After a decade at the helm of the department of basic education, Minister Angie Motshekga believes her legacy will be the fact that she’s implemented a stable curriculum.
Her future now hinges on whether the ANC retains power and if President Cyril Ramaphosa will keep her on as minister after this year’s general elections.
But, whatever happens, the country’s longest-serving education minister believes she has brought curriculum stability and cohesion to the country’s schools.
“When I came in in 2009, the first thing I did was to attend to the curriculum. To change outcomes-based education [OBE] to the curriculum assessment policy statement [Caps] ensured that we resource it, we train teachers and that there is more stability in the sector. People are clear about what they need to teach and how to assess it. We all have common understanding of where we are going,” she said on Thursday.
Before becoming minister of the department, Motshekga was Gauteng’s education MEC for five years.
“OBE had really thrown the sector into complete chaos. When I was told I was going to be minister of education, I said, ‘God is great’. From [my experience in] the province, I was very upset with the way the governing party was dealing with the curriculum. I was very privileged to be at the helm, and [the move to introduce Caps] was the first thing I did in the first month,” she said.
Motshekga does not know if she will remain in her job.
“I wouldn’t know, to be honest. I never knew I would be a minister when I was MEC. I never knew I would go back, so it is in the ANC’s hands. Hayi ... It’s up to them,” she said, laughing.
Responding to critics’ assertions that she is too soft on teacher unions, especially ANC ally the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, Motshekga said the education sector required a political head who knew “what to do, when and how”.
“If you think you are going to bulldoze things, you won’t come right. I’m proud we’ve been able to find one another with teacher unions. We fought when we had to, but it has not been a very acrimonious relationship. We’ve managed to have a professional and productive relationship and I’m very happy to manage stability.”
But Motshekga said more stability was needed, which is evident when one looks at the way parents are able to hold the department hostage during protests by shutting down schools.
She said education was a fragile sector that required the national department and provincial education departments to work together. The department also needed to be “at peace” with teacher unions.
“Another desperately needed function is a good pupil support programme – which is not yet in place – to focus on the welfare and needs of pupils.
“There is still a lot that we need to do. It’s a sector that needs lots of soft skills outside teaching maths and science. It’s a people’s sector, so you need to pay more attention to the people: pupils and teachers; the parents,” she said.
“It needs a lot of soft skills that we’ve not been able to provide adequately; soft skills or programmes such as psycho-social skills, and pupil welfare for their wellbeing and safety in schools. There are a lot of soft programmes that are needed to create more stability.”
Motshekga’s two terms have not been without controversy and include the Limpopo textbook delivery scandal.
She was also criticised for not implementing recommendations made by a team led by Professor John Volmink, who was appointed five years ago to investigate the sale of teaching jobs – a story exposed by City Press. School infrastructure problems have also been a constant battle.
Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said Motshekga could not be blamed for Limpopo’s textbook scandal because the province was responsible for that.
Regarding the implementation of the Volmink panel’s recommendations, Mhlanga said some relating to the appointment of principals were dealt with, citing a collective agreement signed with unions.
Last year, the department also indicated that, since the release of the Volmink report, all affected provincial education departments had been asked to implement the recommendations and keep the national department abreast of developments and the steps taken to resolve issues.
At the time, the department said some disciplinary hearings were held regarding individual cases mentioned in the report; others were referred to the police.
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