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To Declare or not Declare?

January 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Seeing as how the school-year started for the coastal provinces today, I thought that education would be a fitting topic to start my new attempt at rebooting my blog.

CNBC Africa hosts a show on Monday evenings entitled Political Exchange and during this week’s edition President Zuma said that teaching should be declared an essential service in order to ensure that wayward teachers do not compromise our children’s educations. In my humble opinion, it would appear to be more than just political twaddle speak, he’s serious about it. Jacob Zuma is a man with nothing to lose. He has nothing to lose because, barring a freak electoral “accident,” his job (and therefore his opportunity to pillage and plunder some more) is secure for at least the next four years. After that he should be done with mainstream politics in the ANC, which is an organisation that seems hell-bent on cleaning house and getting back the lustre of years now long past if one considers the “Integrity Commission” and the proviso that corrupt members can be expelled permanently from the party.

But let’s get back to the topic at hand.

In his latest piece on News24, Eusebius Mckaiser, argues that making such a declaration is in fact a red herring because it would do little to address the problems faced by the schooling system and that teaching is not a life and death matter for the individual. He makes mention of the text book crisis, mud schools in the Eastern Cape, the long overdue return of teachers’ colleges and school inspectors and a host of other problems. Now I don’t think that there can be any faulting Eusebius’s logic on this matter, but someone should remind him that educational refers to a process and not a tangible item. If used in the correct manner, a rock can be equally or even more educational than the world’s fastest super-computer in the world’s best equipped laboratory. Things like proper facilities, et cetera are aids in the educational process and not necessities, but they are very aids that can vastly improve the quality and speed of the learning process, so there is still no faulting the logic.

My disagreement with a much more published and celebrated author than I is that I look at education from a different point of view. I grant that education is not a life and death matter for an individual, but it is a life and death matter for our society and our quest to eradicate the “triple threat of inequality, poverty and unemployment” if I should stoop to the level where I have to use this sort of political prattle. The simple truth of the matter is that the only way in which we will ever reach our goal of a fairly equal society is adequate economic growth and that can only be achieved through better, higher quality education for our young people. I say fairly equal because the kind of total equality preached by certain political parties is impossible to achieve as most modern societies and political systems are built on inequality, but I digress. Better quality education is essential for our society because the current situation where we have a handful of highly successful and educated people supporting a mass of unemployed and impoverished people through social security programs is simply not sustainable. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack on our social spending programs, because they were very much born out of need (that still exists today) back in the day, but these programs are reaching a point where they are becoming unviable. They are such because of the growing burden on the tax base, the rapidly rising cost of living and the fact that the root cause of these problems is yet to be adequately addressed.

The question that must be asked is what the difference would be had Bantu Education not existed in Apartheid South Africa; a system whereby black people only received a tenth of the educational investment of their white counterparts that was designed to allow them to only function as low-skilled blue collar workers. That’s the past and it cannot be changed, but it is a heart breaking fact that not much has changed during almost two decades of democracy. What we currently have is a schooling system that produces world class results Private and former Model-C schools and functional illiterates in public schools. This situation got carried over to the last teachers’ strike where public schools ground to a halt, while others continued virtually unaffected. It would be logical to say that during this time, the learners that needed the most teaching were the worst affected by the strike, so it is not exactly conducive to solving our problem.

The answer I arrive at considering all this is that declaring education an essential service is in fact necessary as a starting point of attack on our educational (and therefore societal) disparities, but only a fool would believe that it would magically cause mud schools in the Eastern Cape to transform into brick and mortar buildings or deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo overnight. This step is not a magic bullet that will put knowledgeable, quality teachers in classrooms, because if it were that easy we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place, but what it will do is provide some stability in the public schooling system and prevent unscrupulous trade unions from using our children as political cannon fodder to serve their own short sighted agendas. I will, however, stipulate to Eusebius that this is but a small part of the solution we seek.

What we need most, more than buildings and laboratories, are private school quality teachers across the board and by that I do not mean to say that I support COSATU’s call to nationalise private schools. We should do all in our power to elevate teaching to a level of professionalism we almost exclusively see in private medical practice. For years now the Health Professions Council of South Africa has required doctors to attend a certain number of seminars per year in order to earn a prerequisite number of Continued Professional Development points and remain a registered medical practitioner; why not implement a similar system in the world of teaching? This year’s various school holidays contain about 50 working days during which teachers still get their full pay but are not in class teaching*; so would it really be that difficult or unfair to require them to spend at least some of those days developing and expanding their professional skills and knowledge? Development that must be tested and appraised by the Inspector, it should be added.

And, seriously, how long can it possibly take to re-establish teachers’ colleges?

That’s it, I’m done.



* This does not mean that I support the notion that teachers are vastly overpaid for working only six hours per day and then getting four paid vacations per year to boot, but seeing as how things are going in certain schools, some of them seem to be vastly overpaid for being less educational than your average cheeseburger.

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