Is Sadtu still accountable to society?

2015-01-20 15:00

Whether one agrees with its position or not, the fact that teachers’ union Sadtu publicly declares its position is commendable and creates an avenue for wider public engagement that is beyond the union itself, and encompasses both teachers and the government as the employer.

Its end-of-year statement also highlights an interesting standpoint regarding the accountability of unions to society.

All teacher unions should be challenged to openly state their plans, as did Sadtu, to take the public discourse about education forward.

If there was a critical mass of union leaders genuinely committed to calling on their members to respect the work of education and teach every day, as urged by Sadtu, many of the challenges currently experienced in South Africa’s education system would be addressed.

However, the truth, which Sadtu also points out, is that merely calling on union members without having well-planned and resourced programmes supported by government and society will not change the culture of teaching.

For South Africa to achieve the professionalisation of its teaching corps, the multistakeholder quality learning and teaching committees set up by the department of basic education have to be more actively supported at municipal, provincial and national levels.

The National Education Collaboration Trust (Nect) – designed to offer this support – has mobilised teacher unions, traditional and religious leaders, and business to work with and support municipal offices and schools.

Another of Nect’s core programmes is the professionalisation of teaching, which, among other things, seeks to promote open dialogue among education stakeholders. Sadtu’s approach does augur well for this programme.

In its statement, Sadtu raises the expectation of a comprehensive and integrated plan for the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP). It confirms the union’s commitment to the NDP.

Sadtu, alongside its business and government counterparts, was instrumental in the establishment of Nect, which is a joint response to the NDP.

Nect has had the active support of teacher union members at every level of the system, from school to national.

While a joint stakeholder assessment of the implementation of the NDP should be undertaken at some stage, a number of positive achievements are evident.

For example, the department is actively working with teacher unions to roll out professional development programmes in which senior teachers train their fellow union members. This is no minor achievement and if the programmes are sustained and continuously improved over time, they will fast-track the pace of teacher professionalisation.

While the NDP implementation systems should be perfected by now, we should be careful not to run ahead of ourselves or get too critical and retard the growing momentum of implementation.

In the NDP itself, it is acknowledged that the first five years of implementation should be regarded as the foundation phase, given that national development takes time.

Sadtu’s is spot-on regarding the challenges facing infrastructure development, and the improvement of management structures and systems.

Regarding service-delivery improvement and human resources plans, a process was initiated by the department two years ago to reconfigure

districts in a manner that promotes learning improvement in schools.

The human resources development council has initiated macrolevel planning for education-related human resource needs. In light of these initiatives, Sadtu’s opinion appears harsh and the union should rather put its weight behind these programmes.

It is, however, encouraging that Sadtu is calling for the integration of interventions to improve principal recruitment and performance into the human resources development strategy. The strategy should take these recommendations and support the department to fast-track implementation.

Similarly, urgent consideration should be given to a strategy for balancing teachers’ remuneration demands against the department’s strained personnel budget.

Continuous growth in the system’s personnel spend risks undermining education improvements of the past 20 years and will inhibit achievement.

The importance of teacher development, as cited in the Sadtu statement, could not be more strongly emphasised.

However, the notion of teachers waiting for professional development to come from elsewhere needs to be changed. In all other professions, individuals are responsible for their own professional development.

A mix of self-development, peer professional development and government-led training should be used to improve the quality of our teaching corps.

In this regard, Sadtu has undersold itself as it has trained more than 50 000 teachers over the past two years through its teacher development institute. Mention must also be made of a good governance training project targeted at union leaders.

It is correct of Sadtu to say that we need to take collective responsibility and accountability for the quality of education, but this requires more than just lip service. It requires the implementation and monitoring of joint programmes, and the combined inputs of government, teacher unions and society.

Fast facts

What the union said

In its end-of-year statement, the teachers’ union reflects its position on national and internal politics, the emergence of a new union, implementation of the NDP, challenges in education and shop floor issues.

It raises issues that are undermining, or have the potential to undermine, productivity in the sector. These include the absence of plans for dedicated human resources, service-delivery and infrastructure improvement, and an appropriate management structure and system for schools.

Khosa is the chief executive officer of the National Education Collaboration Trust

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