Teachers, parents and unions the real winners

2018-01-07 00:00
Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga

Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga

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It was passionate teachers who want to be in class teaching, assertive parents demanding better education for their children and the cooperative teacher unions that sustained the Free State province’s top matric results for two years in the row.

The teamwork was so deep-rooted that even the change in administration following the appointment of the new head of the department, Advocate Tsoarelo Malakoane, early this year did not destabilise the province’s programme.

Adding the cohort of progressed pupils, the pass rate in the Free State decreased by 2.2 percentage points to 86% from 88.2% in 2016.

Malakoane told City Press on Saturday that the drop was due to national curriculum changes relating to home languages – Sesotho and Setswana.

Matriculants who failed a home language, even if they had passed with six distinctions, would in effect fail the exams.

He said the curriculum changes created turbulence affecting other best-performing provinces as well. But his department hoped it would adjust and recover within the next two years.

Free State performed better than the economically better-off provinces of Gauteng at 85.1% and Western Cape at 82.7% in 2017 matric results.

Malakoane said the department’s attitude was that being a rural province should not prevent it from achieving the top score.

“We are fortunate to have teachers who are willing to burn the midnight oil helping our pupils. I’m also indebted to parents who are hellbent on wanting to give their children the future they never had.”

The department’s strategy included holding meetings with parents to discuss issues affecting teaching and learning.

Because of the interest parents showed, sometimes marathon meetings were held with governing bodies until late at night, he said.

Malakoane said the department prioritised the resourcing of its 1 250 schools in the province to support pupils and teachers. When it faced budgetary constraints, the appointment of teachers took priority over other positions.

He said there was no secret to the province’s performance, but hard work. The province succeeded because people took education seriously.

The Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo and recently the Eastern Cape had approached the Free State for help, Malakoane said.

Partnerships were encouraged in the Free State, in which private organisations brought in infrastructure to help schools.

The Kagiso Shanduka Trust helped schools in the Fezile Dabi and Motheo districts, focusing on maths, physical science, English and home languages.

Through the trust, the districts achieved a pass rate of 90.2% and 82.5%, respectively.

Basic Education Department Minister Angie Motshekga praised the Fezile Dabi district at the national matric results announcement event on Thursday, saying it was the top-performing district in the country in 2017.

Other initiatives that improved teaching and learning included the introduction of “smart schools” – where laptops and internet were provided through partnerships with Vodacom and MTN.

Electronic lessons taught at these schools were copied onto DVDs and shared with poorer schools around the province.

Malakoane described these partnerships as a blessing, adding that another essential element involved monitoring and ensuring accountability of teachers, principals, district directors and himself as the department’s employee.

“When I enter an overcrowded classroom I feel their pain. I respect and value everyone from cleaners to tea makers. I don’t throw my weight around. I talk to unions,” he said.

He accredited the province’s top leadership, particularly education MEC Pule Makgoe, for the success, saying he had undertaken not to be a passive empathiser on issues affecting pupils and his staff.

Malakoane said their success would not be possible without teachers, who understand their role in society. But the Free State would not take its success as a competition with other provinces.

“This is not about one province but about our [national] education system. The minister and director-general [Matanzima Mweli] are fighting to improve the quality of education.

"As Free State we want all pupils to pass. A child in other provinces is still my child and education is the only tool to eradicate poverty,” Malakoane said.

The 2017 national pass rate – including progressed pupils – stands at 75.1%, an increase from 72.5% in 2016. Excluding progressed pupils, the national pass rate stands at 76.5% in 2017, an increase from 76.2% achieved in 2016.

Umalusi, the body responsible for quality assurance of matric exams, said it oversaw the processes of 58 subjects to ensure they complied with national standards.


Umalusi spokesperson Lucky Ditaunyane said the body’s executive committee of council approved the release of the results because there were no reported irregularities and were credible.

University of Johannesburg faculty of education executive dean professor Sarah Gravett said she was not surprised by the results and the positive improvements in rural provinces.

“My view remains – matric is important because it opens [or closes doors]. However, too much is made of matric results. It is but one of the indicators of the health of the education system.

"And sustained improvement and quality education require a strong foundation. We need to ensure excellent education in the foundation and intermediate phase. Much work still needs to done to improve education in these phases.”

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Read more on:    free state  |  matric 2017  |  education

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