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Aquar­ter of a mil­lion of South Africa’s teach­ers want An­nual Na­tional As­sess­ment tests used to mea­sure pupils’ nu­mer­acy and lit­er­acy scrapped. This be­cause, ac­cord­ing to them, th­ese as­sess­ments are used to “blame” teach­ers for learn­ers’ poor per­for­mance. The re­jec­tion of the test – aimed at im­prov­ing learn­ing and teach­ing – was out­lined in the sec­re­tariat re­port of the SA Demo­cratic Teach­ers’ Union (Sadtu), which was dis­cussed at the union’s congress on Gaut­eng’s East Rand this week.

“The pur­pose of the An­nual Na­tional As­sess­ment de­feats the type of so­ci­ety that is en­vis­aged in the Con­sti­tu­tion – that is, cre­at­ing an­a­lyt­i­cal and crit­i­cal thinkers,” Sadtu said in the re­port, which City Press has seen. “In­stead of be­ing a di­ag­nos­tic tool to help schools im­prove teach­ing and learn­ing, the ... tests are used to la­bel schools, plac­ing the blame of poor per­for­mance at the door of teach­ers.”

In the re­port, South Africa’s big­gest teacher union, rep­re­sent­ing more than 254 000 of the coun­try’s ap­prox­i­mately 446 000 ed­u­ca­tors, re­it­er­ated its re­jec­tion of: A bio­met­ric sys­tem to mon­i­tor teacher attendance. Com­pe­tency tests for ma­tric script mark­ers. The move to de­clare ed­u­ca­tion an es­sen­tial ser­vice that would pre­vent teach­ers from ever be­ing able to go on strike.

Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga – one of Sadtu’s long­time foes – in­tro­duced the as­sess­ments in 2011 to mea­sure pupils’ nu­mer­acy and lit­er­acy in grades 1 to 6 and Grade 9.

While some ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts have ques­tioned as­pects of the as­sess­ments, most agree they’ve been a high­light of Mot­shekga’s time as min­is­ter.

Depart­ment spokesper­son Eli­jah Mhlanga said he was aware of Sadtu’s re­jec­tion of many of its pol­icy pro­pos­als. “But one union will not dic­tate to us how things should be done. We will con­sider the views of other unions. Other unions are sup­port­ive of many of our poli­cies,” he said.

Last year, the union re­jected Mot­shekga’s move to im­ple­ment a bio­met­ric sys­tem that would have seen teach­ers clock in and out of school us­ing their fin­ger­prints. This de­spite a study by the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil in 2010 that found be­tween 10% and 12% (about 39 000) teach­ers bunked school daily.

“Our view back then was and still is that it is il­log­i­cal to set up bio­met­ric de­vices while a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of schools still lacked proper san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties; class­room struc­tures; and ba­sics such as elec­tric­ity, wa­ter, li­braries, labs, desks, chairs and ad­min­is­tra­tion blocks,” reads the sec­re­tariat re­port. Mot­shekga also in­di­cated last year she was con­sid­er­ing bring­ing back school in­spec­tors to per­form spot checks through unan­nounced vis­its to schools. Sadtu made it clear at the time that it would re­sist the move at all costs. Re­cently, the union also ob­jected to com­pe­tency tests for ma­tric script mark­ers.

“We have been through this be­fore and just as we re­jected it pre­vi­ously, we will re­ject it with the same vigour,” the re­port reads, “This pro­posal lacks the com­pre­hen­siv­ity that must de­fine our ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion. In our view, the pro­posal is done in bad faith and has puni­tive rather than con­struc­tive in­tent.” The union ar­gues that since teach­ers mark scripts through­out the year, there is no need to sub­ject ma­tric script mark­ers to com­pe­tency tests.

Another pol­icy the union un­equiv­o­cally re­jected was ed­u­ca­tion be­ing de­clared an es­sen­tial ser­vice.

“We brought it to the at­ten­tion of decision mak­ers that “es­sen­tial­is­ing” ed­u­ca­tion would be noth­ing short of a “mi­crowave” so­lu­tion and short-sighted in the ex­treme. In our view, it would have limited our con­ver­sa­tion about the real prob­lems in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” the re­port reads.

Three years ago, the Western Cape ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment’s plan to in­tro­duce per­for­mance con­tracts for prin­ci­pals and their deputies was met with re­sis­tance from Sadtu.

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