervention for short-term hunger it is ineffective.
The report suggests that the possibility of a morning snack be looked into.
DBE has developed a detailed response and implantation plan to address some of the findings.
What we are very pleased about is that the report found that the NSNP has beneficial impact on our learners and in most cases learners are receiving a nutritious meal every day.
We feed over 9,6 million learners across the country every day and this is a successful project that as the department we are very proud to say is improving the lives of our poorest learners.
Guidelines for focus schools
As I am sure by now you are all aware we are in the process of implementing the stream model into our education system. Focus Schools will form the third stream of the South African education system.
These are public schools that provide education with specialised focus on talent, including sport, performing arts or creative arts (also referred to as Focus Schools) are meant to be innovative centres of teaching and learning excellence that endow learners with specialised skills and competitiveness.
These schools have an advantage of connecting learning with the realities of the world of work while providing opportunities for further and higher education while igniting entrepreneurial skills of learners.
Flowing from and consistent with the prevailing education policies, Focus Schools are required to facilitate the following objectives:
Improved access to subjects previously not available to all learners and improved quality of performance in these subject areas at grades 10-12;
Enhanced participation and success rates of learners, especially previously disadvantaged learners at grades 8-12 especially at rural areas;
Expanded numbers of learners who qualify to enter higher education especially from poor families and have opportunities for entrepreneurship;
Increased production of highly skilled professionals and enhanced innovative capacity of the nation; and
Empowered learners, equipped with scarce skills needed in the marketplace.
It is in this context that the current schools offering the identified specialised subjects should be guided through a standard framework.
The learners offering these subjects should also be supported comprehensively in order to meet the objectives of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS).
The envisaged outcomes of the curriculum should be fulfilled through the adoption and implementation of these Guidelines.
CEM has approved the guidelines for Focus Schools. These are meant to standardise the processes of establishing such schools and to provide for a legislative framework for the sector.
Learning through play
Evidence shows that a play-based approach to learning allows children to better understand mathematical and language concepts and to become creative, solution-oriented learners who are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.
The Department of Basic Education in partnership with UNICEF, the LEGO Foundation and Cotlands have developed Learning Around You which is an innovative online training, accredited with the South African Council of Educators (SACE).
The training programme will equip 150,000 professionals to effectively implement play-based learning based on the National Curriculum Framework.
The initial testing phase has been completed and went live last week Thursday (9th March 2017) at www.playsa.org.
CEM launched this free p.l.a.y. on-line in-service training programme, with the aim to provide in-service training to 42,000 early childhood development practitioners, 23,000 Grade R educators and 85,000 Grade 1 to 3 educators over the next two years.
This programme is part of a more comprehensive partnership between the Department of Basic Education, UNICEF and the LEGO Foundation.
We aim to strengthen the inclusion and utilization of play as a powerful tool and method of early learning and development.
As a result, play will be used to contribute to children's growth, health, nutrition and protection as part of national policies, curricula and programmes for children from birth to nine years.
Learners with severe disabilities
We are still struggling to meet the needs of learners with severe disabilities in the education sector. However much progress has been made in this area there is still a need to do more.
CEM agreed that all provinces should go and prepare for the implementation and expansion of programs for children with severe disabilities. Provinces will come back and report their plans to the DBE.
Infrastructure safety and security
Our schools have become soft targets for criminals and safety and security in our schools has become a major concern for us in the sector. We put in computers and they are stolen, our property is vandalised and our learners are exposed to danger.
Some of the problems we have picked about around school safety and security include the location of schools, the adjacent land-uses, the state and layout of school buildings, size of schools, overcrowding, lack of effective physical security measures, and poor upkeep of the school facilities.
Previously there have been no clear, comprehensive and holistic guidelines that address these problems when planning, designing and implementing school infrastructure.
The current Norms & Standards for School Infrastructure cover this but not comprehensively and do not cover any specifications.
As a result of this gap there are huge inconsistencies and different approaches that are adopted by the sector, some of which do not yield any return on investment as the vandals just "walk through" the security measures that have been provided.
It is believed that some of the recent incidents that have been experienced in schools, including high rate of vandalism (by learners and community members), theft and violence could have been reduced or avoided had proper physical security measures been provided.
We want to make sure our children and teachers are safe in schools and our infrastructure and investments in education are adequately protected.
In light of this, guidelines for addressing safety and security problems when planning and implementing school infrastructure projects have been developed and were approved by CEM.
The proposed School Infrastructure Safety and Security Guidelines (SISSG) appreciates other efforts, measures, strategies and interventions that have been put in place by the DBE and by other role-players.
The guidelines will provide minimum measures that must be considered by anyone who is designing and providing infrastructure projects in public schools across all infrastructure programmes.
They provide guides on the ideal location of schools, the general layout, and relative position of certain functional spaces, physical safety and security measures to be provided as a minimum with specifications among others.
The SISSG is focussing on the new schools, replacement schools and on existing schools when Upgrades and Additions are considered.
Home education policy
A policy on the Registration of learners for Home Education was presented to CEM and robustly discussed at length.
Ultimately the meeting felt that the draft policy left to many questions unanswered and more in-depth work needed to be on the policy before it could be approved by CEM for public comment.
This policy was referred back to HEDCOM for further work.
Special attention was given to expenditure trends in provinces ranging from Early Childhood Development, school infrastructure, Maths, Science and Technology as well as the compensation of educators.
This was to ensure that provinces work within allocated budgets.
Mathematics, Science & Technology
The importance of mathematics, science and technology as gateways subjects was emphasised and provincial initiatives to enhance performance was considered.
Teacher resource development institutes
The Department of Basic Education is committed to continuous teacher development and we have over 140 teacher development centres around the country. As part of strengthening these guidelines were proposed and improvements suggested.
Council was of the firm view that these institutes are very accessible and are a wonderful platform for continuous professional development and youth empowerment.
The National Teaching Awards
The National Teaching Awards will be held on the 25th of March 2017 at the Gallagher Conference Centre.
This is one of the highlights of the DBE calendar and something that teachers around the country strive to be a part of.
It truly is an opportunity to give our outstanding teachers the much needed recognition they deserve.
2017 marks 100 years since the birth of one of the greatest leaders and servants of the people our country has produced.
In this vain everything we do in the education sector this year will be in honour of the example set by President Oliver Reginald Tambo.
He dedicated his life to the service of the South African people and the fight for our liberation. We will dedicate the 2017 NTA's to this great South African.
He was also a teacher, and placed a very high value on quality education. We would encourage our teachers to read up on his life and legacy and ensure that every day all of us in the education sector attempt to emulate the example he has set for us as we serve our country.
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Issued by: Department of Basic Education