30 May 2007
Apartheid and lack of resources are no longer justifiable arguments to defend mediocrity, Education Minister Naledi Pandor told Parliament this week, urging South Africans to choose excellence and reject mediocrity for the sake of “nation building, socio-economic development and true liberation”.
Delivering the Department of Education’s budget speech in Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday, Pandor said mediocrity in South Africa was being supported by “unjustifiable arguments”.
“Some cite apartheid,” the minister said. “I acknowledge that the legacy of apartheid continues to affect us, but it no longer serves to explain continued failures on our part.
“Others cite inadequate resources. Yet this is also no longer a persuasive argument.”
Pandor said levels of under-performance in South Africa’s education system were “unacceptably high, and an unjust subversion of the historic promise of freedom and democracy that we’ve put before our people”.
From this year, she said, her department would promote excellence and reject mediocrity. Affirmation of excellence would come through performance rewards for teachers, schools, universities and colleges.
“We will also act more decisively against under-performance and provide the necessary support where disadvantage or inequity exists.”
Pandor said all provincial departments of education would have to improve their performance substantially. “Our people ask: how long do we have to wait? I want to say today: we intend to intensify our efforts at ensuring that our people wait no longer.”
Budget boost for universities
Together with the R88.7-billion allocated in provincial education budgets this year, the R16-billion in the national budget provided the resources for a significant improvement of skills throughout South Africa’s education system, the minister told Parliament.
Of the R16-billion in the national budget, higher education will receives R13.3-billion, an increase of R1.5-billion, or 13%, over 2006.
In addition, more than R2-billion has been set aside over the next three years to support infrastructure improvement on the country’s universities, improve academic salaries and focus attention on academic support.
Old funds have also been made available as earmarked funds for specific infrastructure and efficiency initiatives.
“Earmarked funds must be used in focused and accountable ways, so that they can contribute to improved student outcomes, especially in the light of national human-resource development priorities,” Pandor said.
South Africa’s university student numbers are expected to grow from 738 000 in 2005 to 820 000 by 2010, with growth in all disciplines – but particulary in the fields of science and technology and engineering.