Angie reads riot act

Ba­sic education min­is­ter pulls no punches in call­ing school sys­tem a ‘na­tional catas­tro­phe’, and warns teach­ers and education of­fi­cials

CityPress - - Front Page - SIPHO MA­SONDO sipho.ma­sondo@city­press.co.za

‘Na­tional catas­tro­phe” and “cri­sis” was how Ba­sic Education Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga de­scribed chunks of the coun­try’s education sys­tem, which she says is char­ac­terised by “pock­ets of dis­as­ters”. Mot­shekga read the riot act to her of­fi­cials and teach­ers’ unions in a speech de­liv­ered dur­ing a three-day education lek­gotla in Cen­tu­rion this week, which was at­tended by education MECs and depart­ment heads. In the speech, Mot­shekga called for:

The im­me­di­ate dis­missal of un­der­per­form­ing prin­ci­pals and district di­rec­tors, who should be made to face the con­se­quences of their ac­tions;

Ac­tion against teach­ers in “for­mer African schools” who, stud­ies in­di­cate, teach for only 3.5 hours a day, in com­par­i­son with the 6.5 hours taught by those in for­mer Model C schools; and

Thor­ough com­pli­ance with a Supreme Court of Ap­peal rul­ing that each child should re­ceive his or her own text­book at the start of the aca­demic year.

She railed against the ex­is­tence of two education sys­tems: one a “high-per­for­mance sys­tem with pock­ets of ex­cel­lence, and the other a Cin­derella sys­tem de­prived of re­sources and char­ac­terised by pock­ets of dis­as­ters”.

“To­day, I am call­ing for a paradigm shift. We must usher in a new era of do­ing ef­fi­ciently all that needs to be done,” she said.

“When we ush­ered in the new South Africa in 1994, we vowed to cre­ate a sin­gle na­tional education sys­tem that de­liv­ers qual­ity education to all.”

‘Ele­phants in the room’

In her speech, Mot­shekga lam­basted teach­ers who were “hardly found in class” as the “ele­phants in the room”. She cited a 2012 study of North West teach­ers’ class­room habits, which found that teach­ers taught only 40% of sched­uled lessons. She also cited a sim­i­lar study by the Hu­man Sci­ences Re­search Coun­cil in 2010, which found that al­most 20% of teach­ers were ab­sent on Mon­days and Fri­days.

“Teach­ers in for­mer African schools teach an av­er­age of 3.5 hours a day com­pared with 6.5 hours a day for for­mer Model C schools. This amounts to a dif­fer­ence of three years of school­ing,” she said.

“Put dif­fer­ently, the ma­jor­ity of chil­dren in our sys­tem are ex­pected to com­pete at the same level with priv­i­leged learn­ers, de­spite the deficit of three years of school­ing lost through noth­ing but sheer in­ep­ti­tude.”

Other ele­phants in the room, she said, in­cluded pro­vin­cial de­part­ments that did not “man­age their provinces prop­erly”, a lack of in­fra­struc­ture, such as fur­ni­ture and san­i­ta­tion, poor teacher morale, un­filled crit­i­cal va­can­cies, in­clud­ing prin­ci­pal posts, and a short­age of text­books.

“We must con­sider the lack of san­i­ta­tion in schools as an af­front to our chil­dren’s inherent right to dig­nity. Let me be clear. Un­less we can get the ba­sics right, we can for­get about im­prov­ing the ma­tric pass rate, let alone the is­sue of im­prov­ing nu­mer­acy and lit­er­acy among our learn­ers,” she said.

‘Na­tional catas­tro­phe’

Re­gard­ing last month’s rul­ing by the Supreme Court of Ap­peal, in a case that rights group Sec­tion27 won against the na­tional and Lim­popo de­part­ments, Mot­shekga said she had been ad­vised that any ap­peal to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court “had no prospects of suc­cess”.

The court ruled that the depart­ment’s fail­ure to de­liver one text­book per child in Lim­popo at the be­gin­ning of the school year was a vi­o­la­tion of their rights.

“We have no choice but to com­ply. And, in all hon­esty, we should want to com­ply. We should be per­son­ally dis­tressed that some of our chil­dren are not get­ting the education they de­serve.”

Mot­shekga said the fail­ure in ma­tric of 213 570 pupils in KwaZulu-Na­tal, Lim­popo and the East­ern Cape was a “na­tional catas­tro­phe”.

“If one learner fails, that’s a chal­lenge. If two fail, that’s a prob­lem. But if 25% of a co­hort fails, then we must have sleep­less nights, as this is akin to a na­tional cri­sis.”

Con­se­quences

She said un­der­per­form­ing prin­ci­pals and district of­fi­cials should be “re­lieved of their du­ties with im­me­di­ate ef­fect” and of­fi­cials should be made to face the con­se­quences of their ac­tions.

“If a prin­ci­pal pre­sides over a school that achieves a 0% pass rate, some­thing ur­gent must give. A sim­i­lar fate must be­fall a district di­rec­tor who pre­sides over a 20% district pass rate. How­ever, in our cur­rent sys­tem, he could be pro­moted to the pro­vin­cial education depart­ment head of­fice as a spe­cial­ist. What is that sup­posed to mean?” she asked.

“Sim­ple: We al­low medi­ocrity to spread like can­cer to the high­est ech­e­lons of the ba­sic education sys­tem, thereby threat­en­ing the very foun­da­tion of the sys­tem.”

Ba­sic education spokesper­son Eli­jah Mh­langa said Mot­shekga had called the lek­gotla to an­nounce her in­ten­tion to start do­ing things dif­fer­ently.

“We want to in­tro­duce qual­ity and ef­fi­ciency from the na­tional level to the provinces, and down to ev­ery school. We need to go back to the ba­sics. It was re­ally im­por­tant to start the year with a gath­er­ing of this na­ture.”

Bru­tal as­sess­ment

Basil Manuel, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of teach­ers’ union Nap­tosa, de­scribed Mot­shekga’s speech as “bru­tally hon­est”.

“It was im­por­tant for the min­is­ter to come out like that be­cause we have a ten­dency to cover up things. There was a need to be bru­tal ... Ba­si­cally, the mes­sage was that things can’t re­main the same,” he said.

Sadtu spokesper­son No­musa Cembi did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment yes­ter­day.

A se­nior education ex­ec­u­tive from KwaZulu-Na­tal, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said many of­fi­cials had “ap­pre­ci­ated the speech, as it sounds like a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from how things are done”.

“It looks like we have reached a turn­ing point. To be hon­est with you, I have never heard an ANC min­is­ter talk so frankly about is­sues.”

KwaZulu-Na­tal education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni said she was in­spired by the lek­gotla. “It has en­riched my knowl­edge of the education sys­tem. Now we will do our own as­sess­ment of our prov­ince. We will con­vene our own lek­gotla to con­duct a thor­ough as­sess­ment of where we are and how to move for­ward,” she said.

FU­RI­OUS Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga

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