Quality basic education



In 2030, South Africans will be enriched by universal early childhood education, high-quality schooling, further education and training that allows them to fulfil their potential, and expanding higher education that accelerates the shift to a knowledge economy.

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Basic education – Downloads

Find out more about the National Development Plan

National Development Plan – full text
National Development Plan – Chapter 9: Improving education, training and innovation
Medium-Term Strategic Framework 2014 to 2019 – Outcome 1: Quality basic education
Department of Basic Education Action Plan to 2019
Infographic: Improving education, training and innovation

Basic education – The vision

In the year 2030, South Africans have education of the highest quality, giving them life-changing skills and knowledge. Education make people’s life chances more equal. It is the door to success: South Africans now earn more than their parents and grandparents.

A better educated population has boosted economic growth. This larger economy has space for more jobs, and has lifted more people out of poverty. Equality in education has also levelled out income inequality.

In 2030, South Africa enjoys an education system with:

• High-quality, universal early childhood education
• Quality school education, with globally competitive literacy and numeracy standards
• Further and higher education and training that allows people to fulfil their potential
• An expanding higher-education sector that boosts incomes and productivity, and shifts South Africa towards a knowledge-based economy
• A wider system of innovation that links universities, science councils and independent research and development institutions with priority areas of the economy


Basic education – The challenges

The quality of education for most black children is poor. After 12 years of schooling, many can’t find jobs. Poor education also reduces the earning potential and career mobility of those who do get jobs – and limits the competitiveness of South African businesses.

In poorer communities, schools are still substandard, textbooks are not delivered and teachers are not motivated and well-supported. Poor communities cannot support their schools and school governing bodies to the same extent as wealthier communities. Weak management and accountability leads to poor use of taxpayer resources.

While socioeconomic conditions of learners constrain learning achievement it is clear that in South Africa unequal schooling aggravates socioeconomic disadvantage, rather than mitigating it.


Basic education – Action required

The work of improving education in South Africa starts at home, moves on to basic schooling and ends only in the laboratories and seminars of advanced research and development.

Action is needed in the following areas:

• Households and communities
• Management of the education system
• Competence and capacity of school principals
• Teacher performance
• Further education and training
• Higher education
• Research and development

Households and communities

Proper nutrition and diet, especially for children under three, are essential for sound physical and mental development. The NDP makes recommendations on child nutrition, helping parents and families to break the cycle of poverty, and providing the best preparation for young children – including a proposal that every child should have at least two years of preschool education.

Management of the education system

Reducing layers of bureaucracy would make more resources available to support schools and teachers. The general rule of thumb is that interventions, both supportive and corrective, need to be inversely proportional to school performance.

In this way, better-performing schools can be given the freedom to get on with the job, as long as there is measurable improvement. The National Development Plan makes specific recommendations focused on better support to schools, delivering the basic necessities for a good education and measuring the right things.

It also proposes a campaign to improve infrastructure in poor schools, especially in rural areas.

Competence and capacity of school principals

The common feature of all well-run schools is leadership. The Department of Basic Education has recently launched a programme to measure the competencies of principals and deputy principals.

This survey will also help identify weak performers, based on learner scores, and allow for appropriate support for principals and teachers. Principals should be selected purely on merit, be given greater powers over school management and be held accountable for performance.

Teacher performance

The NDP’s proposals cover training, remuneration, incentives, time on task, performance measurement, and content and pedagogical support. Professionalism and the conditions that enhance professional conduct must be rebuilt, and accountability for performance needs to be enhanced. This means that professional development, peer review, school infrastructure, the provision of learner support materials and teacher support systems need to be strengthened.

Teachers, both individually and at school level, should be held accountable for learner performance, with due recognition of the learning environment.

Further education and training

According to the NDP, the further education and training system is not effective. It is too small and the output quality is poor. Continuous quality improvement is needed as the system expands.

The quality and relevance of courses needs urgent attention. When quality starts to improve and the employability of graduates begins to increase, demand for FET services will rise automatically.

Simply growing the sector without focusing on quality is likely to be expensive and demoralising for young people, further stigmatising the system. By 2030, the FET sector should cover about 25% of the age-relevant cohort, implying an increase from about 300 000 today to 1.25-million by 2030.

Higher education

The performance of existing institutions ranges from world-class to mediocre. Continuous quality improvement is needed as the system expands at a moderate pace.

A major challenge is that poor school education increases the cost of producing graduates, and a relatively small number of black students graduate from universities. Increasing participation and graduation rates, with the option of a four-year university degree, combined with bridging courses and more support for universities to help black students from disadvantaged backgrounds, is likely to yield higher returns.

Research and development

A simultaneous focus on R&D and on the calibre of teaching would improve the quality of higher education, but without attention, inadequate human capacity will constrain knowledge production and innovation. Universities need to become centres of excellence at the cutting edge of technology. By attracting students from abroad, universities can generate revenue and increase the skills pool. Students from abroad who graduate from South African universities should qualify for a seven-year work permit to encourage them to stay and work here. While South Africa needs to spend more on R&D in general, the institutional setup also needs to improve the link between innovation and business requirements. Government should partner with the private sector to raise the level of R&D, with resources targeted towards building the research infrastructure required by a modern economy.


Basic education – Key medium-term goals for 2019

South Africa’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (2014 to 2019) identifies the following sub-outcomes to achieve quality basic education.

• Improve quality of teaching and learning through development, supply and effective utilisation of teachers
• Improve quality of teaching and learning by providing infrastructure and learning materials
• Regular annual national assessments to track improvement in the quality of teaching and learning
• Improved Grade R and planning for extension of early childhood development
• A credible, outcomes-focused planning and accountability system – building state capacity to intervene and support quality education
• Partnerships for a strong education system

Basic education – Key medium-term targets for 2019

South Africa’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (2014 to 2019) identifies the following targets to achieve quality basic education.

01 education targetsGRAPHIC: MARY ALEXANDER

 Researched, edited and compiled by Mary Alexander

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Updated December 2015