Address at South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) National General Council by Mrs Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, Velmore Estate, Erasmia
28 Nov 2011
Comrade President Thobile Ntola;
Leadership of SADTU;
Leadership of the Alliance;
Delegates and comrades,
Comrade President, you’ve made waves under the mandating theme: “Organise & Empower Education Workers to Deliver Free Quality Public Education & Build Socialism”. A tribute to South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)!
This goes to the heart of what needs to be done fully to implement our mandate. “An improved quality of basic education” is what we committed to in our performance agreement. It is what we will and must deliver with the support of SADTU and the entire alliance.
We would have advanced the goals of the national democratic revolution were we to “deliver free quality public education” for all our people. Basic education provides the basis for building a new social order. That’s why this NGC is so important.
Education and Development
Without distorting Friedrich Engels, I want to say by turning the educational apparatus into a potent weapon for development, we would have contributed to the aim of organising “society in such a way that every member of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society” (In. http://www.marxists.org).
It is not surprising that hitherto education has almost always been a contested terrain, ideologically and otherwise. Getting it right surely will prepare the ground for the social and economic agenda we’ve set for our country, for Africa and the world.
I’m certain it is this understanding of education that underlies SADTU’s thrust of “organising and empowering education workers to deliver quality public education and build socialism”.
I’m sure we’re all agreed the conditions we need for education workers and for the working class as a whole ‘will not drop from the sky’. Accordingly, to date, and against all odds, every step we’ve taken as government, as the ANC, and as the Tripartite Alliance, has been informed by this overriding imperative qualitatively to deliver on our strategic objectives.
For today, I thought I should just speak on those issues you raised for us, tough as they may be. Some of those issues we addressed substantially at the last National Conference of SADTU.
Action Plan & Delivery Agreement
But it will advance our cause first to articulate our overarching strategy within which we’ve framed and organised some of those issues that are clearly high on SADTU’s agenda.
We know the challenges. We’ve all seen international and local reports on learner achievement. Together we conducted the 2011 Annual National Assessments (ANA). ANA revealed the full extent of learner performance deficits in the system.
We wanted a long-term strategy sharply to tackle the ‘burning issues’ making it tough to attain our goals of turning the schooling system around in the best interest of the children, the parents, education workers, and in the interest of the country as a whole.
In this context, we introduced, in 2010/11, the first ever sector plan aimed at providing more robust mechanisms for steering the system – Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025. It set clear measurable and time-bound targets for the whole sector. It is intended to ensure the value-chain through which the system is expected to deliver quality learning and teaching works optimally.
In October 2010, we signed the Delivery Agreement for the sector to look at Outcome 1 of government’s 12 priorities – “improved quality of basic education”.
The Delivery Agreement draws key elements from the Action Plan.
Its 4 outputs are to (1) Improve the quality of teaching and learning; (2) Undertake regular assessment to track progress; (3) Improve early childhood development; and (4) Ensure a credible, outcomes-focussed planning and accountability system. Specific issues you want to see addressed fall within the parameters of these 4 outputs.
Work is apace to link the Action Plan to Provincial Annual Performance Plans for better alignment, with detailed attention to 2012/2013, and the rest of the MTEF.
What this means is that the outputs of the Delivery Agreement must feature prominently in the Annual Performance Plans of provinces and DBE. I look to you to help us make this a living plan, much as I rely on you for the successful implementation of the national literacy and numeracy strategy.
National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy
We’ve already made progress in developing this coherent national strategic framework for improving literacy and numeracy and the November CEM approved it. This strategy must help us improve school performance and the learners’ ability to read, write and calculate.
Throughout the world, school education systems are focusing on literacy and numeracy initiatives as a means both of reforming and improving the performance of schools and the achievements of learners, and of sustaining that growth and development.
A learner’s ability to read, write and calculate is considered vital as a toolkit in the pursuit of success and in managing life in general.
Crissy Haslam, First Lady of Tennessee, made this very important point in this regard (Haslam, 2011) – “Until third grade, it’s important that we teach our children to read, because after the third grade, they read to learn … Without appropriate grade level reading, children are not equipped for the transition of acquiring reading skills to using the skill to learn other things.”
A poor grasp of literacy (language) and numeracy (mathematics) is often postulated as one of the main reasons why learners in South African schools achieve so badly, across the grades.In fact, teachers in high school bemoan the fact that many learners are unable to come to grips with the demands of the curriculum when they enter high school; and this deficit stays with them until their Grade 12 year, if they last that long.
Even those who pass Grade 12 well enough to access higher education, find the academic life extremely challenging, according to various reports. Quite obviously then, if the basic education sector wishes to improve the quality of education provided by schools, and to turn around the achievement levels of learners in all grades, then it will have to start by improving literacy and numeracy achievement levels as part of a sustained programme of action over the next few years.
Whilst performance data reveals that South African learners are lagging behind their international peers, it also indicates much work has to be done if the 2014 targets in Grades 3, 6 and 9 are to be achieved.
In all four of the ANA tests examined, over half of all learners in the country perform at a level that indicates that they have clearly not achieved the competencies specified in the curriculum.In Grade 6, the results indicate that around 70% of learners fall into this category.
In order for South African school children to reach the target set out in the Action Plan, which is 60%, of learners achieving at least 50% (required level) in the 2013 ANA, much effort has to be invested in concrete activities that have to be carefully and rigorously monitored.
Although it is not possible to generalise findings from studies to the entire country, it is safe to say that the limitations found provide sufficient guidance with regard to getting the basics right.
Studies highlight the following key issues:
- Correct class size
- Sufficient reading, writing and calculating
- Raising expectations of teachers and school managers
- Clearly specified curriculum content for all teachers
- Appropriate use of time
- Textbooks, readers and workbooks in the General Education and Training Phase
- Sufficient amount of written tasks
- Correct number of written computation tasks given in Numeracy
- Sufficient attention tocurriculum coverage and cognitive demand and
- Appropriate reading instruction and opportunities.
Whilst many interventions have been introduced within the South African education context to address the shortcomings that have showed up, the major gaps that require urgent attention relate to rigorous monitoring and evaluation of targeted schools in the lower quintiles, leadership training in these schools and literacy and numeracy training of teachers as a country-wide strategy.
The mixture of support and pressure cannot be underestimated in delivering a quality education system.Through this new strategy, we hope to address weaknesses shown by ANA 2011 and to tackle other deficiencies, including in areas of resources management, school and district management and leadership, accountability and monitoring. We have the support of all our MECs in this regard.
Let’s focus directly on those issues central to empowering the education worker, starting with incentives.
The policy on teacher incentives was gazetted in December 2007 to support the recruitment and retention of the right quality and quantity of educators for all schools. This was to address scarcity of suitably qualified educators in schools in remote and rural locations, in scarce skills subjects and in schools in difficult urban zones.
Rural allowances are given within the general incentives policy. The current policy allows for individualised implementation by provinces mainly as a tool for recruiting for particular posts. The predominantly rural provinces give a rural allowance, but some give incentives for hard to teach schools. Implementation is therefore uneven across provinces.
But we’re currently planning for evaluation of policy to improve effectiveness. We will assess both policy provisions and implementation challenges with the view to developing more focused instruments. PEDs that have implemented actual payments will play an important role in this regard.
Teacher Laptop Initiative
The Teacher Laptop Initiative is part of the strategy for entrenching Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in teaching and learning, in line with the White Paper on e-Education.
The aim is to provide support, in the form of incentives, to encourage teachers, managers and administrators to integrate technology into their daily activities and areas of responsibility.
There were challenges in its roll-out which led to a low uptake of the ICT facility. Some of these related to financing of the package. It is currently proposed government should purchase laptops with the software and connectivity for educators in schools, as tools of the trade. We’re in discussion with treasury on this proposed option. An announcement will be made in due course.
Perhaps I should add a word on performance standards. Delegates would know the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) is currently used to evaluate performance of educators, as agreed at the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) in 2003.
A process is currently underway, at the ELRC, to simplify and streamline the IQMS. Once agreed, another instrument – the Teacher Performance Appraisal – will replace the existing IQMS.
Processes are also being finalised to evaluate principals and deputy principals in terms of the Education Management Service: Performance Management and Development System, in terms of which they will be required to sign performance agreements.
All these measures are meant, inter alia, to strengthen accountability levels and, in this manner, to empower educators. Again comrades these measures cannot be implemented before following a due process of consulting affected parties through their recognised structures.
Having in mind the whole evaluation and improvement of the education system, the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) was established.
The core responsibilities of NEEDU are to identify critical factors that inhibit or advance school improvement and to make focused recommendations for redressing problem areas undermining school improvement.
It must provide us with an independent, analytical and accurate account on the state of education in South Africa, in particular, on the status of teaching and learning in all schools. The draft NEEDU Bill has been put together.
I’ve been asked by leadership here to comment also on two further issues – (1) handling of issues of mutual interest affecting the profession at the sectoral bargaining chamber, and (2) funding of unions’ teacher development projects.
Issues of mutual interest affecting the profession
You know that the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council was established by the Labour Relations Act of 1995 to address transverse issues that cut across all sectors, like general salary adjustments, medical assistance, housing and leave.
Arrangements within government currently support collective bargaining at a central level especially on transverse matters. The main reason for this is found in budget arrangements but I guess as a sector we might want to identify sector specific challenges that we want to possibly pull out of the central bargaining chamber and deal with them as a sector, again if council identify any, for instance such as accommodation we could possibly treat it as such.
I have for instance started negotiating with the minister of Human settlements to consider giving us a rented stock for teachers who work in rural areas and through your structures we can pursue this and say how we see ourselves shaping these discussions with Human settlement. Again if there are other matters outside housing let’s talk about them.
Funding for Teacher Development Activities
The Department has negotiated approval from Treasury to fund work we undertake jointly with teacher unions for teacher development activities.
The thinking is to strengthen teacher professionalism and build the capacity of the system to support teachers to perform better in the classroom.
This will give momentum to teacher development activities already undertaken by unions and boost teaching on time, being prepared and teaching well.
Through this partnership, unions will be expected to play a greater role in developing capacity within their structures to support teacher professional development needs in areas of subject knowledge, and teaching and assessment skills.
As you know, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been developed between the DBE, PEDs and teacher unions in which the roles of the parties have been agreed.
It is clear that more than ever, we need very strong strategic partnerships to improve quality and to deliver on the non-negotiables as spelt out in the Ten Point Plan.
It is in this context that SADTU as a progressive force from the left, is expected to pronounce sharply on how best to advance the goals of the NEDLAC Accord on Basic Education and Partnership with Schools, launched in the Eastern Cape in the month of September 2011.
Remember that in this Accord (2011:4) we made an important determination that: “Performance in the schooling system is at the heart of building the skills base for economic growth and development and ensuring that society is able to achieve our equity and development goals.” We pledged through the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign to build a quality education system whose goal it is to break the shackles that mainly bind children of the poor and the working class.
It’s no secret that South Africa is besieged by deadly evils of inequality, poverty and joblessness. Thus the need to “organise & empower education workers to deliver free quality public education & build socialism”! We’ve reinforced this imperative in the NEDLAC Accord.
But comrades, you and I know that any employer-driven initiatives have to work through and with the employees otherwise it will simply not fly without organised labour. To think otherwise is tantamount to an exercise in futility.
Other burning issues
The five questions I thought I should also raise for this NGC are the following, answers to which are key to empowering education workers:
- How to empower teachers in light of ANA results that revealed the full extent of learner performance deficits in the system?
- How best to benefit from the new workbooks, to empower teachers and to improve learner achievement?
- How best to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS and continue to increase both awareness and influence behavioural change? SAQMEC results
- What is the response in light of classroom-based research showing that curriculum coverage is a serious problem – linked to teacher knowledge, commitment and accountability? and
- What is SADTU’s role in strengthening the ‘value-chain’?
This question I’m raising in the context of the initiative we’ve already taken to direct focus of the whole sector more and more towards implementation. We’ve put in place a Planning & Delivery Oversight Unit to shift our focus in this direction.
Pushing for implementation, monitoring, accountability and consolidation of the work we’ve done so far are the only ways of delivering on all the targets we’ve set for 2014. The Planning & Delivery Oversight Unit will work with and support provinces around agreed priority areas.
The priority areas include:
- Teacher education & development;
- Smooth implementation of the new Curriculum & Assessment Policy Statements;
- Annual National Assessments;
- Proper use of the new workbooks to improve learner achievement.
Lastly, I wish you a successful National General Council which commences on a very important day as we launch the 16 Days of Activism Campaign. Thank you warmly for inviting us.
Issued by: Department of Basic Education
28 Nov 2011
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