A key to driving poverty reduction in South Africa is education.

“We will continue to invest in education and skills development as that is the key to economic growth and development,” says president Jacob Zuma, delivering the State of the Nation Address yesterday. “We need engineers, electricians, plumbers, doctors, teachers and many other professionals to build our country’s economy.

“Education therefore remains an apex priority for this government. We will continue to promote universal access to education by ensuring that all children between ages seven and 15 are in school.

“We will increase the number of Grade 12 learners who can gain entrance to university, moving from 172 000 in 2013 to 250 000 in 2019.”

He says government opened at least one new school a week in the Eastern Cape last year and will continue to eradicate mud schools and other inappropriate structures.

“The number of young people in universities and colleges has increased over the years,” the president says. “Contractors will move on site in September to build new universities in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.

“By January next year, the first intake of medical students will be enrolled at the new medical university in Limpopo.

“In addition, 12 training and vocational education colleges will be built to expand the technical skills mix in the country.”

Youth empowerment will also be prioritised in government’s economic transformation programme.

Zuma says government will introduce further measures to speed up the employment of young people, consistent with the Youth Employment Accord.

“We will expand the number of internship positions in the public sector, with every government department and public entity being required to take on interns for experiential training,” he says.

“The private sector has responded positively to the introduction of the employment tax incentive. In only five months, there are 133 000 employees who have benefited and 11 000 employers who have participated in the incentive scheme.”

The majority has been employed in wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and finance sectors.