Time to acknowledge the crisis

2013-05-08 00:00

ANOTHER year, another survey, another report — such is the face of education in our country as we list from one crisis to another.

The National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (Needu), we are told, was commissioned by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to investigate and tell her, again — just like the Annual National Assessments — what she already knew.

It is worth asking why the minister entertains such investigations when she actually knows the answers. It would seem that both the Annual National Assessments and the new, unseen, Needu report confirm that we are in crisis, despite the minister’s constant protestations to the contrary.

What she now needs to do is to acknowledge that there is a crisis and, in the interests of all pupils, take real, practical and possibly drastic steps to turn the tide.

Appearing on national television, the minister again indicated that there are some things that are wrong, but that education is far better than in the past.

When pressed by the interviewer, Motshekga fell back on the tried-and-tested: “It is the fault of apartheid” — claiming that teachers today are not equipped to teach the children, as they were trained to teach them, if one understood correctly, to be farm labourers.

Apartheid aside, the minister then went on to tell the nation that the teaching force is an “ageing” group, seemingly incapable of doing the job of educating today’s children.

What a slap in the face for those tens of thousands of devoted, committed, passionate individuals of all colours, creeds and denominations, who have so valiantly manned the trenches of education over hundreds of years. One wonders who taught the minister when she went to school.

By contrast, the highly astute Dr Nick Taylor (CEO of Needu) stressed that there are issues, but more importantly, he informed viewers that Needu has listed practical ways which would make an immediate impact and would positively influence the present abysmal levels in the system.

One waits with bated breath to scrutinise the contents of the Needu report, even though we are told that it was 133 urban schools that were surveyed.

The question that needs to be asked here is: what of the thousands of rural schools that are still expected to function under horrendous conditions?

What would their surveys reveal?

Without attempting to suggest a simple, or simplistic, answer to what faces education in South Africa, maybe the minister could consider some of the following options:

• ensure appointments at all levels are made on merit, bearing equal opportunity in mind;

• immediately reopen teacher training colleges, where prospective teachers could be taught how to teach;

• recall the willing, keen and able “ageing” group to mentor or coach would-be teachers, as is being done in certain other industries;

• ensure that teachers know what to teach, but more importantly, how they are to teach it;

• resist the temptation — on the strength of the contents of the Needu report — to remove teachers from classrooms en masse, to attend workshops during school hours to be “trained”.

That is hugely counterproductive as children are either left to their own devices, sent to play on the playground, or told to stay at home so the teacher can attend the workshop.

Motshekga should:

• confront those teachers’ unions that are undermining the delivery of quality education; and

• implement stringent monitoring of teaching and learning at all levels.

There are many other areas that could be highlighted, but starting with these could be beneficial.

Above all else, the minister needs to understand very clearly that she is accountable to many people, constituencies and institutions, but most of all, she is answerable to the pupils of this country, the huge majority of whom merely desire what is their right.

• Les Stanley has been in education in KZN for 40 years, including as a principal for 25 years in public and private education, and employed by the Department of Basic Education. He is currently an independent education consultant.

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