Claims of patronage

2009-02-02 00:00

Just a week ago, this newspaper commented on concerns about the provincial education department. Reflecting on last year’s less than satisfactory matric results and considering future options, outside analysts have expressed disquiet about the influence of nepotism, personal favouritism and political patronage in the appointment of staff to leadership positions. As the week progressed, those concerns were echoed, this time by staff members within the department. The staff in this latter instance are administrative rather than professional personnel and their complaints focused on financial matters and unfair labour practices rather than educational issues, but it is surely not unreasonable to take this as confirmation that real problems exist within the department.

This kind of corruption has very harmful spillover effects. People who are beholden to patronage for their own appointment to senior positions are more likely to replicate this favouritism in the advancement of the staff for whom they are responsible. As more and more less-than-capable people move up the promotion ladder, the corrosion of competence spreads until the whole edifice is undermined.

In education, more perhaps than in any area of public service other than health, the influence of incompetence at the top does extraordinary damage as it filters down. Not only are material resources mismanaged (and poor facilities and inadequate resources are often blamed as the cause of sub-standard scholastic achievement) but ultimately managerial incompetence affects the way that children are treated and taught in their classrooms. An often repeated criticism of the outcomes-based approach is that it makes great demands on the classroom teacher, and when the people meant to advise and guide teachers are themselves lacking in subject knowledge or methodological expertise, everyone suffers, none more than the pupils.

Many well-informed observers believe that even the present unacceptably low throughput and pass rates are inflated. Dumbing down the curriculum and watering down standards are not the way to remedy the educational deficits induced by the apartheid schooling system. The need to put the best qualified people into the right jobs was never more urgent.

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