Job promises are void until teachers get to act together

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Jobs, jobs, jobs! Promises, promises, promises! Election manifestos were full of them over recent months, as parties scrambled onto the most obvious bandwagon. The commitment was safe enough for those parties with no hope of getting into government. The ANC as the victor in last week’s election is the one that has to deliver.

But will it? Previous commitments on job creation have been unfulfilled. In November 2010 Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel promised his New Growth Path would create 5 million jobs within 10 years. Since then fewer than 500 000 jobs have been created, according to Economists.co.za chief economist Mike Schussler, quoting Statistics SA data.

“In three years only one-tenth of the jobs target has been reached. That means we still need to create 4.5 million jobs. That is 750 000 a year, about five times as fast as in the first three years.”

But politicians, it seems, are not discouraged by egg on the face. In January President Jacob Zuma once again undertook to create 6 million job opportunities. The use of the word “opportunities” offers some flexibility in interpretation. But even then the target is out of reach in anything but the very long term.

There is a raft of reasons why South Africa has an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent – and not all of them are rooted in apartheid. Many relate to the activities of the ANC’s alliance partner, Cosatu. Specifically, the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has contributed considerably to the poor quality of education in the country. Sadtu believes teaching posts are there for the benefit of teachers – not the learners.

And year after year school leavers complete their schooling without acquiring skills that equip them either for further education or the workplace.

City Press reported recently that some Sadtu officials have allegedly been selling teaching positions for a minimum of R30 000 to teachers in KwaZulu-Natal, the North West and Limpopo. Sadtu has denied involvement, saying anyone selling jobs for cash was acting independently. The Department of Basic Education is investigating.

Whether or not the union was involved in corruption, the practice of selling jobs to anyone who can afford the bribe would explain why teachers resist inspection so bitterly. Inspection was originally scrapped in the 1990s because of the role of school inspectors under apartheid. Twenty years on, under successive ANC governments, inspectors are still barred by unions from evaluating teacher performance.

For starters then, to allow school leavers to enter a career, the ANC will have to tell its alliance partner that teachers must smarten up their act.

But this may not be easy.

A report from the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) released in October last year described “teacher complacency” as a major problem. The centre referred to a 2011 study showing that 89 percent of Grade 9 teachers felt “very confident” in teaching mathematics.

This was despite the fact that the 2012 annual national assessments (internationally benchmarked national tests) for Grade 9 mathematics revealed that less than 5 percent of learners achieved 40 percent or more in the subject.

The CDE argued the complacency was linked to the ways in which many teachers were appointed – “often not on merit”.

The report warned, given this mindset, attempts at reform were likely to encounter resistance from teachers. “Why should they want to improve and undertake retraining, for example, if they believe they are already doing a good job? Remedial interventions will thus have to bear in mind this attitudinal challenge.”

There are other more complex reasons job creation is challenging. South Africa’s special circumstances are part of a broader global problem in education – a mismatch between education and the workplace.

A global study, published last week by the forecasting service Economist Intelligence Unit, noted: “One of the most pervasive and endemic problems in education in just about every country is the lack of attention paid to skills provision. Even in the richest countries, fewer than half of school students are career or college ready, with the result that higher education institutions and employers often find themselves reskilling school leavers before they embark on the next phase of their lives.”

The workplace is transforming rapidly, along with developing technologies, and education systems are simply not keeping up.


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