Address by the Minister of Basic Education at JET's AGM

JET's 2010 Annual Report was released at the AGM held on the 30th June 2011. The keynote address on the topic of the "Role of NGOs in Education Improvement" was delivered by Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education

30 JUNE 2011

Mr Nathan Johnston Chairperson of the Board
Mr Godwin Khosa CEO JET
Members of the Business Community
Representatives of Trusts and Foundations
Leaders of Teacher unions
Representatives of other NGOs

I am honoured to have been invited to address you on this important occasion, particularly during this historically significant week for education in South Africa marked by the release of the results of the first Annual National Assessments.

Earlier this week, I announced the results of the Annual National Assessments for 2011 written by nearly 6 million children in South Africa. The Annual National Assessments Results for 2011 inform us that the education sector at all levels needs to focus on its core business – that of learning and teaching.

We can be under no illusions about the enormity of the challenges that we face. The critical skills of literacy and numeracy are fundamental to academic achievement. Many of our young people drop out of school as they go through the system because they lack a proper foundation and cannot cope with increased academic pressure. This is unacceptable for a nation that is relying on skills development in order to meet the demands of a global market.

The democratic government has a history of collaboration with the non government organisation sector. As the former Minister of Education Kader Asmal said as early as 2000: “Our choice to work with NGOs reflects the constructive partnership policy of government. It admits, openly and honestly, that government does not have a monopoly on the skills, infrastructure and resources needed to deliver a full range of services to the public."

JET has played such a role in partnership with Government. Its commitment to the pursuit of quality education is well documented. Over the years of its operations, the organization has worked with schools, NGOs, higher education, trade unions, government and business. We have reason to celebrate the spirit demonstrated by business and the non-governmental community when they realized that the challenges of transforming our society were too huge to be left to government alone.

The sharing of expertise between the state and civil society has a major impact on both the development of policy and the implementation of such. We have noted over the years the great number of projects that are targeting improvement of reading and writing skills among learners in early grades. The willingness of schools, communities and NGOs to participate in these projects is clearly a demonstration of the readiness of these stakeholders to create and seize opportunities for transformation.

Government is committed to the achievement of its apex priority: Improved quality of basic education. One of the ways to improve the schooling system is to establish links and partnerships with relevant stakeholders in order to strengthen our ability to effectively act on the promise of providing quality education to all.

The benefits of partnerships are countless. Every system needs objective assessors who have the intellectual ability and capacity to provide quality reviews and findings. The research done by many NGOs is invaluable to my Department in developing and implementing policy.

Non government organizations play a significant role in supporting government in a number of ways: For example as we work on addressing the challenges that are well known but have been seemingly intractable, we will continue to rely on non government organizations in their consulting capacity. In addition, it is a much simpler and quicker process for an NGO outside of government to establish projects through which innovative methodologies can be tested. The feedback to Government is vital. It is important for the NGO sector to begin to consider the impact of closer collaboration with each other and with Government. In streamlining our efforts we are more likely to meet the targets that we have set for ourselves as a country. We need to work smarter if we are to address the serious challenges that confront us in education.

It is useful to refer to a few ongoing challenges that we face and it is through partnerships and collaborative efforts that we can achieve our shared goals.

This administration has faced up to the challenges of the Curriculum articulated by teachers, NGOs and experts alike. We have introduced practical reforms such as streamlining the curriculum documents for teachers into the Curriculum and Assessments Statements, as well as taking steps to improve the language skills of learners by introducing the Language of Learning and Teaching in Grade 1, and reducing the number of subjects in the Intermediate Phase. What is important is to strengthen implementation through partnerships, particularly around preparing the system for example in being ready to introduce the Language of Learning and Teaching at an earlier stage.

Teacher development remains a critical issue in achieving quality education. Government has recently finalised the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development for South Africa, in collaboration with many stakeholders including NGOs. The focus is firmly on more targeted, subject-specific teacher education and development that will improve teacher content knowledge. Many NGOs have great experience in the field of teacher development and have the capacity to assist us greatly in this regard.

We have also placed increasing emphasis on the importance of Early Childhood Development and Grade R for learners. To support the objective of laying solid foundations for learning from an early age, Government is working towards universal access to Grade R by 2014. Again, this has long been an area of involvement of non government organisations.

For the first time through the Action Plan to 2014: towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025, the long term plan for education transformation and the Delivery Agreement, we have clear goals against which the performance of the sector will be measured and evaluated. We are putting in place a broad strategy to improve accountability that includes strengthening the culture of performance management within the education system. Again in this area of school management and performance, the NGO sector has vast experience.

In addition, through ANA, we are able to pin point non-performance throughout the sector. We will be able to identify points in the system whether province, district or school where intervention is needed. We will be calling on academics and researchers to work with the newly established Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit to support provinces to implement effectively all education programmes and interventions that will strengthen learning and teaching and improved quality of basic education.

It is crucial for us as a country to pool our knowledge, experience and skills and to work towards achieving our common goal of quality basic education. Indeed, we call on all South Africans to work together in support of basic education and the future of our children.