South Africa’s school plan is up in the air – but government is committed to these 3 changes

The Department of Basic Education has published its annual performance plans for 2020/2021, outlining a number of changes it plans to introduce to the schooling system in the next few years.

The department acknowledged that the coronavirus has had a significant impact on the country’s schools, and that it would have to get a legal opinion on the adoption of its Annual Performance Plan (APP) because of unexpected changes.

The department had previously indicated that children could return to school as early as next week, but minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga later said that no date has been set for the return of pupils to schools and that only the ‘schooling sector’ will be open from 4 May.

The department has made it clear that although it was presenting the APP, it will have to be reworked, as it was drawn up prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and plans have now changed considerably.

The APP was tabled in Parliament in March, prior to the declaration of the lockdown and its implications. The department nonetheless presented the tabled APP to the committee, as it is bound by law to do so and could not divert from the plan, as tabled.

The DBE said when the plans were drawn up for the year, the pandemic was not expected. Funds will now have to be moved and redirected from infrastructure to make schools Covid-19 compliant, including in water and sanitation.

Motshekga agreed with the committee’s decision to take legal advice, as she said the DBE is already spending funds that have not been approved by Parliament, due to the new activities it must undertake to ensure that schools are Covid-19 compliant.

Despite these issues, the department indicated that it was committed to a number of changes, including the introduction of new subjects.

These changes are outlined below.

New subjects 

The department said that it will begin introducing coding and robotics as subjects at South African schools from this year.

The subjects will initially be available from grade R – grade three at 200 schools, with the aim of equipping learners with the required skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

In his state of the nation address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that the country’s schools and universities will continue to focus on science and technology going forward.

This will include the establishment of a new University of Science and Innovation in Ekurhuleni, he said.

“Ekurhuleni is the only metro in our country that does not have a university. This will enable young people in that metro to be trained in high-impact and cutting-edge technological innovation for current and future industries,” Ramaphosa said.


The department said that it will also continue with its plan to issue tablet computers to school students.

It added that this process is currently underway with the department aiming to provide each learner and teacher with an ICT device with access to digitised Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSMs).

In March 2019, Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga said that the tablets would be provided to students who are most in need, with schools receiving tablets according to their quintile.

South African schools are divided into five quintiles, with quintile 1 being the poorest quintile and quintile 5 the least poor.

“The plan will be implemented in three phases commencing with phase 1 that will target multi-grade, multiphase, farm and selected rural schools (2020 – 2021),” Motshekga said at the time.

“The second phase will target quintile 1 to 3 schools (2022 – 2023), and phase 3 will target quintile 4 and 5 schools (2024 – 2025).”

Three-stream curriculum 

The department said that it is making progress with the introduction of a three-stream curriculum model, which will ‘herald a fundamental shift in focus towards more vocational and technical education’.

The model offers learners three distinct pathways, namely academic, vocational well as occupational options.

This recognises that learners are differently gifted and that opportunities ‘should be created for each type of gifting’.

The model will also allow for a seamless transition between the schooling sector, world of work and Higher Education Institutions as well as to offer learners an opportunity to complete Grade 9.

While it was not specified in the presentation, government has previously indicated that learners completing Grade 9 could receive a qualification certificate recognising the completion of General Education and Training Band (GET Band) under this new model.

Read: Get ready for metro-level lockdowns in South Africa: analyst

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South Africa’s school plan is up in the air – but government is committed to these 3 changes