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Durban - The government wants all children to start school at the age of five, two years younger than at present.
The South African Schools Act makes it compulsory for children aged seven to 15 to attend school, but Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday that the government intended amending the law.
Presenting her 2014/15 budget before the National Assembly in Cape Town, Motshekga said a legislative review to make schooling compulsory for children aged five to 15 was “on the cards”. She repeated President Jacob Zuma’s words that radical socio-economic transformation must be embarked on during the second phase of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to a democratic society.
“This we must do in order to push back the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment,” said Motshekga.
She said that during the 2014/19 period, the department would “consolidate achievements made so far” with an emphasis on the need to strengthen quality, efficiency and accountability in provinces, districts and schools.
The Mercury reported in January that one of the more significant changes to the education system proposed by the National Development Plan was for two years of quality preschool enrolment for 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds to be made compulsory before Grade 1.
Grade R is already being taught to nearly 780 000 children at 17 000 of the 18 475 public primary schools in South Africa. Teachers’ unions have long bemoaned the fact that many Grade R teachers are unqualified, underpaid and are, in effect, “child-minders” rather than teachers.
Tuesday’s budget speech also revealed that Motshekga was considering making history a compulsory subject – a call recently made by the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu). Motshekga said that a country which chose to hide its heritage and historical footprints from its children took the risk of having them repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.
“Research has shown that as a subject, history has a number of positive effects such as contributing to nation building, national pride, patriotism, social cohesion and cultural heritage,” she said.
After a meeting of Sadtu’s national executive committee in May, the country’s largest teachers’ union vowed to “engage the ANC and the alliance” on making history compulsory, accusing the DA of distorting it by appropriating the heroes and heroines of the struggle.
Motshekga’s budget speech was largely welcomed, with some criticism from opposition parties.
“Every phase of the education system is about preparing for jobs,” said Annette Lovemore, of the DA.
Without an improved education system there would be no better life or freedom for children – particularly poor black children, she said.
Lovemore said Motshekga should concentrate on improving the quality of education before focusing on the numbers of those who passed through 12 years of schooling.
She also urged Motshekga to “make Sadtu understand that it does not run education in this country”. Sadtu could no longer be allowed to get away with “ill-discipline”.
EFF MP Reneilwe Mashabela said Motshekga’s budget – which totalled R19.68 billion this financial year – would fund the continuation of the status quo, which was to “compromise the education of the black child”.
Mashabela said the Basic Education Department lacked creativity and courage.
Motshekga’s budget increased by R2bn from last year.
Eighty-six percent of South Africa’s schools do not charge fees, and more than 9 million children are fed one meal a day by the National School Nutrition Programme.