30 years of advancing education

By Tiisetso Ramotse

Every parent naturally wants the best for their child when it comes to education.  This extends to the school their children attend or tertiary education later in life.  Education develops children to be confident and independent. It encourages them to think, make important decisions and operate independently.

This seemingly normal thing of wanting the best for one’s child was routinely denied to the majority before 1994. Prior to 1994 each designated ethnic group had its own education department and learners underwent separate schooling, with the best reserved for white schools.

Moving from such a dystopia to a system that catered for all was never going to be easy; however, our founding fathers knew that education would be key in building a new society from the ashes of the past. Since 1994, education has been seen as a basic right. Section 29 (1) (a) of the South African Constitution states that "everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education".

From the dawn of South Africa’s democracy in 1994, this right has been gradually realised by successive administrations. During the first few crucial years of democracy the focus was on bringing an end to apartheid’s structures and culture, while setting up new governance arrangements that reflected democratic principles.

This firm basis has been key in building an education system that works for everyone, and offers every learner a chance to live their dreams. Quality and affordable schooling which was once the preserve of a select few has been opened to everyone and has resulted in better educational outcomes.

Getting the system to work has taken time and a ground up approach. At the outset, we sought to expand access to free education for children from poor households. No-fee schools were introduced in 2007 and today more than nine million children attend no fee schools, which represents at least 80 percent of our schools.

This has gone hand in hand with laying a firm foundation for functional literacy and learning which has been made possible by the drive to enrol children in the Early Childhood Development Programme. It has helped to significantly grow literacy and lifelong learning in our nation.

The Census 2022 demonstrates that the introduction of no-fee schools, Early Childhood Development and school nutrition programmes have had a positive impact on enrolments and improvements in the outputs of the educational system.

Currently there is almost universal school attendance for children aged seven to 15 (or the completion of Grade 9). This has resulted in a sharp decline in people having no schooling, dropping from 19 percent in 1996 to 7 percent in 2022.

Another key factor we have focussed on is school completion rates. Which have drastically improved as the number of people who now have Grade 12 has more than doubled since 1996 (Census 2022).

The matric pass rate, which remains an important barometer for education, has improved to 82.9 percent in 2023, compared to only 53.4 percent in 1995.  Some might dismiss the pass rate as nothing more than a figure, but the quality of pass has also improved with each passing year. In 2023 over 40.9 percent of candidates or 282,894 learners who wrote achieved a Bachelor’s pass. This has far exceeded the National Development Plan target of 190 000 Bachelor level passes set for 2024.

Of course, pass rates and good education achievements have to be backed up by quality learning that prepares students for the working world.  Therefore, we have prioritised maths, science and technology in our schools.

Government has also introduced new technology subjects and specialisation including Technical Mathematics and Technical Sciences, Maritime Sciences, Aviation Studies, Mining Sciences and Aquaponics.

Learning continues to evolve and all efforts are being made to equip learners with the required skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution. Undoubtedly, our journey over the past 30 years has had many highs and lows but what has remained constant is our quest to provide quality and affordable learning that gives every learner the chance to live their dreams