17 June 2005
South African education is to be given a major overhaul, with a number of reforms announced by Minister of Education Naledi Pandor during her parliamentary budget speech last month.
Introducing the new Education Laws Amendment Bill, Pandor said these would include free schooling for the poor and the elevation of indigenous African languages to the same status as English and Afrikaans.
Other reforms are the promotion of mathematical literacy and life skills, higher pay for teachers, more financial support for students and increased state control of school governing bodies.
Free schooling for the poor
Children of parents who cannot afford to pay school fees will be given a lifeline. From 2006, the government will introduce no-fee schools in poorer areas and increase financial support to these schools.
At some schools parents struggle to pay school fees of under R100 a year.
“This will ensure that some of our poorest schools will be relieved of the burden of charging fees,” she said. “The education departments will provide them with adequate resources.
“The marginalisation of poor learners in schools because of their parents’ inability to pay school fees will come to an end.”
If passed into law, the Education Bill will give the minister the power to declare that an individual school’s governing body cannot charge school fees.
South Africa’s Constitution guarantees its citizens the right to basic education, regardless of the availability of resources.
There is a fee exemption system currently in place to help poorer parents, but it does not work properly, the minister said. Fee exemptions will continue to be provided in fee-based public schools.
Promoting indigenous languages
“The time has come to make the learning of an African indigenous language compulsory in all our schools,” Pandor said, announcing a new school curriculum for 2006.
In terms of the curriculum, the Further Education and Training Certificate will replace the current senior certificate or matric. Two language subjects are compulsory for the certificate. One of these must be a language of learning and teaching.
The curriculum will be introduced with detailed plans to ensure a smooth transition, Pandor said.
It is designed to move indigenous languages in from the fringes, giving them equal status with English and Afrikaans.
“We need to develop a language policy that vigorously promotes South African indigenous languages in all our schools.”
South Africa has 11 official languages: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.
‘Foolhardy’ to neglect English
Pandor rejected suggestions that English and Afrikaans were under threat.
“This must not be read as an intention to neglect the relevance of acquiring competence in English,” Pandor said. “That would be a foolhardy objective.
While competence in English was important, language could not be used as a “tool of exclusion”, the minister said. “Language in education cannot be seen solely as being about English or Afrikaans.
“The government is not against any language in our country. All languages must be promoted and allowed to thrive.”
IsiZulu is the home language of 23.8% of South Africans, followed by isiXhosa (17.6%), Afrikaans (13.3%) and Sepedi (9.4%). While English is the lingua franca of South Africa and much of the world, it is the mother tongue of only 8.2% of the country’s population.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), which represents 200 000 of the country’s educators, came out in strong support of the proposed changes.
“Naptosa is convinced the constitutional right of learners to be taught their home language must be protected,” the union said.
Other compulsory subjects for the new certificate will be mathematics – or mathematical literacy – and life orientation, as well as three other approved subjects.
The draft requirements for the certificate are based on internationally benchmarked requirements, the minister said. They will require intensive training of teachers, to prepare them to implement the new curriculum.
Reforming governing bodies
The South African Schools Act would be amended to give “a fresh, positive mandate” to governing bodies, Pandor said.
These bodies currently have the power to set school admission policies, determine what language or languages will be used in school and set school fees.
Pandor said most governing bodies had done well, but there were some that had not cooperated with the government’s intentions to transform and ensure access to education.
The proposed changes will oblige governing bodies to nominate three people to fill vacant posts, instead of the current requirement for one.
“Instead of giving us one name which they prefer, the school governing body will now give us three names and we will appoint one of those persons,” said education director-general Duncan Hindle.
He said the changes would give the department a wider choice in implementing government’s employment equity legislation.
Alf Maseko, the president of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said the move emphasised that no school was above the department’s policies.
The amendments would not curb the powers of school governing bodies, he said, but would ensure they “act in a professional and ethical manner”.
Naptosa also supported the move, saying the current system, in which school governing bodies appoint teachers independently of the government, was open to abuse and fostered favouritism.
More money for teachers and students
In her budget, Pandor announced a R6.9-billion boost to teachers’ pay. Of this, R4.2-billion will be used for expanding pay progression, for performance rewards and for targeted incentives.
“Teachers are at the heart of quality education,” the minister said.
Pandor also announced a 50% increase over 2004 in financial support for students. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme is to receive R864-million for 2005/2006 and R927-million in 2006/7, rising to R1.1-billion for 2007/8. This is in addition to donor funds and money for student loans.
She also outlined an ambitious plan to recapitalise further education and training (FET).
Some R1-billion will be invested in FET public colleges in the financial years 2006/7 and 2007/8. The aim of the recapitalisation is to increase the number of students enrolled in high-quality vocational programmes.
A ministerial committee will also be set up to investigate mass literacy teaching. The minister will also finalise funding norms and standards for funding adult learning centres.