A recent report published by the Centre for Risk Analysis at the Institute of Race Relations revealed that “education is the single greatest obstacle to socio-economic advancement in South Africa”. As opposed to bolstering socio-economic advancement, the quality of education in many public schools exacerbates poverty and inequality. Consequently, countless South Africans remain caught in a poverty trap.
Skimming through scholarly and non-scholarly publications about the South African education system reveals that the finger is typically pointed at teachers. While of the rate of absenteeism, late coming and turnover among teachers show that there is some merit in allegations of mediocracy, blaming teachers for the quality of education in public schools has not offered a long-term, sustainable solution. In fact, it has led to the stigmatisation of the teaching occupation and, in turn, contributed to teacher attrition.
A number of factors determine the performance of an education system. One of these factors is teacher quality. I endorse research that demonstrates the salience of teacher quality. Even so, I recommend that it is imperative to acknowledge the complexity associated with the task of improving the performance of an education system.
In a subsequent report that was also published by the Centre for Risk Analysis at the Institute of Race Relations, its CEO Frans Cronje, highlighted the salience of parental involvement and control in the education process, which directs attention to the need for collaboration among relevant stakeholders. In accordance with these recommendations, I propose that professionals, from different areas of specialisation, signify educational resources that should also be involved in the education process.
I performed a qualitative study among 37 teachers from fee public schools and no-fee public schools in the Cape Winelands Education District. The majority of participants stated that they are routinely expected to perform work tasks that exceed the level of responsibility that can be expected of teachers. This was especially noticeable among participants from no-fee public schools. To alleviate the burden of unreasonable work tasks among teachers, I propose that the Department of Education must involve professionals, from different areas of specialisation, in the education process through the introduction of a collaborative service delivery model in public schools.
The collaborative service delivery model will provide a platform for professionals with diverse expertise and backgrounds to collaborate their efforts. This promises to alleviate the burden of unreasonable tasks among teachers and, in turn, allow them to concentrate on meeting standards for pedagogy. What is more, professionals will be able to generate innovative solutions to students’ physical and emotional needs.
I recognise that some public schools already have access to selected professionals. However, I propose that all public schools must have regular access to a variety of professionals, including dietitians, medical doctors, occupational therapists, psychologists (ie clinical, counselling, educational or industrial), social workers and speech-language therapists.
Probably the first question that comes to mind regarding the introduction of a collaborative service delivery model in public schools concerns the cost involved in leveraging the expertise of the above-mentioned professionals. The majority of these professionals are expected to complete a compulsory internship before their registration with relevant professional councils (eg Health Professions Council of South Africa and South African Council for Social Service Professions). Given the shortage of opportunities to complete such internships, I propose that professional councils must encourage graduates to complete part of their internship in public schools.
Earlier this year, Malusi Gigaba, the then minister of finance, emphasised the importance of “educating our youth, protecting the vulnerable and investing in enablers of inclusive growth” during the the annual budget speech. In accordance with this, he proceeded to allocate R324-billion to higher education and training for the next three years. A large proportion of this amount is spent on university education. Encouraging graduates to complete part of their internship in public schools will help to demonstrate a return on this substantial investment.
The provision of quality education is essential for socio-economic advancement in any country. To improve the quality of education in public schools across South Africa, we must stop pointing the finger at teachers. We must rather seek long-term, sustainable solutions, such as the introduction of a collaborative service delivery model in public schools. DM
Nicola Vermooten is a registered industrial psychologist and PhD candidate, Stellenbosch University
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