Access to education improving - minister
Cape Town - Access to education has improved over the past 17 years, Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Tuesday.
"Approximately 96% of children now gain access to school in South Africa," Nzimande said during debate in the National Assembly on President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation address.
Nzimande said that in 2009 the gross enrolment ratio for Grades 1 to 12 stood at 92%. In higher education the total enrolments was nearing 90 000.
"Meaning that the throughput rate has been improving, although it still has a long way to go.
"The biggest challenge identified by the department of basic education (DBE) is that of improving the quality of education and virtually all the DBE's current interventions are aimed at achieving this."
Nzimande cited the improvement of learning outcomes in maths, science and literacy as the biggest priority of the department.
He said this was in line with Zuma's directive on the three Ts - teachers, text and time.
The "improved" 2010 matric results proved that the schooling system was on a much better footing, he said.
"But unfortunately from the media and the opposition benches we have the same ritual every year. If the matric results are bad, this is taken as proof that this government of darkies is incapable.
"If the matric pass rate goes up it means the results have been manipulated by these darkies. In either case, the arrogant, sneering tone of this discourse is aimed at undermining the confidence of our people in both our education system and government," said Nzimande.
He said the department had made "significant strides" in the past year in the field of higher education and training to tackle the challenge of creating a post school system that was responsive to the needs of youths and adults.
Universities need to be nurtured
The adoption of the National Skills Development Strategy had been the anchor of government's intervention on the skills development front.
"This strategy, amongst other things, seeks to build a closer relationship between the Seta's, the public FET (further, education and training) colleges, the universities of technology and employers in order to shift the focus of our country towards trade and occupational programmes so that we increase the production of artisans and technicians," Nzimande said.
"We have recently reached an important agreement with labour and business to identify additional training capacity to train artisans and technicians."
He said a task team would, by the end of February, report back on how many newly trained artisans and technicians would have been used for workplace training by both private companies and state-owned enterprises.
He said that South African universities needed to be nurtured.
"They must continue to provide high quality teaching, research, innovation and community service activities and to progressively improve their capacities.
"But, we are working to ensure that these universities become more accessible and place student interests at the centre of their activities."
Institutions which need special attention, like those in rural areas, would be given assistance to build capacity to provide quality education.
"Task teams are also hard at work to prepare for the establishment of universities in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape, as part of the expansion of our higher education system."
Nzimande added that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme was being strengthened and additional resources were being pushed into it to ensure that poorer students were not denied access to education.
The country's success in education and skills development rested on a partnership between government and the people, he said.