Education is a system on the rise that is beginning to show irreversible gains
Basic education has entered its own season of hope, though challenges abound, writes Angie Motshekga
03 November 2019 - 00:00
A colossus, world-renowned Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, writes in his memoir, Birth of a Dream Weaver, about a white settler who lends his white visitor a horse to ride to the station 27km away.
He orders a worker, probably the one who looks after the stables, to walk with the rider so he can bring the animal back.
The iron-hoofed horse trots; barefoot worker runs to keep pace. On the way back, the tired worker mounts the horse. Whites who see a black body on a horse report the sacrilege.
Upon arrival at the master's residence, the settler flogs the worker while European neighbours came to watch the sport.
Eventually the worker, a native, dies of his injuries, and there were no consequences for the settler.
Twenty-five years since the advent of democracy, we can safely say we are no longer just walking to keep pace with the horse.
We are no longer that native in Kenya who walks while the white settler mounts the horse. We own the horse. We run the stables. In short, we are in charge of our destiny. The future belongs to us.
After numerous policy changes and stop-and-start implementation of various models and various hurdles on the way, I am glad to say that the basic education sector has entered its own season of hope.
The winter of discontent has given rise to the morning spring rain. The early morning mist is clearing to reveal a glorious day.
As former president Thabo Mbeki once said, "In the summer of light and warmth and life-giving rain, it is to mock the gods to ask them for light and warmth and life-giving rain."
We can already see the rainbow after a torrent of rains. By all indications, the basic education sector is now firmly a system on the rise.
We have travelled along many a famished road, made famous by Ben Okri in his epic novel, The Famished Road, for so long.
Our collective task as a nation is to move SA to the next frontier of economic development, in which basic education plays a key role.
Hence, I am glad to announce that as political as well as administrative heads of the sector, we have resolved that there is no need to overhaul the entire architecture of the basic education system.
We are not about to introduce a new curriculum. But, as you all know, any curriculum worth the paper it is written on remains a dynamic document, meaning amendments occasioned by the new developments will be considered.
We will soon announce a comprehensive, evidence-based national reading plan to deal decisively with this nagging problem of lack of reading for meaning throughout the system.
Our focus is on the re-engineering of the sector to cement the narrative of "a system on the rise".
It is all about being faster (Khawuleza phase), and smarter (Digital Innovation). It is about building the service delivery ecosystem for better quality and value in our basic education sector.
The announcements we have made with regard to the General Education Certificate (GEC) elicited the ire of the commentariat.
Sadly, the storm in the teacup was based on disingenuous media reports.
The whole brouhaha that we are about to introduce a grade 9 exit certificate before matric is nothing but, to quote Shakespeare, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
The key purpose of the GEC is to offer learners an accurate and reliable indicator of their academic progress at the end of the compulsory school-going phase of basic education, and to award learners with a national certificate for their efforts
The proposed GEC is a level 1 qualification on the SA National Qualifications Framework.
It is a transitional qualification rather than an exit qualification.
In simple language, it marks the end of the compulsory school-going phase, grade 9, with a nationally recognised qualification after having passed a standardised national assessment.
Inherently, it will offer a standardised benchmark against which schools can compare their internal assessment standards.
It also speaks to government policy as expressed in various position papers since 1995 - that the system must "provide for an increasing range of learning possibilities, offering learners greater flexibility in choosing what, where, when, how and at what pace they learn".
As we know, grade 9 is also a phase wherein learners choose further education streams.
Thus, this certificate will be used as a barometer to assist learners to choose their future learning pathways that are available in the system, such as academic, technical vocational and technical occupational.
It will be recognised by all public technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.
One of the advantages of the GEC is that it could provide valuable national data to gauge the performance of our basic education system before the high-stakes grade 12 examinations.
The GEC also seeks to address the high dropout rate before grade 12.
These learners exit the system without having written a national standardised examination, and with no evidence of nine years of learning.
As a result they cannot pursue other avenues of learning and training such as in the TVET colleges.
No learner will be asked to exit schooling at grade 9. That is not this government's policy. We are creating a nation of lifelong learners.
In conclusion, as we all know, the road ahead is full of potholes. Our own lives are full of riddles. Yet, only the living understand the riddles of death and decay.
It is thus incumbent upon us, this generation, to solve the remaining riddles of our sector and triumph.
Our gains are irreversible. Indeed, "it's too soon to despair".
• Motshekga is the minister of basic education.