Johannesburg - Principals and management teams at schools which underperformed during the 2016 academic year must be held accountable and brought to book, President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.
"There must be consequences for principals and school management teams who recorded a 0% pass rate.
"We must not allow any room in the public service for ineptitude and incompetence," Zuma told officials gathered at the Basic Education Lekgotla in Pretoria.
"When I hear that there is a school that produces 0%, I always ask myself what were they doing between January and November... It means those principals were getting paid for doing nothing."
The three-day event, hosted by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, is a meeting for officials at district, provincial and national level to convene and discuss data, the challenges and strategies in each province, as well as to check on how far the department is from aligning itself with the goals of the National Development Plan.
Zuma said the lekgotla needed to reflect honestly on accountability throughout the basic education system.
Access to education
"I urge this meeting to pay special attention and develop concrete plans to attend to whatever problems exist in the underperforming districts, provinces and schools.
"Let us attend to shortcomings and ensure that we continue improving performance in education.
"We have no choice but to succeed. Education is our only weapon towards prosperity," he said.
South Africa had already done well over the past 22 years to ensure that children had access to education. The country had made progress by introducing early childhood development and in working towards getting rid of mud schools and inappropriate school structures, he said.
The government had managed to build 135 new schools across the country and had provided pupils with dignified sanitation, water and electricity at hundreds more, he said.
School nutrition programmes had also played a major role in increased school attendance at both primary and secondary schools.
Delivery of books
More than nine million children were benefiting from the programme daily. This helped improve concentration and productivity among pupils, Zuma said.
However, there were certain sections of the basic education system which needed to be monitored and held accountable for their failure to deliver services on time, he said.
More than 150 million workbooks had been distributed to learners between Grade R and Grade 9 since 2009, he said.
"We urge provinces where there could be a slow delivery of books this year to speed this up so that all children can have their books before the end of January.
"Government pays for these books. Administrators must ensure that they reach our children on time every year."
The sector also needed to make sure more learners were taught mathematics, physical sciences, accounting and languages. There also needed to be sufficient teachers to make sure this was possible, he said.
High school dropouts
Zuma also urged parents to play their part by reading to their children at home to improve literacy levels.
"Let us not allow television to take away the time of our children to read. Parents should control the time spent by children watching television, so that it does not affect their school work."
Lastly, Zuma urged teachers to work harder to reduce the high dropout rate of pupils in high school.
"Our own analysis shows that only less than 50% of all the learners who joined our education system reach matriculation level after 12 years of learning.
"There are many reasons for this anomaly – mostly socio-economic reasons and social ills. Whether it is financial reasons, abuse of drugs or other social challenges, we need to tackle them together. We must keep our youth in school," he said.