No easy solution to union’s role

2012-09-15 11:19

Have unions responded to the new challenges facing the teaching profession?

This is what representatives from teachers’ unions, student groups, civil society, government and the private sector gathered in a forum at the University of Johannesburg this week to examine as part of the Education Conversations series.

Mugwena Maluleke, the general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), said that his union was focusing on professionalism and management in schools, and establishing its own institutions for professional development. The union’s 2030 vision is to shift its militancy towards professionalism, he said.

He argued that unionisation of teachers is not the root of poor performance in schools and that issues of leadership, accountability, and parental and community involvement need to be addressed rather than blaming Sadtu.

Countries with highly successful education systems, such as Sweden and Singapore, are 100% unionised, he pointed out.

Maluleke called on Kagiso Trust and other civil-society stakeholders to partner with Sadtu to improve teacher development, expose weak leadership and bring parental influence back into schools.

Themba Kojana, the acting deputy director-general of teachers, education, human resources and institutional development at the department of basic education, said the department was focusing on improving capacity and professional development.

He welcomed collaboration with unions to develop a more professional teaching service and acknowledged that unions added value through their own institutions for teacher training.

The challenge, he said, was to coordinate this engagement to ensure it came from the top down.

Kojana said the department would introduce a performance-management system to hold principals, deputies, teachers and administrators accountable.

Community activist Nomalanga Mkhize, the coordinator of the Save ur Schools initiative in Grahamstown, said there was
a disconnect between unions and government that crippled decision-making at schools.

While unity is declared at the top levels of union and education structures, local-level and district-level education is driven by divided loyalties and a poor understanding of processes and procedures.

Mkhize has observed elements of distrust and resentment among teachers towards communities and parents who want to be involved in their children’s schools.

She suggested that this mindset was rooted in the power of union officials at the local and micro levels.

Among the concerns raised by delegates were the views that the unions were still too focused on their members rather than on the interests of the learners.

Kgotso Schoeman, the chief executive of Kagiso Trust, asked what Sadtu’s response was to the poor matric results each year. Other concerns were voiced about the need to raise standards, while at the same time getting back to basics.

Both government and Sadtu were called upon to hold each other accountable in the challenge to improve performance in schools.

While the conversation raised more questions than answers, there was consensus that the challenges were many and complex. “Let’s not thumbsuck solutions – let’s research,” said Maluleke.

The conversation drew attention to the fact that there is no simple answer to a complex set of questions. Nevertheless, the outcome was hopeful, and honest and open engagement and a willingness to work together to tackle uncomfortable issues was prevalent.

» The last instalment in Education Conversations for this year takes place on October 30 at the University of Johannesburg.

For further information on the series, contact Jane Lewis on, follow Kagiso Trust on Twitter @Kagiso_Trust or go to the Education Conversations website:

Let’s not thumbsuck solutions – let’s research– Mugwena Maluleke

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