Reviving the respect for teaching

2009-07-30 00:00

AS a country and as people who have a passion for matters pedagogic, we were very encouraged by the Polokwane declaration of the ruling party, that education is going to take centre stage in the government’s priorities for the next five years and beyond. Our excitement was informed by the simpl­e fact that for a developing country such as ours, such a declaration was long overdue.

There are many things that the government, the ruling party and this country’s citizens need to do to ensure that South Africa become­s the country with the best education system in the world. Chief among those is the obligation to bring back the respec­t and nobility of the teaching profession.

At the risk of being construed to be romanticising the past, which in many instances was not that glorious, one can unequivocally say that there was no profession that was as revered and respected as the teaching profession. This was to the exten­t that if you asked any youngster what he or she hoped to be when he or she grew up, you were sure that teaching was among the first answers you would get.

Teachers were the chief role models in our villages, townships and everywhere they were found. Being a teacher meant that you were first of all a compulsive and passionate educator, a social worker, a doctor, a psychologist and in some instances, albeit through social injustice, a political mentor. Teachers execute­d all these roles with passion and unquestionable commitment.

But somehow the teaching profession is a shadow of its former self. It would be extrem­ely difficult to blame the cause of this sad development on one particular reason. Today, if you were to go to a class of 20 pupils and ask what they would like to be when they finish Grade 12, you would be lucky to have teaching even mentioned. This is extremely sad and needs to be changed — urgently.

As mentioned, there are many factors contributing to this state of affairs. The problem of moral degeneration, where as a society we thrive on vilifying the most useful and significant among us, is a malady that needs serious attention. As a socie­ty we need to learn once again to appreciate, encourage and honour those among us who have accepted the noble calling of educating our nation.

The government needs to show (in deeds, not words) that we value the significant contribution that is made by our teachers to the socioeconomic development of our nation.

We all know that education, especially of the black commu­nity, was designed to ensure their perpetual mediocrity. This is evident in disparities between former Model C schools and those in rural areas and townships. The backlogs in schools’ infrastructure, resulting in many years of neglect, are a historical reality that can neither be defended nor denied.

It is therefore the historical obligation of the government to work its fingers to the bone in ensuring that these and many other anomalies are expeditiously addressed. Despite the economic realities of our times, the government must ensur­e that our teachers teach in habitable and respectable environments. And it is in the intere­sts of all of us to ensure that those who have accepted the noble call of educating our children get paid decent salaries.

It is also in the interests of teachers themselves, to conduct themselves in a manner that commands nothing but respect (regrettably, this has not always been the case). Teachers cannot afford to only look elsewhere when trying to find answers. After blaming all who can be blamed, and in most cases correctly so, teachers need to interrogate their role in contributing towards this problem.

If we are to look frankly at the situation, none of us can be spared. The government, society at large, teachers’ unions, individual teachers themselves and pupils — all of us are culpable.

Now is the time for all of us to commit ourselves to bringing back the nobility of the teaching profession, for the greater good of this country.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an independent social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.

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