‘Politics the root of the education crisis’

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education crisis

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SA Democratic Teachers Union members march outside the Education departments offices in protest against the firing of union leader Paul Bazooka Mbhele. Pictures: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - SA’s public education system will remain in a state of paralysis because of labour disputes, power struggles, incompetence, and low teacher morale.

In the latest incident highlighting the crisis, teachers affiliated to the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in Ekurhuleni defied a court interdict and embarked on a protest action during school hours.

“When you have many people who have no clue about what their jobs entail, you will always encounter endemic problems. Problems like people messing around because of political agendas, lack of knowledge, skills and expertise and a lack of work ethic,” says Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools CEO Paul Colditz.

The teachers in Ekurhuleni were protesting against the dismissal of their leader, Sadtu’s East Rand regional secretary Paul “Bazooka” Mbhele, but they added a range of other grievances to their list of demands. Mbhele, who is also the principal of Kuzimisela Primary School in Daveyton, was convicted of misappropriation and embezzlement of funds, estimated at around R200 000. He is appealing his dismissal.

Core to the protesting teachers’ grievances was what they called bureaucratic and corrupt practices by district and provincial education officials, especially in the filling of promotional posts.

Other issues included:

- The alleged unfair and prolonged placement of teachers on “precautionary” suspension and the “ineffective and stressful” intervention strategy - aimed at bettering performance at the underperforming schools;

- The tendency by district officials to interfere with the powers of school governing bodies (SGBs).

- An overburdened teaching workforce due to understaffing and low salaries.

Colditz said many of the problems affecting performance in many schools were a reflection of the incompetence among the education department officials, particularly at the district levels.

“Lack of capacity and accountability is a serious problem,” he said, adding that some of the principals and teachers were equally liable.

“Learners don’t perform (well) because they don’t receive proper teaching. We have way too much teachers that are not committed to the learners and only their personal agendas and interests.

That is why you also have a huge level of contestations among teachers and (departmental) officials, unions and the department.”

He said the department must commit to improving skills among teachers, and giving schools the requisite powers in order to hold them accountable.

Graeme Bloch, education expert at the Development Bank of SA said education was in a state of “disaster”, with “80 percent of the schools remaining dysfunctional”.

This is despite the major transformations in curricular, governance and the millions of rands spent on teacher training.

National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA president Ezrah Ramasehla said careerism and corruption among education officials was partly responsible for the problems in education.

“The concern is that education is in a crisis at the moment. Our view is that the administration of all departments should be free from the ‘political patronage’.

“Most of the (departmental) officials at the district and provincial levels come from the schools and some of them got their posts because of political interference,” Ramasehla said.

Sadtu president Thobile Ntola said there was lack of willpower among the departmental officials to address the key problems such as overcrowding, the disparities in the teacher-pupils ratio and teacher salaries.

“If we talk about stability in education, we talk about conditions of service. Teachers must also be capacitated to keep up with the technological advancement,” he said.

Ntola said poor infrastructure was also a debilitating factor in the system.

“You still have mud school structures and schools with no libraries and computers.”

Last week, President Jacob Zuma announced that the government had abandoned the idea of salary incentives for teachers based on the performance of their pupils. The plan was contained in National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel’s speech.

The principle of pay incentives based on pupil performance was proposed in the draft plan in November, but was opposed by Sadtu.

The plan now proposes that incentives be directed at schools rather than at individual teachers. Rewards will be based on “sustainable” and “continuous” improvements over three consecutive years. - The Star


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