SONA 2019

SONA and the recurring side-shows of discontent

By Nkateko Mabasa and Bheki Simelane 7 February 2019

Final preparations for State of the Nation Address Thursday, 7 February, 2019 in the National Assembly. President Cyril Ramaphosa will be delivering the address. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk 24/ Burger)

Every year, the State of the Nation Address is marked by public protests outside Parliament. This year the Education Union of South Africa took its challenges close to Parliament’s doorstep before Cyril Ramaphosa’s second State of the Nation Address.

Something needs to be done to fix the education system.

This was the plea of the Education Union of South Africa (EUSA), a Cape Town-based teachers’ union, that marched to Parliament on Thursday to use the State of the Nation Address to amplify several issues affecting the education sector.

According to Secretary-General of EUSA Siphiwe Mpungose, the march was aimed at making the public aware of “how teachers feel about the dysfunctional and unproductive curriculum” they are forced to deliver to learners.

Since the beginning of 2019, the country has witnessed a number of challenges in the basic education sector. In the North West, a Schweizer-Reneke primary school made headlines when a teacher shared a photo over WhatsApp that showed black learners at a separate table to their white peers.

Recently, four pupils were killed when a walkway collapsed at Höerskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark. And this week, a video surfaced on social media showing a teacher slapping a learner after a confrontation in class.

Mpungose said the state of education in South Africa forms a critical part of the state of the nation.

He said the union wanted to use SONA to challenge those in power to “come down from their ivory towers and start to engage with us on the curricular and other issues”.

The union was unable to reach Parliament after being stopped by the police at the District Six Museum. This was despite the union being granted permission to march to Parliament during SONA. Its request was in compliance with the Regulations of Gatherings Act. But Mpungose said that on Thursday morning they received a phone call informing them that the march had been cancelled. They decided to march anyway.

Parliamentary representative Peter Lebeko met the marchers a few kilometers from the precinct to accept their memorandum.

One of the issues the union wanted to raise was the condonation of learners.

According to EUSA, Grade 11 learners who received a less than 30% pass mark, but achieved a mark of more than 20% were condoned (promoted) to Grade 12 as part of the department’s modularisation programme introduced in 2016.

This is a political issue; 2016 was local government elections,” said Mpungose.

In terms of the modularisation programme, learners who have been condoned from Grade 11 to Grade 12 are allowed to write only three subjects in their matric year and complete the other three the following year, thereby raising the pass rate, which portrays the department in a positive light, says the union.

The adverse effect of this programme is that learners who have been condoned leave school because of the increased time they spend in matric.

These are future citizens of this country and the government is gambling with their future,” said Mpungose.

Asked what they had done previously to improve the system, Mpungose said they had attempted to engage with the Department of Basic Education and the ministers numerous times, but they had been treated with a “deafening silence”.

According to the union, there is a serious challenge of overcrowding in schools. And, because of this, teaching and learning are negatively affected in classrooms.

The union blames the South African Democratic Teachers Union for “destabilising and ultimately collapsing the entire education system” by “undermining the authority and policies of the Department of Basic Education”.

As the march proceeded towards Parliament, the parliamentary precinct was bustling with elegantly dressed politicians and other dignitaries while the quest for better educational conditions played out outside. DM

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