Millions of South Africans tuned in on 14 February to view and listen to President Jacob Zuma’s 2013 State of the Nation address (SONA). It was not only the celebration of Valentine’s Day that had hearts aflutter but the numerous interventions, programmes and announcements that Zuma made to move the country forward.
Zuma made specific mention of the National Development Plan (NDP), a proposal to jolt the economy back into sustainable growth path. He cited the Eurozone crisis as being one of the reasons for a downturn in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as Europe is one of South Africa’s major trading partners. A GDP of around five percent will be needed to achieve the targets of the NDP. “The National Development Plan outlines interventions that can put the economy on a better footing. The target for job creation is set at 11 million by 2030 and the economy needs to grow threefold to create the desired jobs. We will engage business, labour and other social partners in pursuit of solutions,” he says.
In other economic matters, Zuma touched on the jobs fund, for which a staggering three billion rand has been set aside. Government has acknowledged that, with just over a third of the population being under the age of 15, an unemployment crisis is looming on the horizon. An agreement will be signed with the National Economic and Development Labour Council later this month to empower the youth. “State-owned companies provide apprenticeships and learnerships and we urge that these be increased. We appeal to the private sector to absorb 11 000 FET graduates who are awaiting placements. The Department is also planning nine rural youth hubs per province, including in the 23 poorest districts in the country,” Zuma says.
Education was another key aspect of his speech. The Annual National Assessments at schools was mentioned, with Zuma calling it “a powerful tool of assessing the health of our education system.” He admitted that more had to be done to improve math, science and technology and revealed that the Department of Basic Education would be establishing a national task team to strengthen the implementation of these subjects. Prof Vuyisile Msila from the Department of Educational Leadership and Management at Unisa says teachers do not get adequate training in these fields. “More meaningful intervention is necessary and the president is spot on when he says math, science and technology should get special attention. But training should focus more on teachers. Empowered teachers would be able to empower their learners,” he says.
Msila is of the opinion that Unisa can play a major role in solving some of education crises in South Africa, with the president divulging the success that adult and childhood education programmes have had thus far. “As an ODL institution Unisa is in an enviable position. It can reach as many students through its mixed mode delivery. Although currently we might experience the paradox of saying that the distant rural student might be disadvantaged, the fact of the matter is that more students will be empowered in the long run and irrespective of where they reside, they will be able to study,” says Msila.
An announcement that many educators would have paid attention to was the Presidential Remuneration Commission. The commission will be established to investigate the appropriateness of the remuneration and conditions of service provided by the state to all its employees. However Msila argues that higher salaries alone will not improve teaching. The evaluation of teachers needs to be taken seriously. When teachers are not properly appraised, it will be very difficult to improve their practice. On the other hand, teacher training institutions need to instill the sense of teacher leadership among teachers. Higher remuneration of teachers can be most welcomed, but it alone will not compensate for the problems that schools face,” he says.