By Vivian Warby
Apartheid and inadequate resources are no longer justifiable arguments to defend mediocrity, says Education Minister Naledi Pandor. Delivering the Department of Education?s budget speech, she urged South Africans to affirm excellence and reject mediocrity "in the interest of nation building, socio-economic development and true liberation.'
"The defence of mediocrity is supported by unjustifiable arguments. Some cite apartheid. I acknowledge that the legacy of apartheid continues to affect us, but it no longer serves to explain continued failures on our part,' said Minister Pandor.
"Others cite inadequate resources. Yet this is also no longer a persuasive argument.'
The minister said levels of under-performance in the country?s education system were "unacceptably high, and an unjust subversion of the historic promise of freedom and democracy that we?ve put before our people'.
She urged South Africans to be less tolerant of mediocrity and start demanding excellence.
This year would be one in which her department would promote and affirm excellence and they would also actively challenge and reject mediocrity, she assured.
Affirmation of excellence would come through performance reward for teachers, for schools, universities and colleges.
"We will also act more decisively against under-performance and provide necessary support where disadvantage or inequity exists.'
Minister Pandor said all the provincial departments of education would have to substantially improve their performance and added that faster action on agreed priorities and effective support and monitoring of the system would also be strengthened.
"Our people ask: how long do we have to wait? I want to say today: we intend to intensify our efforts at ensuring that our people wait no longer,' said Ms Pandor.
In terms of allocations, the budget allocates new funds to higher education - more than R2 billion over the 2007 MTEF - that will support infrastructure improvement on many campuses, improve academic salaries, and focus attention on academic support.
Together with the R88.7 billion allocated in provincial education budgets this year, the R16 billion in the national budget provides the resources for a significant improvement of skills throughout our education system.
Of the R16 billion in the national budget, higher education receives R13,3 billion. This R13,3 billion is an increase of R1,5 billion (13 percent) over 2006.
In addition to R2 billion in new funds over the current MTEF, old funds have also been made available as earmarked funds for specific infrastructure and efficiency initiatives.
"Earmarked funds must be used in focused and accountable ways, so that they can contribute to improved student outcomes, especially in the light of national human-resource development priorities,' the minister said.
Student enrolment planning at each institution has been completed and student numbers are planned to grow from 738,000 students in 2005 to 820 000 by 2010.
Growth in all disciplines has been accepted as part of the plan.
However, the greatest expansion will be in the fields of science and technology and engineering.