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Message by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 21st reimagined National Teaching Awards Ceremony, Emperors Palace Conference Centre, Ekurhuleni

Programme Director,
Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga,
Deputy Minister, Dr Reginah Mhaule,
MECs of Education,
Chairpersons of the Portfolio Committee and Select Committees,
Director-General of the Department of Basic Education, Mr Mathanzima Mweli,
Heads of Provincial Education Departments,
Representatives of the Asmal family,
National Teaching Awards sponsors,
Education stakeholders’ representatives,
Finalists in the 21st National Teaching Awards,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Yesterday we marked World Teachers’ Day. 

It is a day on which we acknowledge and appreciate the vital contribution teachers make in educating and nurturing the minds of the young.

We salute teachers as the people whose dedication and commitment drives social development and fosters inclusive economic growth.

That is because a nation’s future starts in the classroom.

Working at times under difficult circumstances, our teachers are examples of resilience, excellence and professionalism.

Even at the height of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have remained true to their calling, to secure our collective future.  

We are indebted to the teachers who made it possible for the education of our children to continue through blended learning and other strategies. 

It is with deep sadness that we remember and pay tribute to all the teachers and other education officials who have succumbed to COVID-19. 

In their honour, we must safeguard the safety of teachers and learners, and ensure that the teaching and learning environment remains conducive at all times. 

We need to continue to take the necessary precautions and observe all the health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school settings. 

I wish to encourage more teachers and education officials to heed the best scientific advice available and vaccinate against this deadly pandemic.

Vaccination is not only about protecting one’s own health and life; it is also about protecting others and ensuring we can soon resume many of the activities that have been restricted for these last 18 months.

Today we are celebrating the 21st edition of the National Teaching Awards, which were conceptualised during the late Professor Kader Asmal’s tenure as a Minister of Education. 

As we do so, we recall the passion, tenacity and intellect that Prof Asmal brought to this responsibility.

For him, education was a revolutionary undertaking, the most potent force in our struggle to end poverty and misery, and the foundation upon which all human endeavour is built.

His memory compels us to celebrate the excellence and dedication of those teachers who spare absolutely nothing of themselves in the project to build a new society in pursuit of a better life for all. 

Teachers carry a great responsibility in a changing world.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is dramatically changing the way we relate to one another, live, work and educate our children. 

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, augmented reality, blockchain and automation are disrupting every industry across the world. 

For our children to operate in a world alongside smart machines, they will need to be educated differently than in the past. 

We believe that our teachers are committed to manage this transition, and we all have a responsibility to ensure that they have the capabilities and the resources to prepare leaners for an exciting new future. 

We look to teachers to pursue Education for Sustainable Development so that learners are empowered with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to take informed decisions in advancing environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society. 

As a nation, our most pressing challenge right now is youth unemployment.

Some of the young work-seekers are not well educated and do not possess sufficient skills and previous work experience demanded by employers in the labour market.

That places a great responsibility on teachers and education officials – and indeed on all of us – to ensure that our schools, colleges, universities and other training institutions are producing the skills and capabilities that our country needs.

It requires that every young child has access to early childhood development; that every child can read for meaning at the appropriate age; that we prioritise achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and that we substantially reduce the drop-out rate in our schools.

We must ensure that every school-leaver has the confidence, the capabilities and the opportunities to study further, find employment or gain work experience.

This work should align with initiatives like the SA Youth pathway management network, the Presidential Employment Stimulus and the YES initiative, which support young people in their efforts to find pathways into the economy.

Together, we have a responsibility to develop a new generation of patriotic citizens, young people who are conscious of their responsibility to build a better society. 

This is a new generation that refuses to engage in crime, corruption or gender-based violence; that is dedicated to the values of democracy, non-racialism, non-sexism, freedom, equality and human dignity. 

Let me conclude by congratulating all the teachers who were nominated and finalists in the prestigious National Teaching Awards.

You are following in the footsteps of many great freedom fighters who took up the teaching profession in the firm belief that education was the surest path to liberation.

These include Charlotte Maxeke, a qualified teacher and liberation stalwart, to whom we have dedicated 2021 as the 150th anniversary of her birth.

We remember other teachers who became liberation icons, like ZK Matthews, Chief Albert Luthuli, Govan Mbeki, Nokutela Mdima Dube, Oliver Tambo, Robert Sobukwe and many more.

I wish to acknowledge and thank all the stakeholders in the education sector, including the teacher unions and school governing bodies, who are working with us to build a resilient education system for equitable and sustainable development. 

Our greatest achievements are won by working together.

Through solidarity, mutual respect and partnership, we have been able to overcome the most difficult challenges.

Together, we ended apartheid and established a united, democratic nation.

Together, we confronted the devastation of the worst pandemic in more than a century.

Together, we have built a single unified education system for all South Africans, with greater access and steadily improving outcomes.

And together we will provide the young people of this country with the skills, knowledge and outlook that will enable them to grow and thrive in a new world of opportunity.

I thank you.