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Education: National Context

  • Government’s spend on education increased from R351 billion in 2018 to R375 billion in 2019, constituting 20% of the R1.83 trillion total national budget for the year. More than two-thirds of the education budget was allocated to basic education (R250 billion), R37 billion went to university transfers, R33 billion to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and nearly R13 billion to technical and vocational education and training.
  • In addition to the medium term (2019–2021) education infrastructure grant of R34 billion for building new and maintaining existing schools, an additional R2.8 billion school infrastructure backlogs grant was allocated to replace pit latrines at over 2 400 schools, 147 inappropriate and unsafe schools, and to provide water to 352 schools.

  • The medium term maths, science and technology grant allocated R1.2 billion to help train teachers and provide equipment and software to schools.

  • The number of bursaries awarded to students enrolled for initial teacher education decreased from 13 500 in 2018 to 13 000 in 2019 and will decrease further, to 12 500, in 2020.

  • The National Senior Certificate pass rate increased from 75% in 2017 to 78% in 2018. However, nearly half of the pupils who enrolled in grade one in 2007 had disappeared from the schooling system by the time the cohort reached matric in 2018. Little research has been done about why students drop out, but a 2013 academic paper, titled Progress through school and determinants of school dropout in South Africa found socioeconomic issues to be a significant factor.

  • According to the Department of Basic Education, over the past five years fewer than half of matric candidates wrote mathematics as a subject and, out of a total of 270 516 mathematics writers, only 37% passed with 40% and higher.

  • In March 2019, the Department of Higher Education and Training announced that R967 million was being allocated to the NSFAS to settle historic debt owed to universities by 52 514 continuing students who had been funded on the previous NSFAS scheme prior to the new funding support that began in 2018.

National Directives in Education

Language in Education, 1997

Conceived as integral to government’s strategy to build a non-racial nation, this policy aimed to facilitate communication across the barriers of colour, language and region, while at the same time creating an environment in which respect for languages other than one’s own was encouraged. An updated policy, titled Incremental Introduction of the African Languages (Second Additional Languages), was released forpublic comment in 2013 and is still pending finalisation.

Whole-school evaluation, 2001

Radically different from the school inspection system carried out under apartheid, this policy prescribed an approach built on interactive and transparent processes, including school self-evaluation, ongoingdistrict-based support, and monitoring and external evaluations conducted by supervisory units.

Adult Basic Education and Training, 2003

This policy marked development in the ongoing process of creating an enabling environment within which Adult Basic Education and Training practitioners could improve promotion, implementation,monitoring, evaluation and coordination of their efforts.

National Integrated Early Childhood Development, 2015

This policy aims to facilitate the provision of a comprehensive package of early childhood development(ECD) services for all infants and young children (including children with special needs, disabilities or otherdevelopmental challenges). Its integrated approach to ECD learning leverages many of the provisions of the South African Integrated Programme of Action for Early Childhood Development – Moving Ahead(2013/14–2016/17). It sees ECD as a public good, in line with the National Development Plan which calls to “make ECD a top priority among the measures to improve the quality of education and long-termprospects of future generations”. It also builds on an interim ECD policy that was published in 1997 with the hope of creating a system that would provide opportunities of learning for all, but lacked an integrated approach.

Action Plan to 2019: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2030, 2015

This new curriculum seeks to see every young South African receiving quality schooling by 2030. However, it has a renewed emphasis on curriculum coverage; improving assessments and strengthening quality, efficiency and accountability at all education levels (schools, districts, administrative departments,provinces, etc) and strengthening infrastructure development. It is aligned to the National Development Plan, and seeks to build on the successes in attaining the Millennium Developmental Goals for access,participation and gender equity in education. Prior to the 2014 and 2019 Action Plans was the outcome-based education system introduced in 1998. This system, first called ‘Curriculum 2005’ because it was to be fully in place by the year 2005, intended to democratise education and increase education standards and availability. It was, however, widely criticised, with teachers complaining about being overloaded with administrative work, and unions blaming the system for high failure and drop-out rates.

Guidelines for effective funding

  • Investment in education should take government priorities into consideration, and aim to support systemic interventions and pilot innovations.
  • Funders should decide whether to interact directly with the formal education system (e.g. public schools), non-profit or community-based organisations which may deal with state structures.
  • The overall impact of the investment in education will be heavily influenced by the school or institution functionality, which in turn is determined by factors such as governance, teacher competence and regional support systems. Research shows that selecting schools or institutions with some level of functionality and good leadership significantly improves the chances of positive outcomes.
  • It is important that education programmes are combined with social development and other community outreach efforts to address psychosocial issues that impact education outcomes.
  • While there are no fool-proof solutions in the education system, experience shows that sustained and integrated projects that focus on one specific area over prolonged periods of time have a deeper and more lasting impact.
  • Literacy interventions at the foundation phase have been shown to have a particularly positive long-term impact on academic performance. Research also indicates that the outcomes of maths and science programmes can be enhanced by including literacy skills.
  • Long-term teacher development initiatives that improve subject knowledge and teaching methods should be integrated into school-based interventions wherever possible.
  • Studies have proven that investment in infrastructure, facilities and resources can have a positive effect when combined with interventions to improve teaching and school management.
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