This article originally appeared in the second edition of Vision 2030. Written by Fiona Wakelin, it appeared under the headline ‘Education – we are constantly learning’.

South Africa consistently allocates 20% of it budget towards education – one of the highest percentages in the world. In 2016 this amounted to R297.5-billion, with the lion’s share going to basic education (R204-billion). But how well is this translating into a productive citizenry growing the economy? This article looks at the success and challenges faced by the departments of education in achieving Vision 2030.

Basic education

The Department of Basic Education measures school performance based on the improvement in learners’ performance using annual national assessments (ANAs). The following tables reflect an improving trend in home language marks, and a worrying trend in mathematics from 2012 to 2014.

Teachers and the curriculum

One of the measures that the state has implemented to improve learners’ performance is the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). An intrinsic component of CAPS is teacher support. The new curriculum was rolled out over a couple of years and was finally implemented in grades seven to nine and grade 12 in 2014. The concomitant improvement reflected in learner performance in both foundation and intermediate phases will be carefully monitored in the senior phase, with particular regard to maths and science.

Another government strategy for turning basic education around is “Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025”. Its focus is on literacy and numeracy, and curriculum implementation is supported through the national educational portal, Thutong – which means “place of learning” in Setswana.

Tertiary education

South Africa has 23 state-funded tertiary institutions that currently house approximately one million learners: 11 universities, six universities of technology, and six comprehensive institutions. There are also two new institutes of higher education, Sol Plaatje University, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga University.

How do South African tertiary institutions rank internationally?
  • In the Shanghai JiaoTong Academic Ranking of World Universities’ Top 500 South Africa has four out the five African universities on the list
  • The Times Higher Education 2016 ranking of BRICS and emerging economies places three South African universities in the top 12 (the University of Cape Town [UCT] 4th, the University of the Witwatersrand 6th and Stellenbosch University 11th) – Free Higher Education, Nico Cloete


Over the last year the #feesmustfall campaign led by students across the country received international coverage. The key demands were scrapping of the historical debt that prevents students from registering – and free education. President Zuma announced that there would be no fee increases in 2016 and the financial debt of students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in 2015 would be settled by the state.

In January 2016 President Zuma established the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training to look at the feasibility (feesability?) of fee-free education. Chairperson of the Commission, Judge Jonathan Heher, submitted an interim report in November this year with the deadline for the final report having been extended to June 2017.

According to StatsSA, since the 1996 Census, the South African government has made progress in the number of persons who attained different educational levels:

Looking forward

Since 1994, access to education has increased significantly across the board. The continued prioritisation by treasury, the implementation of a new curriculum, the building of new universities, an increased focus on vocational training and innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors are all indicators that the education sector in South Africa is addressing its challenges – with a focus on growth, quality and appropriate skilling of learners who are able to contribute positively to the economy.


For every 100 children only 48 reach grade 12 and of these only four will have an understanding of maths.


Successful partnering between state and the private sector is critical for the success of the education sector. A commonly held myth is that private schools are only for the elite. This is not true and innovators such as CURRO and their investment partner PSG are building a scalable model.


More independent schools will:
• Free up space from overcrowded state schools
• Reduce state spend on building new schools
• Lower the teacher/pupil ratio


Currently the state spends approximately R1 500 per child on education. If the state paid this directly to the schools in the form of vouchers this would mean that at state schools children would effectively have free education and at CURRO Academies they would only pay R200.

Innovative disruptions driven by the private sector incorporating teacher training and low cost solutions will benefit the education system as a whole – the key is dialogue and proper planning.

Public Sector

Department of Basic Education

In her 2016/17 budget vote speech, Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga provided the following overview:

Participation of 0 to four year-old children in Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilities has increased from 7.5% in 2002 to 48.3% in 2014. There has been an increase in Grade R participation by five year-olds from about 40% in 2002 to 87.2% in 2014; and participation by five year-old learners with disabilities in educational institutions, has increased from 80.4% in 2009 to 83.9% in 2014. Participation by seven to 15 year-old learners with disabilities has increased from 77.8% in 2009 to 93.4% in 2014.

Primary education participation by seven to 13 year-olds is near universal; and participation in compulsory education by seven to 15 year-olds increased from 97.8% in 2005 to 99% in 2014.

Participation in secondary education (Further Education and Training) by 14 to 18 year-olds increased from 88.3% in 2002 to 90.7% in 2014; the participation of 16 to18 year-old learners with disabilities in secondary schooling has decreased from 61.4% in 2005 to 54.1% in 2014.

The percentage of 15 to 24 year-old youth who completed grade nine and above has increased from 63.4% in 2002 to 78% in 2014.

Operation Phakisa and e-education

The Department of Basic Education signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Platco (a sister company of the South African independent broadcaster, which resulted in the establishment of two education broadcasting channels to support grade seven to 12 in languages, mathematics, science and other core subjects.

Department of Higher Education and Training

Minister Blade Nzimande detailed the following achievements in his 2016/17 budget speech:

Enrolments at Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga increased from 130 and 140 in 2014 to 710 and 1 329 respectively. The Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University entered its second year of operation with an intake of 1 300 students.

South Africa’s ninth medical school, at the University of Limpopo, opened in January to its first 60 students. This is linked to the Limpopo academic hospital Presidential Project.

Public/Private sector achievements

The National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) works together with the Department of Basic Education to strengthen selected education districts and improve the performance of schools within these districts.

The Trust has embarked on several systems level interventions to support immediate system-wide improvements; and during 2015, the following achievements were recorded:

  • 6 817 principals and subject HoDs were equipped to effectively manage and track curriculum management;
  • 19 398 mathematics, science and language teachers have been trained to apply standard routines in the implementation of CAPS in their respective subject areas;
  • Teachers underwent a year-long teacher development programme to increase their awareness of the need to complete the curriculum in 170 days of dedicated teaching time as a benchmark, instead of the baseline which is as low as 90 days in some schools;
  • An innovative learner psycho-social screening and referral project has been piloted in the Bela-Bela Circuit, Waterberg, Limpopo;
  • Over 317 district officials were trained in curriculum management and tracking, and as coaches of the curriculum management programme rollout;
  • At a provincial level, the curriculum coverage initiative has been extended and adopted for implementation in more districts in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga;
  • At national level, a number of system improvement initiatives are underway, including support to the DBE in improving ICT systems; and national dialogues – including the National School Safety and ICT Summits.

The 1 000 School Libraries per year project has been implemented and more than 3 000 schools, mobile and trolley libraries, as well as classroom reading corners have been provided to schools.

Partners for Possibility (PfP) is the flagship programme of Symphonia for South Africa (SSA). It is a co-action, co-learning partnership between school principals and business leaders. There are currently approximately 500 schools across the country in partnership with the programme.

“Adopt a TVET college” was launched by the Human Resource Development Council to address the issue of ensuring the placement of TVET graduates in appropriate business environments.

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