President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a stirring State of the Nation speech that ticked all the boxes as he promised to deal decisively with corruption, create sustainable jobs, particularly for the youth, and to create policy certainty and consistency to grow the economy by attracting more investors.
Education also got a mention albeit in general terms. It is anticipated that, as part of government’s apex priority, education will still receive more funding when Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, delivers his budget speech on Wednesday.
Ramaphosa said education is the most vital tool that can be used to break the back of the widespread poverty in the country. He said currently more than 17 million of social grants are paid each month benefitting nearly a third of our population and also alleviated a great deal of poverty among the people.
But he said one of the effective ways of alleviating poverty was to provide quality Foundation Phase to children from impoverished backgrounds.
“We know, however, that if we were to break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children of the poor and we have insisted that this should start in early childhood. Today we have nearly one million children who are participating in Early Childhood Development facilities.
Remarking on the state of the current state of education, Ramaphosa said: “We are seeing improvement in outcomes of our basic education system; the matric pass rate has increased from 60.6% in 2009 to 75.1% last year and that is phenomenal progress,” he said.
He said there were currently almost one million students enrolled in higher education up from 500 000 in 1994.
He re-affirmed government’s commitment to free higher education to deserving poor students. Ramaphosa said the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Hlengiwe Mkhize, will drive the implementation of the funding plan while Gigaba, will provide further clarity next week.
Ramaphosa said the department of basic education will increase the Funza Lushaka Bursary to fund more trainee teachers. Ramaphosa said since the beginning of the year all schools offer African Languages and that the department has also introduced NSC Sign Language for the deaf learners.
Ramaphosa also touched on the significance of technology saying the country needs to keep pace with its counterparts by leveraging the latest available technologies. He undertook to help accelerate the freeing of more spectrums to ensure the country becomes part of the 4th Industrial Revolution. He said he would set up a Digital Industrial Revolution Commission to drive digital revolution.
The department of basic education has already adopted the ICT policy with a view to integrating it into the curriculum. Gauteng and the Western Cape Departments of Education are streets ahead of their peers in revolutionising their classroom through the use of technology.
Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who walked out on Thursday during his swearing-in ceremony, kept to their promise and sat through Ramaphosa without disruption.
He drew murmurs of disapproval from some section of the audience when early in his speech he thanked his discredited predecessor, Jacob Zuma, for his “service to this nation during his term as the President of the Republic”.
He said they have dedicated this year to the memory of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela whose 100 birthday will be celebrated in the next 150 days. He said they “will devote every action, every effort and utterance to the realisation of his vision of a democratic, just and equitable society”.
“Guided by Madiba’s we will use this year to reinforce our commitment to ethical behaviour as well as ethical leadership,” Ramaphosa said.
He vowed to deal decisively with corruption.
“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity; that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people”, he said.
Ramaphosa said he would ensure there was policy certainty and consistency, undertaking to take on board the concerns of the various key stakeholders. He said he would introduce raft of measures to prioritise Job Creation. One of these interventions was a convention of a Job Summit that will address the imperative of job creation by involving both labour and business.
In three months’ time, Ramaphosa said, he would organise Investment Conference as well revive the declining manufacturing sector which impacted jobs; would create Special Economic Zones to attract strategic foreign and domestic investment and also build Economic Hubs.