EDUCATION MECs from all nine provinces yesterday threw their support behind Minister Angie Motshekga, saying calls for her immediate resignation were unwarranted as she had made huge strides in her three-year tenure.
In a council of education ministers meeting in Pretoria yesterday, the MECs said they had complete confidence in Motshekga and called for her to continue leading them, despite mounting pressure to have her fired.
While Motshekga’s performance took centre stage at the weekend’s ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting – with some party leaders saying her conduct had tarnished the government’s image – President Jacob Zuma said blame could not be placed on her shoulders.
Experts have criticised the provincial heads’ apparent denial of an education crisis, saying the outlined achievements were not enough to ensure Motshekga’s tenure as minister.
Motshekga was said to have also dismissed as "inaccurate” a damning report by Professor Mary Metcalfe – who heads one of three government- appointed task teams investigating the much-publicised Limpopo textbook scandal – that the department had misled the public by claiming 98% of textbooks had been delivered at the end of June.
The provincial education heads downplayed the crisis in public education, listing a number of achievements that the department had managed with Motshekga at its helm.
"As the council of education ministers, we hereby pledge our solidarity to the minister, condemn the unfair media attacks, declare our confidence in her leadership and reaffirm our belief that the education system has not collapsed,” they said yesterday. "We therefore call upon the minister to continue leading the sector.”
Among these were the increased matric results since she took over the ministry in 2009, from 60.6% to 70.2% last year. The latter increased to 72.7% when combined with the March supplementary exams.
The MECs said during Motshekga’s tenure, "inroads [had been made] in improving [the] quality of basic education as required by the delivery agreement for basic education signed in 2010”.
Other listed achievements include:
ŭAchieving the 70% mark for matric results targeted for 2014, which was set after the alarming 60.6% national average in Motshekga’s first year as minister;
ŭIncreased access to education, with nearly 100% of children of school-going age – seven to 15 year olds – currently in school;
ŭAn increase in the number of no-fee-paying schools, with 69.3% of pupils in more than 20000 schools not charging school fees;
ŭAn increased school nutrition programme grant feeding more than eight million pupils daily;
ŭGreater emphasis being placed on primary schooling after the dismal annual national assessment results showed that less than half the country’s primary school pupils could read, write and count;
ŭThe signing of a collective agreement with teacher unions on public servants’ working conditions as well as a commitment to improving pupils’ performance;
ŭThe extension of workbooks to cater for grades 1 to 9 – with 54-million given to pupils – and having them printed in colour;
ŭThe provision of maths and science textbooks to pupils in grades 10 to 12 in partnership with the Shuttleworth Foundation, which had seen costs cut from R253 a textbook to R33;
ŭThe introduction of the curriculum and assessment policy statements (Caps), which the MECs said had been welcomed by both teachers and education experts; and
ŭReceiving unqualified audit reports from the auditor-general since Motshekga had headed the ministry.
The council said the department’s intervention in Limpopo was their acknowledgement of the problems, but dragging the "entire sector to the limitations and gaps of Limpopo [was] unfair”, especially considering that the presidential task team was still probing the root cause.
However some experts said the fact that matric results had improved did not mean the quality of passes was of the desired level.
Education analyst Graeme Bloch said while it was Motshekga’s head on the chopping block, MECs needed to take responsibility for the problems in their own departments.
"Their support for the minister does not mean they are off the hook,” he said. "The sooner provincial departments own up to their problems, the better.
"While we acknowledge the minister’s achievements, there is no doubt that she has dropped the ball a number of times, especially with the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. She may just have to consider stepping down.”
Political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said the call by the MECs for Motshekga to stay would not carry political weight because, coming from her subordinates, the public would be very cynical about it.
"The moment we see problems as a public relations exercise, the more trouble we are in because it signals a deep sense of denial.”