President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

Parliament - President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that his government will migrate early childhood education centres from the Department of Social Development to Basic Education.

He said 700 000 children were accessing early childhood education during the most recent financial year, and ECD centres had been established as a firm foundation which was integral to the education system.

This year there will be two years of compulsory ECD for all children before they enter Grade 1.

“Another critical priority is to substantially improve reading comprehension in the first years of school.

“This is essential in equipping children to succeed in education, in work and in life – and it is possibly the single most important factor in overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality,” said Ramaphosa.

He said the Department of Basic Education’s early grade reading studies have demonstrated the impact that a dedicated package of reading resources, expert reading coaches and lesson plans can have on reading outcomes.

“Over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.

“We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multigrade, multiphase, farm and rural schools,” said Ramaphosa.

He said teachers and students will be trained in emerging technologies with several new subjects and specialisations to be introduced.

“In line with our Framework for Skills for a Changing World, we are expanding the training of both educators and learners to respond to emerging technologies including the internet of things, robotics and artificial intelligence.

“Several new technology subjects and specialisations will be introduced, including technical mathematics and technical sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies, mining sciences, and aquaponics,” said Ramaphosa.

He said to expand participation in these technical stream, several ordinary high schools will be transformed into technical high schools.

“In line with government’s commitment to the right of access to higher education for the poor, last year we introduced free higher education for qualifying first year students.

“Thanks to this initiative, links have been re-established with all institutions, and institution heads and student leaders have played a critical role in communicating with students,” said Ramaphosa.

The scheme, he said, was being phased in over a five year period until all undergraduate students who qualified in terms of the criteria can benefit.

“Stabilising the business processes of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme will also be a priority in the coming year so that it is properly capacitated to carry out its critical role in supporting eligible students.

“We are concerned about developments on some campuses this week, especially reports of violence and intimidation,” said Ramaphosa.

He said of particular concern was the death of Mlungisi Madonsela, a student at the Durban University of Technology, who earlier this week was shot in a protest at the university, allegedly by a private security officer.

“We call on student representatives and university authorities to work together to find solutions to the challenges that students are facing,” said Ramaphosa.

Political Bureau