Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma needs to rein in teachers’ union Sadtu for the good of the country’s education, Professor Jonathan Jansen told the Franschhoek Literary Festival on Friday.
Jansen, the vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, and author of the book How to Fix South African Schools, was speaking during a panel discussion on improving education.
His co-panelists were Stellenbosch University academic Dr Nic Spaull, and Arthur Atwell, the co-founder and director of Electric Book Works.
Jansen said education in South Africa was in a state of “crisis”.
While many factors contributed to this, he said large-scale change was impossible if the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union led and the government followed, rather than the other way around.
Jansen, a regular and outspoken commentator on the state of education, said he thought President Zuma was up to the task of bringing the union into line.
Jansen said Zuma was a “master tactician when it comes to unravelling groups he doesn’t like”.
He said the president should proceed in two ways.
First lay down the law in a “political pact” with Sadtu.
“Say ‘this is how it is going to be (in future)’ “.
Second, he said the government should not shy away from using legal injunctions to prevent the union from disrupting classes.
“I have full faith in the president that he is able to get this done,” said Jansen to laughter from the audience.
Jansen said the union had a habit of acting in its own narrow interests, by disrupting classes and resisting change.
But he said Sadtu was far from the only reason that South African education was in trouble. He said the policy of outcomes-based education was too complicated.
He argued the state should be focus on doing “the simple things well”, rather than frequently introducing syllabus and policy changes.
At the start of the hour-long discussion, Spaull, an education researcher at Stellenbosch University’s department of economics, gave grim figures about primary school literacy.
Spaull said 30 percent of Grade 4 pupils in South Africa were “utterly illiterate”.
This was partly because half of South African households had fewer than 10 books.
With few books to read at home, many pupils had to rely on school libraries. But Spaull said that 60 percent of primary schools had no libraries at all.
Jansen said for things to improve the state must focus on what works and ditch the rest.
He said good and experienced teachers and principals had a key role to play. On retirement, they should advise underperforming schools.