My critics are off the mark

2013-08-12 10:00

Before you judge, see what I have accomplished in four years

It was four years ago when I was tasked with presiding over the creation of a department with a specific focus on basic education.

This meant, among other things, reviewing what I had inherited, and then developing new and focused policies as well as guidelines for implementation.

Curriculum review was the first priority because it is at the core of an education system.

My predecessors had already done the groundwork on the curriculum-review process. It led to a serious rethink of the curriculum and culminated in a major review in 2010 of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (Caps).

One of the key features of the revised Caps is the reduction of the administrative load on teachers, and ensuring clear guidance and consistency for teachers in the classroom. It addresses the shortcomings experienced with outcomes-based education, which was introduced in 1997 to ­replace the old apartheid curriculum.

Contrary to the criticism, we are determined to improve the language and mathematics skills of our learners.

We have put in place diagnostic tools that detect areas that need urgent remedy. The Annual National Assessment (ANA) is one such tool and was used for the first time in 2011. It is a massive undertaking involving about 7?million learners across the country.

We have been heavily criticised on the basis of the findings of the ANA. I am, however, happy with ANA as a tool because it helps refine our strategies of improving the system. We will continue to make the results public, because education is a societal issue. That means all stakeholders must play their part, based on research.

As a custodian of basic education, we strive to ensure that every step we take is carefully considered, and consultative processes are complied with.

What commentators and the media neglect to mention is the impact of government policy takes time to be noticed.

It is, therefore, unwise for some nongovernment organisations to force the ­department to implement certain policies in a hurry when the responsibility of implementing does not lie with them.

It is practically impossible that, in just four years, you can deliver on all the demands being made by all and sundry.

The department is putting together the building blocks of an efficient education system. Genuine public participation is welcome and encouraged. It should be done in good faith and not to make headlines and score points.

The reality is there are considerable achievements that have been made since this administration came into office in 2009.

The department now produces and distributes 50?million workbooks to schools a year. We have a comprehensive school nutrition programme feeding 8?million learners every school day. Our scholar transport is running across the country.

In terms of school infrastructure, impressive work is being done on a daily basis to provide basic necessities such as electricity, water, sanitation and toilets.

The Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative is delivering properly planned and well-resourced schools in place of mud schools, particularly in the Eastern Cape. Since July, we are opening one school a week and will continue to build and hand over schools that far exceed basic minimum norms and standards.

Since we took over the National Senior Certificate (matric), the pass rate has ­increased consistently, with the latest ­results for 2012 reaching 75% when we add results of supplementary exams, and with quality subject passes. I am under no illusion about the work that lies ahead.

Now let me turn to the vexed issue of textbooks in Limpopo. The Limpopo department of education received a qualified audit in 2010/11. Its biggest problem was with the management of human resource functions. There were 2?400 excess teachers and at least another 200 who were registered but unaccounted for physically, costing R1?billion a year. This resulted in unauthorised expenditure of R2.2?billion.

In December 2011, government took a decision to apply section 100(1)(b) of the Constitution, in effect placing five departments under administration, including education.

My department had to move with speed to address issues that had been identified as urgent and top of that list was the delivery of textbooks. It is not just any textbooks we are referring to here, but specifically the new Caps-aligned ones.

It must be placed on record that the procurement of textbooks is a lengthy, thorough and at times complex process that cannot be fast-forwarded. Many commentators and journalists alike have asked why it took more than seven months to deliver textbooks. Under normal circumstances, it takes 12 months to procure textbooks and deliver them on time. That we delivered in just more than six months in Limpopo is quite commendable.

The criticism levelled at me is completely unjustified. It exposes the ignorance of some commentators and journalists. Maybe understandably.

Our Constitution is new and the concept of concurrent powers less understood. The provision of textbooks is a function of provincial education departments and a task I became familiar with in Gauteng where I was MEC of education before my appointment as minister.

Section 100 is a complex provision to implement. Limpopo remains a challenging task, but much progress has been made since December 2011.

»?Motshekga is minister of basic education

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