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Council of Education Ministers decisions regarding improvement and challenges in the schools.

Minister of Basic Education Ms Angie Motshekga at the media briefing in Pretoria

The Director-General gave a

detailed mid-year review of the Basic Education sector which looked at progress made in the implementation of key priority programmes.

There are 25 days remaining until the start of the 2015 National Senior Certificate (NSC).All processes are on track to ensure the smooth administration of the NSC. Examination papers have been set and have sent to provinces. Provinces have appointed markers and all processes are going ahead as planned. 

2015 there is a large number of matriculants writing the examinations which is such a positive fact. The total number of registered candidates are 801 688 with 674 232 of those being full time candidates and 127 456 part time candidates.

The figures involved I this year’s NSC examinations are remarkable.10 million question papers have been printed that are ready to be distributed to almost 7000 examination centres. There will be 65 000 invigilators and 35 000 markers in 118 marking centres around the country.

The provinces have indicated plans are well underway and going well in order to effectively administer the 2015 NSC.

The decision taken by Council of Education Ministers (CEM) to progress learners who did not pass Grade 11 to Grade 12 was discussed by CEM. These progressed learners have been closely monitored by all provinces and it was agreed that these learners would receive a special remedial support. However all provinces noted that during monitoring these learners who were progressed throughout the year there has been serious challenges. The monitoring has revealed that despite the remedial attention these learners are receiving they are still not coping with the Grade 12 curriculum and therefore a decision was taken to allow these learners to modulate their matric. Those who did not perform well in the June & September trial exams will be offered the option to only focus on the subjects they are ready to write this year and focus on the remaining subjects in 2016 to ensure that they get the support and content knowledge required to allow them to attain a matric certificate. Provinces have committed to engage with these learners as well as their parents to inform them of this decision. Parents and learners will be advised based on the performance of learners in the trial examinations on the best way forward.

Despite the challenges identified with the implementation of promotion and progression on 2015, CEM noted that there was a value in the progression policy, it has always been aspirational and requires a lot of support for the progressed learner. CEM agreed to refine and improve this policy going forward and look at setting specific requirements for the progression of learners, for example they may have to pass Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) and the learner’s attendance may have to be taken into account.

Deputy Minister of Basic Education Mr Mohamed Enver Surty in Pretoria building.Another decision taken was that in addition to a number of remedial steps to be taken to support failed learners, where the implementation of technical stream in the sector should take place in 2017 as is planned. Plans are underway to introduce the technical vocational stream next year in 2016 and the following year the occupational vocational stream will be introduced. Learners who are continuously progressed will be encouraged to a vocational pathway. All MEC’s and the Minister that the implementation of the progression policy will need to be improved and closely monitored.

CEM deliberated on the Annual National Assessment (ANA) and the events of recent weeks. The minister and the MEC’s considered all developments around this matter and arrived at a decision that ANA should be written this year.

CEM decided that the assessments will be written from the 1st to the 4th December 2015 and all provinces indicated that they will be able to go ahead with the ANA’s.

In the engagement with unions it was agreed that the assessments will be postponed for a period of 90 days, the dates agreed at CEM are in line with that 90 day period as agreed. Even though the issue of the possibility of writing ANA in February was raised, CEM felt very strongly that it would be in the best interest of learners and administration if it is written this year.

Department of Basic Education Director General Mr Mathanzima Mweli & The Departments  Spokesperson Mr Elija Mhlanga at the briefing in Pretoria.All MEC’s expressed confidence that their schools were ready to administer ANA and that the postponement to next year would negatively affect the people involved and the sector. The also expressed disappointment and raised serious concerns over the conduct of the teacher unions in their apparent attempt to undermine the ANA programme for the year.

Minister of Basic Education Ms. Angie Motshekga further on said that Assessments are the yard stick by which the system is measured and it shouldn’t be tampered with in a haphazard and uncoordinated manner. ANA is fundamental, about reading, writing and counting i.e. literacy and numeracy. It was discussed that ANA is used as a helpful diagnostic tool and often reflects on the inefficiencies in effective teaching. The education system is about effective learning and teaching and it cannot continue as a system that is not performing at optimum strength, and ANA is an effective tool to identify challenges and measure progress as well as to monitor interventions. Many of the concerns raised by the unions were legitimate and it was agreed that the frequency of ANA needs to be reviewed in a systematic & academic manner, not in an aggressive and confrontational manner. In this vein a process has already begun and recommendations have been gazette, inviting comment on the frequency of ANA, long before this issue was taken up by the unions. It was also agreed at CEM that the sector will not allow a situation where the sector’s assessment are undermined.

In the meantime a task team is being set up to look into the administrative, frequency and other concerns regarding ANA raised by the unions. The Department have taken the concerns raised by unions on board and they will be taken into consideration and looked at by the task team and CEM have committed to remodel the ANA.

The minister also spoke some facts regarding libraries and reading campaign saying that the data analysis on all national and international assessments including various research institutions confirm that learners are not reading optimally. The ability to read for meaning and pleasure is arguably the most important skill children learn in primary school. Since almost all future learning will depend on this fundamental understanding of the relation between print and spoken language, it is unsurprisingly that literacy, built upon a firm foundation of basic reading, is used as one of the primary measures of school effectiveness. She also said the department has also identified that some of the impediments is access to school libraries and reading material. The department has therefore embarked on a multi-pronged reading campaign which is supported and will be implemented by all provinces.

On Mandela Day 2015 the department launched the 1000 school libraries campaign. 1000 libraries, reading corners or container libraries will be built or refurbished every year to ensure that by 2019 every school has access to adequate reading material, especially to encourage recreational reading. Research indicates that learners who read for pleasure are on average one half grades ahead of their peers who do not read. The department mission to make South Africa a reading nation will go a long way to address many of the challenges in the sector and it’s important that all South Africans come on board whereby books can be given as gifts , as parents and teachers read to our children and get them to read back to us. This practice of reading cannot only be done at schools alone but needs to also be done at home as well.

On the department meeting held the officials received a progress report on the Increment Introduction of Indigenous African Languages that will be implemented in Grade 1 across the board from next year which is an exciting and significant development as far as languages are concerned.  This means that schools that previously only offered English and Afrikaans will now be mandated to offer an African language from Grade 1 and continue incrementally year on year. All South African authors, poets and universities are encouraged by the department to continue to develop South African local indigenous languages by creating literature in South African local languages.

CEM noted the misconceptions in the media regarding the addition of Mandarin to a list of 15 other additional foreign language options. This forms part of the country to country agreement, like those South Africa has with other countries. To date the foreign languages most extensively offered in schools are German followed by French with other languages such as Portuguese, Urdu, Tamil & Arabic among many others also on offer at the same level which Mandarin is offered. To reiterate, Mandarin is now available to schools that wish to offer it at an optional third language level. It will have no impact on South Africa’s current compulsory curriculum in which it is mandatory to take two South African languages. 

There was another report that CEM considered, it was on the state of readiness of the Skills Revolution in the Basic Education Sector brought about by the implementation of CAPS for Technical High Schools starting in Grade 10 in 2016, as well as progress made in skills and vocational programmes which will be implemented in schools of skills starting from 2017. The sector has set bold targets of building a solid foundation for producing artisans consistent with the National Development Plan targets. Growth in schools and learner numbers is already evident from year to year.

CEM also raised concerns at the level of violence in schools. It was identified that more needs to be done to address all forms of violence in school, including bullying. The age cohort of some learners was also raised as a contributing factor and it was discussed that the rollout of different streams of education especially the vocational stream should be prioritized to prevent learners staying in school long after the appropriate age if they are not coping with the academic stream.

Minister emphasized that there was a protocol signed with the South African Police Service (SAPS) whereby every police station would adopt a school. CEM has requested a progress report on this programme to assess the impact and to see how far implementation has gone and if this pairing of schools with police is having the desired effect. This discussion also noted with concern the call by learner organization COSAS to retaliate against teachers who are still continuing to practice corporal punishment. CEM condemned al acts of violence that take place in and around schools.

CEM agreed to convene a Lekgotla to discuss and find ways for leading with violence in schools and young school children involved in violence and the unacceptable levels of young school girls falling pregnant as well as the whole challenge around learner well being in schools and safety for both leaners and teachers where the Minister of Basic Education will interact with the Minister of Police to discuss ways of strengthening the current collaboration and the protocol signed by the two departments.

CEM also confirmed a decision that as of January 2016 al provinces will implement competency tess for the appointment of principals. Draft guidelines on new measures for the appointment of principals which include a component on competency assessment has been developed and tabled at CEM. A draft framework containing areas of assessing principal’s competency has been completed. The Western Cape has a functional competency assessment programme and has taken principals and deputy principals through the programme. The minister said she is confident that these measures will improve leadership in schools and improve the accountability of principals.

The minister also reported that she visited Limpopo Province , where she met with the Vhembe district officials as well as the community stakeholders in the area to discuss the recent protest which affected learners in that community. The community protest actions started 31st August 2015 and lasted until 13th September 2015. A total of 50 547 learners in 107 schools (73 primary and 34 secondary) were affected by the protest action. 2600 of those are in Grade 12.The district which is historically one of the best performing in the country, presented a detailed catch up and recovery plan for all affected learners which were supported by the meeting. What was especially assuring was that all community stakeholders present, including Traditional Leaders, Religious Leaders and School Governing Body Associations agreed to undertake an advocacy campaign in the community to ensure that the education of the community’s children would not be jeopardized for other issues that do not relate to education which was the case.

At the end of the meeting the CEM further approved the following policies:

1. Review of the reporting of learner performance in the national certificate examinations at        national, provincial, district and school level.

2. Approved the amended regulations for the issuing of the certificate by the council for General and further education and training quality assurances.

3. Considered proposed amendments to the Basic Education Laws amendment Bill.

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