South Africa

South Africa

Sadtu: We don’t need no National Assessments

Sadtu: We don’t need no National Assessments

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) held its eighth national conference over the weekend. The union wants more pay, less division, greater support for the ANC and less focus on Annual National Assessments. What's new? By GREG NICOLSON.

The Department of Basic Education’s Action Plan to 2014 outlines how Annual National Assessments (ANA) are meant to improve education. The tests, sat by students from Grade 1 to 6 and Grade 9, are designed to expose teachers to what’s considered best practice in assessments. They allow schools that need interventions to be identified, give succeeding schools something to be proud of and offering parents more information on the education of their children.

Sounds good, but there’s more. The Action Plan, which offers direction for the 25,000 ordinary public schools across the country, continues: “What has [been] shown to be vital is for the education authorities to work very closely with teacher unions in ensuring that new assessment systems lead to improved learning. Clearly, teachers must feel that the assessment system is credible and that teacher professionalism is enhanced. Assessments that come across as being designed to embarrass teachers are unlikely to succeed.”

On Sunday, the country’s largest teachers union, Sadtu, once again rejected the ANAs in their current form. At its eighth national conference, the union, which represents over 260,000 teachers and education workers, said ANAs should remain a system of evaluation where feedback is given to schools and interventions identified before the results are announced, but the tests should take place every three years instead of annually. Currently, learners sit the literacy and mathematics test each year. They are designed to identify whether students are learning the subjects which enable them to learn more broadly.

Sadtu believes the ANAs cannot succeed in improving the education system. General Secretary Mugwena Maluleke, who was re-elected over the weekend, said the yearly tests do not allow enough time to implement intervention strategies and teachers are forced to teach students through rope learning. While ANA results may be improving, there is not a corresponding increase in matric students qualifying for tertiary studies, he said.

What ANA is doing is that it gives you about four months of implementing the intervention strategies, then after you write again, and you write again. So it does not give the system the time to mature so then you help the children grow and be able to understand,” said Maluleke. “We are not allowing the system to mature because we overload the teachers with new intervention strategies every time without having to evaluate the other one, whether it has been effective or not effective.”

Maluleke said teachers spend considerable amounts of time “programming” students because they are scared of being labelled poor teachers and schools are worried of being called dysfunctional. Sadtu said the ANA process should not be used to label teachers and schools, which harms morale and professionalism.

We don’t need ANA. We need a three-year cycle. We need resources. We need the training of the teachers and therefore we need that introduction of early childhood education,” Maluleke continued.

Since its introduction in 2011, ANA participation has been rapidly expanded across the country and the results have seen slight increases. Essentially, however, they show the immense challenges the education system faces. In 2013, Grade 9 scores were of particular concern with 37% of Grade 9 learners scored over 50% in home language and only 3% of them passed 50% in mathematics. The figures put pressure on the Department of Basic Education to acknowledge challenges and address them using a range of solutions.

Sadtu also discussed pay and work conditions, and as part of the upcoming wage discussions at the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council, wants a one-year deal with a 15% increase. While the final increase is likely to be lower, previous public sector wage negotiations have resulted in strikes and as negotiations heat up teachers may withdraw their labour from schools.

On Thursday, President Jacob Zuma told the Sadtu conference that the pay of teachers and health professionals is under review by the Commission of Inquiry into the Remuneration and Conditions of Service in the Public Service and Public Entities. The inquiry was touted before the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung conference where it was adopted by the party as a policy and launched last year.

Maluleke was doubtful about its efficacy. “You are saying we must go back to GEAR. Because GEAR said we will kill you then resurrect you.” The union wants significant increases in housing and medical benefits for teachers and is also fighting for teachers to get the same benefits as some other public employees. Sadtu can’t wait for the Remuneration and Conditions of Service inquiry, said Maluleke. “We need one simple plan. Let’s say the Commission says, ‘The teachers of this country are not remunerated well.’ What is the plan? The GDP’s not growing. Are they going to bring a plan? Basically we might have a situation [where] the Commission will give the results and we’ll have another 15 years before we can implement it. So the issue is just that we must just fight.”

Sadtu’s resolution says the conference was taking place after the union has been exposed to “as unprecedented wave of ‘un-SADTU’, counter-revolutionary elements hell bent to destroy us from within”. The union recently expelled its then president Thobile Ntola – Magophe Maphila was elected president on the weekend – and Sadtu recently won court cases over leadership issues in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape.

The union reiterated its support for Cosatu, the ANC and SACP, and criticised “the super-union mentality” of labour organisations broadening their scope, presumably a dig at the National Union of Metalworkers SA.

As a sign of the pressure Sadtu, and other unions, are under as Cosatu-affiliated unions have recently been divided in support and face factionalism, Sadtu said it was faced with “populism, popstarism, demagoguery and love for the media” from some members. The union decided that any member who either goes to court or to the media to resolve a matter without exhausting internal remedies would be dismissed. DM

Photo: Delegates at the Sadtu conference on Sunday sing as the leadership results are announced. (Greg Nicolson)

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