Naledi Pandor

Naledi Pandor

Dear Ido Lekota

Your letter, addressed to me and carried by Sowetan is a welcome reminder that we should continue to place education at the centre of creating learning opportunities for all children in our schools.

Your letter makes it clear that the Ministry of Education should do more to communicate on our work and progress.

The anxiety you expressed about your daughter writing her matric examination is understandable.

This is partly due to the importance of the matric exam as a gateway to future study and careers. It is also caused by the manner in which we and the media create the spectre of a do or perish exam.

We need to make the school-leaving exam a normal part of schooling and encourage all pupils, teachers and parents to take every grade of schooling seriously.

The new outcome-based education (OBE) curriculum is modern, pupil-centred and focused on skills. We are addressing the issue of teacher training and the provision of resources to ensure its effective implementation.

We have built thousands of new schools since 1994 and continue to invest billions of rands in more classrooms, laboratories and libraries.

Sadly, the legacy of backlogs is very extensive and we are going to continue to invest in overcoming discrimination for several years.

I hope you read our 2006 report on infrastructure needs. It is available on our website

Many newspapers reflected on the report and identified areas of progress and serious shortcomings. We are addressing all the inadequacies as I write.

Notwithstanding the significant problems we face, I wish to illustrate progress by referring to three key changes in education since 1994.

Firstly, before 1994 millions of children were excluded from schooling. We now have compulsory education in South Africa and millions of pupils in our schools.

It is important to remind readers that other democracies took decades, and in some cases centuries, before all children had a right to education. We introduced this right with the birth of democracy.

Secondly, you will remember those years when we had double shifts in schools, few teachers and very severe overcrowding.

Today we have 360 000 teachers in 26000 public schools giving South Africa a pupil teacher ratio of 1:32. This positive development is negatively affected by the lack of sufficient classroom space in some schools and by worrying levels of teacher absenteeism in some districts. Nevertheless, that growth in teacher numbers is another sign of welcome change.

Thirdly, the removal of the past standard grade and higher grade subject divisions means all children now pursue the same curriculum, and also do mathematics or maths literacy.

This change is a new teaching and learning opportunity for teachers who often preferred to channel children to the "easier" standard-grade options.

In 2007 we reintroduced full service bursaries for teachers. The Teacher Recruitment Campaign and the Funza Lushaka Bursary Scheme work hand in hand to attract quality people into the teaching profession.

This year, more than 1000 Funza Lushaka bursars will graduate and be appointed in provincial posts in public schools that are in most need of their services.

These are teachers who have been trained to teach the scarce skills subjects, including mathematics, science, computer applications technology and indigenous languages.

The retraining and development of teachers continue and will be expanded in 2009 through partnerships with teacher unions and with the South African Council for Educators.

Our curriculum was revised in 2001 and the examinations have been submitted to renowned examination authorities internationally for scrutiny and have been supported by these authorities.

We will support teachers and we trust they will support us and the pupils by committing themselves to be in class ready to teach, sober, prepared and enthusiastic! Such teachers will complete the process of change we began in 1994.

You refer to the absence of computers in our schools. We are already costing our plan to implement system-wide e-access by 2013.

Our concern is, we place hundreds of computers in schools and most of them are stolen in two days. We lose millions in computers, books, desks and chairs. Many homes in our communities have one or two pieces of school furniture in them.

Perhaps Sowetan could help me through a campaign to keep school property in schools.

Over the past four years we have improved our provision of textbooks, stationery and other equipment.

I am aware that at times, provinces or district offices add administrative burdens to teaching. We are resolving these difficulties with our colleagues. But, let me add, qualified professional teachers can and should be able to find solutions to curriculum challenges. They are welcome to contact our departments whenever they need help.

The fact that some illustrious people survived the pernicious system of Bantu education and have succeeded, can only be ascribed to the failure of the system to quell independent spirits. It is almost obscene to suggest that the system should be praised for these exceptions.

In fact, thanks for these survivors should be given to the brave parents who refused to believe that mediocrity was acceptable and to teachers such as the late Professor E'skia Mphalehle's, Dr W Khambule and many others who refused to allow Bantu education to succeed on their watch.

I trust I have responded to the important matters you raised and remain available to discuss them further should you so wish.

l This is an edited response by Education Minister Naledi Pandor to Ido Lekota's Political Notebook column on November 1, raising concerns about the state of education in the country.