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10th March 2017
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20th March 2017

Focus on Northern Cape Department of Education

 Providing holistic education

Julia Bartlett, Northern Cape MEC of education, says parents, teachers and learners should work together to improve the quality of education in the province

Chris Makhaye

 The challenges faced by the education system in the Northern Cape are many and varied, but so, too, are the opportunities. The Northern Cape is the largest but most sparsely populated province of South Africa. Providing education to the diverse population of this province is a challenge that the MEC for education Julia Bartlett is doing her best to grapple with.

Galvanising support

Bartlett was jolted into action after the Northern Cape matric results dropped by a whopping 7% between 2014 and 2015. She embarked on a drive to galvanise teachers, pupils and parents and other stakeholders to pull out all the stops to improve the quality of education in the province.

She travelled to schools, often arriving unannounced to ensure that teachers were in class. During her 2016/7 budget speech she urged all parties to work together. “We cannot be satisfied with a 7% decline in the overall pass rate, a 3% decline in the amount of bachelor’s passes, a 6% decline in the mathematics pass rate, a 5% decline in the amount of diploma passes and a pass rate of only 31% among progressed pupils. We are [about] improving,” she said.

Hard work

It seemed her hard work and determination did pay off. Only a total of 10 042 full-time candidates wrote the National Senior Certificate Examination in the province in 2016. The province attained an overall pass rate of 78.7%. This was a 9.3% increase from the previous year, which stood at 69.4%. Despite these improvements, Bartlett believes that the province can still do much better than this. She says her focus this year will be on underperforming schools: “Our interventions … will continue, to further reduce the number of underperforming schools in our province.

Intervention systems

“We need to assess the impact, as well as the effectiveness of those intervention systems already in place, and come up with more creative and workable solutions as a matter of urgency,” she said. Bartlett believes there is more to education than just matric and that there is a need to improve the system holistically. She said the mission of her department is to develop and deliver a quality, effective and efficient education system that is responsive to the socioeconomic development goals and targets of the province and country.

Teacher development programmes

Bartlett said her department would continue with its effort to train teachers, to provide quality education to learners in their schools. “One of our greatest challenges however, remains the production of sufficiently qualified and competent teachers. To this end, the centrality of comprehensive Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) programmes cannot be overemphasised.

“CPTD forms the basis of the integrated delivery programme we [will] pursue to improve overall learner performance from grade R to grade 12,” said the MEC. This teacher-training model effectively makes provision for teachers to receive further training in subject content and methodology.

Organisational teaching and learning support services

She said access of Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM) in South African schools still reflects the apartheid past. But to address and eliminate these inequalities, government has invested hugely in equal provisioning of textbooks and other essential LTSM resources.

The department is using a policy called Goal 19 to ensure that each learner has access to quality learning and teaching material. “The department has also introduced an online textbook tracking and monitoring system, where schools are able to place their orders and also have access to view their placed orders and delivery status. This system is the first in the country and has improved service that the department renders to schools,” she said.

School nutrition programme and de-worming of pupils

Northern Cape is one of the rural provinces in South Africa with many poor people. Through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), the education department attempts to address the plight of needy pupils by providing them with a nutritious meal by 10am for 196 school days. The NSNP has three main integrated components, namely: school feeding, sustainable food production and nutritional education.

The department’s policy is to offer all quintile one to three primary and secondary schools in the province the opportunity to apply to participate in the NSNP. All grade 1-12 learners in the schools participating in the NSNP will be entitled to benefit from the programme. Quintile four and five primary and secondary schools are expected to target and identify needy learners, but do not benefit from the NSNP conditional grant.

Many pupils who reside in rural areas do not have access to health facilities. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, over 600 million learners are infected with parasitic worms. In South Africa, studies report a 40-90% prevalence rate among learners. These infections harm their health and development, and can negatively impact on educational and economic achievement. The WHO recommends that all schoolchildren be de-wormed.

2017 and Beyond

Bartlett kicked off the 2017 academic year by visiting several schools and emphasising the need to improve the standard of education. She also motivated pupils to be dedicated to their schoolwork. She stressed the importance of parental involvement, to supplement what the teachers are doing in schools. She said she expects greater accountability from teachers in this academic year, stressing that they must be at work, on time and teaching. “This means they must uphold the integrity of the profession in the eyes of the community at all times,” she said.

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