Opinionista

We need competent, professional teachers to fix South Africa’s education system

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Michael Workman is a retired educator who was most recently principal of St John’s Preparatory School and before that, principal of Carmel Primary. He has an M.Ed (Curriculum Theory, Planning, Development and Contemporary Issues in Curriculum Evaluation) from the former University of Natal.

One competent teacher can mean a child learns as much as three times more than a pupil with a poor teacher. Where has all the pedagogy gone? Universities need to considerably upgrade the degree and make it more rigorous, and the degree required to enter a classroom should be at least an honours degree.

I have continually argued that before schooling in South Africa can lift the overall standards of education, it has to relate to a very diverse curriculum that can ensure all schools will benefit, and the polarisation between well-resourced schools and the less resourced schools has to decrease substantially.

This does not suggest that standards are lowered, but rather elevated, as I don’t think it is acceptable anywhere in the world to have a school-exit pass mark of less than 33%. Wherever you stand with regard to education in South Africa, the only way to fix it is through equity and equality. We simply cannot afford to have a system that won’t allow for growth and, furthermore, the lowering of standards does not equate to growth.

Unfortunately, so many issues that continue to emerge are slowly eating away at our educational system due to ignorance and incompetence. No one really wants to pick up the baton and run with it. Underlying most of South Africa’s multitude of problems and challenges is, according to Max du Preez in News24, that the state is incapable of executing any plan properly. If the economic and development plans since 1994 had been executed properly, Du Preez believes South Africa would today have been a much less unequal society with much less unemployment, homelessness and crime.

What is needed in education are competent, professional teachers from all phases of schooling: early childhood development (in my opinion, the most important phase) foundation, intermediate and tertiary. Their job is to make education work. All schools must be continuously evaluated so that weaknesses and strengths can be identified early. The weak areas need to be addressed immediately and the strengths timeously developed. There needs to be accountability and responsibility at all levels. Competent people are urgently required. People with integrity who can relate to hard work, meet deadlines and assure all education policies are correctly implemented.

Furthermore, teachers need to know something about education, learning and teaching. To this end, teaching has to become recognised more as a discipline in its own right. Universities need to considerably upgrade the degree and make it more rigorous, and the degree required to enter a classroom should be at least an honours degree.

These are all admirable assets, but are there enough teachers and administrators available now to lead groups of knowledgeable people? I don’t think so. With more people receiving non-education, the future does not look good. With a new curriculum which will address the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) about to be launched, I certainly hope that competent educators are preparing to take on this initiative because there are many community schools that are so far behind with numeracy and literacy, that it looks as though it’s going be catch-up all over again. 

How much longer can incompetent people be appointed by the state when the formula for success is simple: quality input equals quality output? Michael Fullan asserts that one competent teacher can mean a child learns as much as three times more than a pupil with a poor teacher. Where has all the pedagogy gone?

Every time an educational initiative is implemented, it takes a good school forwards and a poor school backwards. This means South Africa is never going to get anywhere. It is impossible to even contemplate a school that is so dilapidated that it has no facilities or infrastructure at all. No sewerage system, no computers – everything of nothing! This is further exacerbated by unruly community leaders who loot and shoot, terrifying the most vulnerable in the community, the children.  

I really do not believe that the reasons for looting are about poverty and starving people. They are more to do with politics, corruption and an inadequate government. In a few months’ time, the people of South Africa are going to vote. This is good for the poor and uneducated, because they are going to be given their free chicken and visited by very wealthy people who drive expensive cars and wear posh suits.

These people are going to tell the communities that, as from next year, they will have their own land, and their own houses and the best education possible. The posh people will then leave to tumultuous applause. Their next visit will be sometime in the future, near an election. I really cannot fathom why so many people are so badly abused, used for political gain.

Education is at an all-time low and violence at an all-time high. I can honestly say that there is very little, if any, difference between Christian National Education, as crass as it was, and education today, as futile as it is, except that the National Party government was far more efficient and effective in achieving its outcomes. DM

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  • I agree that teaching as a discipline is necessary. The teachers who taught me at Harry Bodasing State-aided School on a farm outside (Stanger) Kwa Dukuza were excellent. Decades later I still remember my class 1 teacher – Pam Isreal and my standard five teacher Mr Pillay, who read aloud passionately – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The teachers were trained at Springfield College in Durban. Teaching was a noble profession then – it was about passion. Equalisation rather than lowering standards is the way to go. As a parent, I believe a cross-disciplinary curriculum should be encouraged and developed and LO should be dropped as a compulsory subject at the end of grade 9.

  • The South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) has instituted a programme of helping secondary school teachers with physics and chemistry. The goal is to help these teachers gain both more knowledge of these sciences and also to introduce them to newly discovered pedagogical methods that will greatly improve learning for the children with whom they work.

  • Your major problems ate the teacher unions. SADTU in particular. They will not allow formal assessment to take place of teachers. Where are the school inspectors who went out to assess teacher’s abilities. It even extends to sport. Our local Model C equivalent has dedicated teachers who do take on a coaching load for sport as well with no thought of extra remuneration. The unions are the absolute downfall of education in South Africa together with the politicians.

  • Teachers in an environment of no facilities, lowered standards to 33 %, union steward bullying and a general lack of care for children in the society they live in are naturally demoralised. It takes absolute heroes to try to make changes in these circumstances. Until the politicians and decision makes feel the anger of parents pupils and educators roaring hot on their heels the status quo won’t change. Where are the riots when books only arrive in May, when teachers abuse pupils. When children go home midmorning, when sugar daddy blessers and drug dealers wait at the school gate? Where are the furious parents demanding better results and higher standards? Has everybody just given up on our children and our future? It’s sickening.