Newsmaker: Angie Motshekga: Tough job, but someone’s got to do it

2015-01-11 15:00

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South Africans have an enduring love-hate relationship with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, which they rekindle twice a year.

First, there’s the annual release of the matric results in January. Then, later in the year Motshekga faces the public to reveal how younger pupils fared in the Annual National Assessment (ANA).

Those who hate Motshekga blame her for any drops or stumbles; they accuse her of sitting idly by while the country’s education system sinks deeper into the quagmire.

But those who love Motshekga hail her as a straight-talking saviour who’s done a good job of repairing what’s broken.

Whatever the view, it’s clear Motshekga works hard.

On Monday, minutes after releasing the 2014 matric results, she was able to spare five minutes to chat to City Press before rushing off to her next engagement.

The pass rate dipped for the first time in five years, slipping from 78.2% in 2013 to 75.8% last year.

During the briefing at the SABC’s offices in Auckland Park, Motshekga attributed the drop to the implementation of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (Caps).

She reiterated this during a hurried chat in the corridors.

“It is because we changed the curriculum; changed the exam structure; we got kids who had failed Grade 11 and we took them to Grade 12,” she said.

But she was upbeat about the class of 2015.

“Teachers now have a sense of what to expect; moderators know what to expect. They will wake up. I can predict – with my eyes closed – we are going back to 78% or 80%.

“This year [2014] I never made a prediction because I knew it would be difficult: new curriculum, difficult questions and the promotion of kids who were not supposed to be in Grade 12.”

Motshekga, a trained teacher, is serving her second term in the tough education portfolio.

Experts in the field credit her with canning outcomes-based education and even her most ardent critics have praised her for implementing the ANA, which educationalists say will go a long way towards tackling literacy and numeracy problems in lower grades.

She’s also the brains behind reopening teacher training colleges and spearheading a multibillion-rand project to replace mud schools.

But the 59-year-old mother of six has an Achilles heel: the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).

Motshekga told City Press that in the next two years she wanted to focus on getting things done.

“I want to stabilise the sector in terms of making sure that basic things get done – just basics. People must respect teaching time – and not play around – and there must be focus. Stick to the basics and do the right things in the right way.”

The minister has several ideas to make this happen, like a biometric system to monitor teacher attendance, competency tests for matric script markers and a move to make education an essential service that will stop teacher strikes.

It appears the powerful Sadtu, which has long been a thorn in Motshekga’s side, is going into 2015 in a fighting mood.

In a statement on Tuesday, the union said the lower pass rate shouldn’t be blamed on teachers; it was the department’s fault for not properly training teachers.

It also implicitly defended teachers alleged to be involved in cases of group cheating in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

“Sadtu condemns [group cheating] in the strongest terms possible, but wants to emphasise our education system is focused on quantity instead of quality and this inherently puts teachers into an uncomfortable corner with undue pressure.

“It is this pressure that sometimes forces schools to commit such acts,” Sadtu said in its statement.

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