Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says her department is burning the midnight oil to improve the quality of the education system.
Speaking in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Motshekga also said while she valued commentary and criticism on the education system, it would be a failure if people considered rankings from “businessmen” – who are themselves not education experts – as a true reflection of the true state of education in South Africa.
Motshekga said this after announcing a 78.2% pass rate for the matric Class of 2013 on Monday night – the highest pass rate yet since the birth of democracy in 1994.
“It is an indication that the system is on the right track, while acknowledging that a lot still needs to be done… in the system to fix it to be the perfect system that it needs to be,” she said.
At the beginning of her current term, in 2009, the pass rate stood at 60.6%, and after President Jacob Zuma decided to separate Basic Education from Higher Education, it afforded the government to give special attention to problems that dragged the entire system down.
This included scrapping the widely criticised Outcomes Based Education system and to replace it with a new curriculum, attending to schools infrastructure in a bid to eradicate mud schools, tackling socio-economic challenges to ensure that no child attended a class hungry and the introduction of Annual National Assessments from early childhood phase to improve learner performance.
These and other interventions have seen the pass rate average going up by 17.6% since 2009.
“On the path that we are in, we are confident that we will soon join the leagues of the best performing systems in the world. It is too early to celebrate, because a deeper analysis of the results [shows that] there is still a lot of work to be done as a nation.
“We still have to continue analysing the performance of different districts, especially those districts in the Eastern Cape that performed below 60%,” she said.
While the Free State province was named as the best overall performer with a pass rate of 87.4%, the Eastern Cape – which has had problems ranging from the appointment of teachers to infrastructure challenges – achieved a 64.9% average.
Motshekga said she has spoken to President Zuma about the Eastern Cape when presenting results to him, and said they will visit the province in the next week or two.
Criticism on SA’s education system
Motshekga said while she valued criticism from education experts and commentators, she expressed her concern at those who criticised and gave rankings on SA’s education system while they did not specialise in education.
She made reference to the World Economic Forum’s latest ranking on 44 countries based on the quality of education, which ranked South Africa at number 42 out of 44 countries.
“This ranking was also based on views that were expressed by business leaders. One of our researchers wrote a response questioning using this report of the World Economic Forum, but again our South African commentators keep on referring to a very unscientific report and use it as information we need to consider in the work that we are doing,” she said.
Motshekga cautioned against the continued use of this research, saying other specialised researches conducted locally and internationally found that Basic Education in South Africa was making progress.
Taking questions from studio guests and audiences, Motshekga said perceptions that the government focused on quantity over quality were wrong, in light of questions why her department set the pass rate at 30%.
She said with interventions such as the implementation of Annual National Assessments was an indication that there was special attention being paid to the quality of the results. These assessments would soon be implemented at the senior phase.
Motshekga said a commission had been set up to thrash out concerns related to the 30% pass rate.