The Freedom Charter, which consolidates the views of the people of South Africa on the ideal society we want to build when we ultimately get our freedom, summarises the views on education as follows:
"The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened to All:
- The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;
- Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children;
- Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;
- Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan;
- Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens;
- The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished."
Our predecessors had a vision of ensuring that education would empower society in many respects. The ANC coined this vision as People`s Education for People`s Power. These two policy statements summarise the centrality of education as the policy for development.
The 52nd National Conference gave further clarity on where we want to take education to in South Africa. The most important aspect of the policy was the elevation of education to being a right accessible to all South Africans, aimed at making it a tool to equip our people to contribute to the needs of the modern economy. I make this point cognisant of the discomfort among some academics with the concept of education as a factory of skills for the economy, as they perceive this to be narrow and not academic.
The 2009 manifesto commits the ANC to three basic measurable milestones, namely, realising universal schooling, improving the quality of education and eliminating disparities. The manifesto also clarifies the key tasks of the comrades responsible for driving education:
" First, to make education a priority for all stakeholders. In designing the education campaign we coined the expression that education is a societal responsibility, and just responsibility of the Department.
" Second, as a step towards free education, we committed to, at least, 60% of our schools being no-fee schools. We have surpassed this target.
" Third, work towards the eradication of illiteracy by 2014.
" Fourth, introduce sustainable early childhood education system.
" Fifth, increase graduate output, particularly in areas of skills shortage.
" Sixth, reopen teacher-training colleges.
" Seventh, revive the role of SOEs in skills development and training.
" Eighth, put FET colleges at the centre of skills development.
" Ninth, review and improve the National Students Financial Aid Scheme.
As a result, the performance assessment of our education should always be against these key tasks. This Education Summit should, among other things it does, assess and quantify progress made against the commitments made.
The decision to split the Department of Education into two Ministries, Basic Education and Higher Education and Training, was informed by the desire to accelerate the process of improving our education system, both in terms of quantity and quality. I emphasise the matter of quantity and quality because there is a tendency to counter-pose them, as if one is more important than the other.
The Centenary, January 08th Statement of the National Executive Committee has renewed focus placed on Human Resources Development, as emphasised by the RDP. It enunciates,
"The provision of opportunities for people to develop themselves in order to improve the quality of their lives and standard of living of their communities is a central objective of the RDP, alongside ensuring that basic needs are met, the society democratised and the economy grows. The opportunities that must be provided include the massive expansion and qualitative improvement in education and training system, artistic and cultural expression, and sports and recreation" (Reconstruction and Development Programme).
The statement further makes a call that "we should take urgent and practical steps to place education and skills development at the centre of our transformation and development agenda" (January 8th 2012 NEC Statement)
By referring to many ANC policy documents we aim to illustrate that Education is, indeed, a serious priority area. This Summit should, therefore, highlight that economic freedom is only achievable when we succeed in developing the productive forces in our country. A more literate society is a productive society. The more educated and skilled our society, the more productive South Africa will be.
When we succeed in placing research at the cutting edge of our development agenda we will be a winning nation, recognised as such internationally. Manufacturing capacity has become so mobile that the level of skills in any given country is a deciding factor for the location of one factory or the other. It is not a matter of luck that some countries are growing at high rate while are growing at a snail`s pace. Our success or failure to improve our education will determine whether, or not, we remain a leading economy in the continent.
As we move towards the National Policy Conference, focus on policy issues and the implementation thereof is evermore critical. Regular conferences coupled with contestation are an integral feature of ANC culture, and are something we should not fear. ANC structures must, therefore, be preoccupied with policy and other matters, and become energised to discuss them in the run up to the 53rd National Conference.
We wish you a successful Summit.