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schoolkids-articleGrade 10 pupils from Clapham High School look through the books donated by The Presidency (Image: Flickr)5 September 2013 – This year's crop of matrics is hard at work writing trial exams, and the finals are less than two months away. In the lower grades, the Annual National Assessments are around the corner – they run from 10 to 13 September.

For the Department of Basic Education, the test is preparing schools and systems for next year. Minster Angie Motshekga said earlier this month that the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) had received a report on the state of readiness for the 2014 school year. It had resolved that there was "a compelling case around the educational and economic viability of small schools, the implications for their continued existence and the need for the school rationalisation process as this should form part of the plans for 2014 school readiness".

In an update on progress in the sector on 6 August, she said the department would closely monitor the support needed by provincial education departments. These should have submitted their school furniture needs by 16 August.

The CEM also noted the turnaround in examination preparations in Mpumalanga, following the challenges in the province a few years ago. The province's exam processes now, she said, should be celebrated as the best model.

Meeting milestones
A few milestones have been met, according to the department. The most significant achievement has been early pupil registration. In most provinces this is completed by the September of the previous year, although systems are in place for latecomers. "This enables the system to plan for adequate provisioning of critical resources ahead of the new academic year. It also allows for mopping up to ensure that there is a place for all learners at the beginning of the academic year."

Crucially, there has been an improvement in the delivery of learning and teaching support material (LTSM) and workbooks in preparation for 2014. All provinces are on track in terms of the sector plan for procurement and delivery. The quality of data from districts has improved, making it easier to deliver the right books in the right quantities at the right schools, and on time, says the department.

A toll-free number was opened in 2012 for schools to report delivery problems, but this year all deliveries, both LTSM and workbooks, are scheduled to be in schools by 30 October for next year. Districts will monitor deliveries, and report issues to the provincial head offices. It stresses that the final mop up and remediation for textbook delivery will be between 1 and 30 November 2013.

Regarding infrastructure, the Accelerated Infrastructure Development Initiative is rolling out, providing school buildings, furniture, water, electricity and sanitation. In 2014, seven provinces will receive mobile classrooms at schools that are still being built. The department also points out that it is working with provincial education departments to ensure they use their Provincial Education Infrastructure Grant allocations for pressing infrastructure challenges ahead of the new school year.

Working in tandem, with the Department of Labour, more than 55 000 desks, 5 200 teacher tables and 5 200 teacher chairs are available to schools that need them. The Department of Environmental Affairs has started making an additional 70 000 desks in this financial year for delivery to schools. In total, 125 095 desks will be available for the beginning of the 2014 school year.

Basic needs
Water and sanitation has been an issue, with some schools struggling to teach because of the lack of basic infrastructure. However, the department says that more than 10 000 schools will get new ablution facilities at the beginning of 2014. Another 514 schools will get water, while 433 schools will have their water facilities upgraded. "The process of identifying the schools, procurement, construction and/or repairs and renovations is already under way," it says, "and will be complete by the end of December 2013. Where possible, identified issues are given immediate attention."

For provincial education departments, filling management and teaching posts is vital before the start of the school year. According to the national department, systems are in place for human resource provisioning and the provinces will declare final post establishments by 30 September. They can then identify and finalise their vacancies for 2014 – and their surplus teachers – by 31 October 2013.

Planning for and working towards a smooth start to the 2014 academic year is well on track, the department adds, particularly in the key areas that have historically challenged the system at the start of a new year: "all children in school on the first day of the school year, with the necessary LTSM provided for; all children in a school with reasonable infrastructure that has the necessary furniture and access to water and sanitation; and all classrooms and subjects with the necessary teachers to make learning and teaching possible".

But before then, and before the new grade ones hit the books, it will be time to say good luck and good bye to this year's matrics. Their National Senior Certificate exams begin on Monday, 28 October with English in the morning and music theory in the afternoon. They end on 29 November.

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