Keynote Address by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, at the at the 6th National Education Excellence Awards held at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg

Programme Director,

Ms Nomalungelo Gina, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education

MEC Panyaza Lesufi from Gauteng

MEC Sello Lehari, North West

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Local and International partners

Provincial Heads of Education Departments

Ladies and Gentlemen

I feel honoured and privileged to host our 6th Annual Education Excellence Awards, for the very last time last time in this current administration's term of office.

At the outset, I would like to extend special gratitude to all District Directors and School Principals, who work tirelessly in ensuring that the march towards excellence in public schooling is never derailed. Districts are a crucial interface of the basic education sector. Our system of basic education can only succeed, if the pulse that connects all the dots from across all the corners of our schooling system remains intact at all times.

Through these particular Awards � the National Education Excellence Awards � we shine the lens on excellence in individual districts and schools. Through all these Awards we seek to demonstrate our commitment to creating an environment, where excellence is valued by all. In 2019 � the year, in which we are celebrating 25 years of democracy, we have decided to broaden the lens by including excellence in district performance for the past five years (2014-2018) and excellence in schools. If districts hold the system together � schools are where it all happens, where the rubber hits the road as it were.

The work of districts and schools is of singular importance, because it is not about the work of an individual, but it's about the work of a collective, a team. These Awards therefore, celebrate excellence in team work � a whole school, circuit and district � and not the individuals that happen to be at the helm, important though as they may be. As they say in football: Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships. Therefore, today we are here to celebrate the excellent work of teams.

Hence, the celebration of district performance is just one of the most important yardstick of measuring the progress made by government in improving access, redress, inclusivity, efficiency and the delivery of quality basic education.

Programme Director, all districts and schools nominated for the 2019 Education Excellence Awards can indeed pat themselves on the backs for this achievement. To the ultimate winners, we say you're genuine ambassadors of what we seek to build: A high performing public schooling system. Congratulations and well done!

Over the years, I have also introduced new categories each year, in a deliberate effort to broaden the focus of the system to cover a range of areas. The original focus of these Awards was on the quality of the NSC results. This year we have added three new categories, namely �

Excellence in districts performing above 85% in the past five years (2014-2018);

Districts that improved with 10% and above in (2017-2018);

Districts that achieved 80% for the first time (2016-2018).

Districts that achieved 70% for the first time(2016-2018) and

I have also added a special Ministerial Award � one that I will announce as I present the Award. All I am willing to say for now, is that this is an Award that continues to celebrate the value of team work.

I wish to thank all provinces for the 'package of support and intervention' they gave to progressed learners. If provinces did not do this, some of our young people could have fallen through the cracks of the system.

In 2018, 74 of the 75 districts, attained pass rates of 60% and above; and 34 of the 75 districts (44.3%), attained pass rates of 80% and above. The performance of the districts during the 2018 NSC examinations is a testament that provinces are putting the shoulder to the wheel, to ensure quality teaching and learning outcomes across the system.

It is unprecedented that the ten top performing districts in the country are from only two provinces.

It is in fact the first time that this happened in the 25-year history of our democratic dispensation. Four of the top ten districts performed at way more than 85% and six of the top ten performed beyond the 90% glass ceiling. Congratulations to Free State and Gauteng!!

Today, we honour those districts that have shown consistent improvement or maintained excellent performance across all levels of the system, since the first Awards ceremony on 3rd April 2014 held in Pretoria. Congratulations again!

We further acknowledge the role played by different principals in maintaining a safe environment conducive to learning and teaching. Principals are our last line of defence. Daily, they are at the coalface of the basic education delivery.

As you know the general elections are fast approaching, it's to pause and reflect on the work we have done since 2014. The past five years has seen its fair share of triumph and tribulation in the basic education sector. Nonetheless, we are looking forward to hand over to our successors, what at best can be described as a stable and on the rise basic education sector.

All scientific indicators reflect progress and show that we are turning the tide in terms of ensuring every South African child has access to Quality Basic Education.

The best available data sources designed explicitly for measuring trends in learning at a national level come from three international assessments in which South Africa has participated � TIMSS (in 1995, 1999, 2002, 2011 and 2015), PIRLS (in 2006, 2011 & 2016) and SEACMEQ (in 2000, 2007 & 2013) .

These surveys have been instrumental in raising awareness throughout the sector that the levels of learning in primary school maths, reading and literacy as well as mathematics and science in junior secondary school are worryingly low in South Africa. However they have assisted us greatly in being able to identify where the challenges lie and where to put interventions in place.

The good news is that in recent rounds of TIMSS, PIRLS and SEACMEQ we have observed that the country's levels of learning have been improving across the board. In the TIMSS assessment (grade 9 mathematics and science), South Africa has been the fastest improving country between the surveys of 2002, 2011 and 2015.

In SEACMEQ, a large improvement at the grade 6 level was noted between 2007 and 2013 in both mathematics and reading.

The NSC results have also shown consistent improvements in recent years, both in terms of pass rates and the numbers passing every year. One important reflection of quality in the system is the numbers of NSC candidates achieving a Bachelors-level pass each year as this is required for access to a degree programme at university. The number of Bachelor passes has roughly doubled since 2007. Encouragingly, increases in the number of Black African bachelor passes almost entirely accounts for the overall improvement.

Programme Director; basic education remains an emotive issue. One of the concerns we have heard from the public is around the Multiple Examination Opportunity (MEO). The Multiple Examination Opportunity is an offshoot of our policy on learner progression. This policy intervention was in response to high levels of drop outs in the Senior Phase. As we all know grade repetition demonstrates inefficiency in any education system and is very costly. In its recent meeting, the Council of Education Ministers reflected on these two interrelated policies. We reaffirmed our decision on learner progression. We noted that over 100 000 progressed learners have passed matric certificate since the policy shift.

However, we decided to discontinue the Multiple Examination Opportunity from 2020. Sadly, we observed that the Multiple Examination Opportunity was being used by some schools as a gate keeping mechanism and not for its original intentions. Instead of assisting vulnerable learners to attain a matric certificate, it was allowing schools to cull learners through this process and not adequately supporting them through the multiple examination opportunities.

In conclusion, I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to the sponsors and partners who have walked this road with us since the beginning. We further convey our sincere gratitude to all MECs, Heads of Provincial Education Departments, teachers, parents and learners for keeping the system chugging along towards the desired levels of excellence.

I thank you.

Source: Department of Basic Education