'It looks like a hectic year ahead': Panyaza Lesufi answers 10 questions as schools mark a month since opening

Late online admissions for schools in Gauteng will open again.
Late online admissions for schools in Gauteng will open again.

Just as 2019 was a difficult one for the Gauteng Department of Education, 2020 is proving to be just as hard. 

In 2019, the education sector in the province saw several cases of stabbings, robberies, and other forms of violence, while 2020 kicked off with drownings, the torching of school infrastructure and incidents of bullying.

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi often does not have time to spend in his office, heading from one location to another to either give answers to families following a tragedy or attend to communities vandalising school property.

READ | Four pupils dead, two raped in Gauteng in one week: Lead us in prayer, pleads Lesufi

With Friday marking exactly a month since schools opened, News24 gave the MEC 10 questions to answer to give a preview of the plans and hopes for the department this year.

1. It is a new year, 2020, what are some of the successes and failures you can point out from 2019?

Some of our most significant service delivery achievements include the following:

· The Class of 2019 achieved a pass rate 87.23%. This is a 0.65% decline over the 2018 achievement of 87.88%.

· In respect of bachelor's, we have achieved another first, at 44.46% not only have we exceeded the 2019 target of 40%, but we all also surpassed the 43.65% mark of 2018. We have also achieved the highest percentage of bachelor's passes (matric exemptions) since 1994.

· Gauteng contributed the highest number of candidates qualifying for bachelor's studies in 2019 at 43 494 who wrote qualified for admission. This is up from 41 410 bachelor's passes in 2018. Gauteng achieved the highest bachelor's rate of all provinces. Nationally, we contributed 23.4% of all bachelor's achieved. 

· Gauteng is still the leading performing province by virtue of the size of the provincial system. This despite the increased enrolment compared to 2018.

· Eleven special schools across the province have successfully opened autism units. Progressively, Gauteng is improving access to education for pupils with special needs.

· The new admission policy and introduction of the constitutionally mandated feeder zones have widened access to pupils across the province. This followed wider and deeper consultation with all stakeholders.

· The twinning of former Model C and township schools has proceeded as hoped. This brings us closer to our goal of building a non-racial education system and efficiently distributing resources.

We provide hope to thousands of young people who receive bursaries, work exposure and skills development through the programmes offered by the Gauteng City Region Academy.

An improved administration with positive audit outcomes, demonstrating improved financial management and governance.

Gauteng is considered a moderate to good performing education system in the South African context. The province is a system where interventions are focused on supporting pupils in achieving the basics of literacy and numeracy. This includes providing scaffolding for low-skill teachers, fulfilling all basic pupil needs and bringing all schools up to a minimum threshold.

2. What are you excited about this year and what are some of your goals for education in the province?

The following excites me dearly:

· Expand and enhance schools of specialisation to strengthen our skills base. This seeks to nurture the development of top talented pupils across a subset of disciplines and to nurture South Africa's future generation of leaders. This will ensure access to top academic performers that show aptitude in a chosen field.  

· Skills for a changing world including technical high schools.

· The department will introduce several new technology subjects and specialisations in identified technical secondary schools. The new subjects include technical mathematics, technical sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies and mining sciences.

· Multi-certification.

The strategy is for the implementation of certificated skills-based programmes, focusing on pupils in the identified grades though not limited to those grades. Pupils opting to participate in these prioritised programmes will do so as part of their extracurricular activities. These programmes will contribute to the social and personal wellbeing of these pupils and should positively impact on their academic performance.

· Fourth industrial revolution, ICT and e-Learning

Societal shifts involving technology are beginning to have a profound impact on teaching, infrastructure, resources, stakeholder relations, and our pupils. The opportunities include greater access to rich, multimedia content; and the increasing use of online courses that offer classes not otherwise available.

3. 2019 was a difficult and heart-breaking year with incidents of violence and even deaths at schools. What are your plans to curb incidents of stabbing, fighting, bullying, etc, for this year? Are you confident about a stress-free year?

Unfortunately, we started 2020 on a bad note, so many incidents which include death, bullying, violence, torching of schools and some disruptions recorded within the three weeks of schools opening on 15 January 2020. It looks like this is an indication of a hectic year ahead. However, we are hopeful that working with parents, we will overcome these challenges.

4. There has been a lot of criticism regarding the online registration for grades 1 and 8. Is the department looking into any changes in this year's system? If yes or no, what are the reasons? Is there a process on how parents can appeal placements and what will be different about the placement this year?

The introduction of online admissions is a revolution, parents may apply to five schools simultaneously. Over the years, we have improved the system, 2020 was the first year that we introduced new admission regulations.

Indeed, for this period, our challenge is capacity and preferences, people insisting on schools that they want which are full. Among others, the system assists the department to address gatekeeping at certain schools, encourages fair processes and accessibility to all qualifying parents accordingly.

5. Failing infrastructure at schools has also been a topic for many, especially with the collapse of a walkway at one of the schools last year. How many schools will be opened this year and what are further plans regarding the improvement of infrastructure at all schools?

Our infrastructure programme, which has come under close scrutiny by the public, remains one of the toughest areas to deal with. We have made substantial progress in this regard and we have reversed the historical infrastructure backlogs.

We have identified and replaced unsafe structures such as pit latrines. In our endeavour to eradicate all asbestos schools, we have this year on 15 January launched our first newly built school that replaced an old asbestos school, Noordgesig Primary.

6. You have also been widely criticised by groups such as AfriForum for integrating Afrikaans schools. Is this something you still feel strongly about going into the year and future?

I strongly believe in non-racialism and the need for our children to study together under one roof. We need to learn each other's languages and culture to promote social cohesion. Remember, we are preparing our children to attend universities which are all inclusive as well as our workplaces. So, the classroom should be inclusive and accommodative of all children and there is no single language that I hate or despise.

7. Do you anticipate another difficult year?

Those who oppose non-racialism will try all the tricks to protect their selfish interests, so the struggle continues.

8. How do you cope with the stress, the barrage of criticism, personal attacks, all while trying to revive your beloved Moroka Swallows?

I attend a lot of football matches, music concerts and do gardening to ease stress.

9. The department has pointed out that it would now be focusing on primary schools too, with the announcement of the release of the results from primary schools. How does the department plan to run this?

This priority will focus on improving pupil test scores in literacy/language and numeracy/mathematics in grades 3, 6 and 9. The department has prioritised the development of the general education and training strategy (grades 1 to 9) to ensure the seamless implementation and synergy of programmes and interventions across the system.

Indeed, in partnership with the premier, we will release those results.

10. Tell us one thing people may not know about you

I wear a tie daily, but I don't know how to tie it, I rely on friends to do it for me.

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