Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Basic Education Sector Lekgotla, Sandton Convention Centre

Programme Director,

Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

MECs and HODs,

Members of national and provincial legislatures,

Representatives of political parties,

Representatives of teacher unions,

Representatives of SGB Associations, higher education institutions, education organisations and civil society,

Representatives of business,

Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

It is good to be here again this year.

The Basic Education Sector Lekgotla is one of the most important events on our calendar.

It is here that officials, educators, teacher unions, policymakers, the private sector and civil society chart the course for basic education for the next twelve months and beyond.

Basic education is the foundation of a nation’s development, progress and prosperity.

The aspiration laid out in our Constitution, to establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and human rights, cannot be achieved without prioritising education.

Improving the quality of life of all citizens and freeing the potential of each person cannot be realised without education at the centre of our efforts.

If one can liken our nation to a sturdy tree that is strong enough to weather the worst conditions, basic education forms the roots that nourish the tree and enable it to grow and thrive.

The stronger and healthier the roots, the stronger and healthier the tree.

That is why, even though we have many challenges to overcome, we will continue to celebrate achievements in basic education.

Last year we recorded an 80.1 per cent matric pass rate.

This was a four percent improvement on the year before.

Despite the impact of lockdowns, school closures, learning disruption, curriculum trimming, rotational timetables and numerous hurdles, our learners excelled.

This year’s results, particularly in the performance of learners from poorer schools, show the deepening impact of education spending and the social wage more broadly.

We congratulate all the learners.

We also congratulate and thank all those who contributed towards this outcome.

We congratulate Minister Motshekga, the respective MECs and their teams.

We thank our parents and caregivers, school administrators and support staff, school governing bodies and the teaching assistants who were deployed to schools as part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus.

The biggest heroes are our educators.

Because of their dedication to their profession, our learners got the support they needed to sit these exams and to do well.

I speak here about the extra hours spent tutoring, the personal time taken to help redraft and amend timetables and curricula, the time spent being part of matric camps, and many other initiatives.

Many of our educators have their own families and children in school, and yet they provided an extended family to their learners.

The improved matric results must encourage us as stakeholders in basic education to redouble our efforts to address the extremely serious problem of learner dropout.

Every year thousands of high school learners leave before sitting their matric exams.

In many respects the problem of learner dropout makes the theme of this year’s Lekgotla even more relevant.

The theme, which focuses on equipping learners with knowledge and skills for a changing world, raises the important issue of whether all learners who enter the basic education system are able to follow the educational paths that best suit them and their aspirations.

If we can provide learners with more choices and better guidance, we should be able to reduce the proportion of learners that drop out.

The three-stream model is critical if we are to adapt and thrive as a country in the new world of work.

The skills that our country needs, the jobs that can grow our economy, and importantly, the avenues for entrepreneurship that are so sorely needed, can best be achieved by increasing learner access to technical and vocational subjects.

I am pleased to hear about the progress that we are making in institutionalising the three-stream model.

I understand that various Technical Vocational specialisations have already been introduced in more than 550 schools, and a growing number of schools are piloting the subjects in the Technical Occupational stream.

These subjects include Agriculture, Maritime and Nautical Science, Electrical, Civil and Mechanical Technologies, amongst others.

These are all vocations our economy sorely needs.

They are the kind of vocations that we need to promote and develop if we are to tackle unemployment.

The high numbers of unemployed young people is something no country can afford, but it is even worse if they are also not in education or training.

Inclusive growth and shared prosperity can only be achieved when more people are working.

A productive workforce cannot be achieved if we do not remake ourselves as a nation committed to lifelong learning in various forms.

If the economy is not creating enough jobs at scale to support the growing numbers of unemployed, we have to think creatively and innovatively.

We have to look beyond issues of labour absorption alone, and into what are the best ways to open up new pathways for employment and self-employment.

This starts with developing skills for a modern and dynamic workforce through basic education.

It cannot be emphasised enough that the greater the scope of basic education streams, the better our learners’ prospects are for securing employment and for self-employment after school.

By way of example, we will all be aware of the national effort to transition our economy along a low-carbon, climate change resilient pathway, and our move towards cleaner sources of energy.

Powering a clean energy revolution and pursuing sustainable development requires artisans, mechanics, green equipment manufacturers and operators, waste entrepreneurs, technicians, sustainable farming practitioners and a host of others.

Never has the imperative been greater for us to forge ahead with curricula that are responsive to the changing needs of our economy and society.

Beyond reflecting on the issues facing the basic education sector, our expectations are that the collective expertise at this lekgotla will help us consolidate what has been achieved so far to strengthen basic education outcomes into the future.

The learning losses from the COVID-19 pandemic period will take some time to recoup.

We have to forge ahead with the comprehensive curriculum recovery plan.

We need to pay particular attention to the negative impact of the pandemic on early learning because of the serious consequences for learners later.

When learners have difficulty learning because they struggle to read and are not confident with basic numeracy, they are more likely to repeat classes.

This slows progress through the grades, places greater burdens on teachers and consumes resources which could have been directed to quality improvement.

We have to keep looking at concrete mechanisms to strengthen the use of technology to support curriculum delivery, particularly to learners from disadvantaged communities.

Care and Support for Teaching and Learning must be institutionalised as a tool to improve learner outcomes and retention rates.

It must mitigate against learner dropouts and contribute to the nation’s overall well-being by investing in young people’s emotional stability.

We know that education involves more than the skills needed to work; it is also about developing the capabilities needed to participate in a democratic society.

Our schools must become places that are free of corporal punishment, sexual abuse, gender-based violence, racism, substance abuse and other ills.

Our schools, like our country, must be alert to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19. As educators and stakeholders we must continue to encourage vaccination for those who are eligible.

Just as education fights inequality and poverty, improves a nation’s health outcomes, and contributes to economic growth, investment in quality education extends beyond learning itself.

We are working hard to ensure that learners are able to receive education in dignified conditions that support their health and well-being.

Through the Sanitation Appropriate for Education programme, known as SAFE, we have so far been able to construct 50,000 sanitation facilities at 2,388 schools.

A further 15,000 appropriate toilets were constructed at 1,047 schools as part of the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative – ASIDI.

The Department of Basic Education assures me that all remaining SAFE sanitation projects at approximately 1,000 schools are scheduled for completion in the next financial year.

We know that conditions of learning are seriously constrained in many of our schools by high learner-teacher ratios, amongst others. The burden of expectation on our educators to teach, do administration and meet the needs of their learners is stressful.

The introduction of learning assistants into our classrooms as part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus has been a blessing for many educators and schools.

The third cohort of participants will be starting early this year and will be providing this much-needed support to our educators.

This Lekgotla has a full and busy agenda, so let us get to work.

We have a lot to do and to achieve.

Building resilience and promoting success in basic education is a firm foundation for economic growth, social progress and tackling inequality.

I look forward to today’s deliberations and to the outcomes of the Lekgotla.

I thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa