The South African School System Needs Rebuilding
Letter to the Editor, The Mercury, 5 October 2015
The Mercury and other newspapers have carried many insightful articles recently on the triumphs and travails of our national education system, including those dealing with the ANA debacle as well as much-publicised provision of various information technology devices to certain schools.
At the heart of any national system of education are located a corps of dedicated teachers drawn for all races and ideological outlooks who are wholeheartedly committed to the performance of their professional duties, namely teaching the ‘learners’ under their care, within and outside the classroom.
These brilliant, committed people are indispensable to the quality of teaching and learning that distinguish the system. They are a foundation to build on. They can serve as live models to those teachers who have not the skills, insights, or commitment to engage as fully as they should with the educational endeavour.
Our system of state schooling needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. The following are a few suggestions on how to go about the process.
1. Recognise that teachers are at the core of the system. Their critical work in providing role models cannot be supplanted by technology, although it can be amplified, and the overload of administrative duties that sucks the lifeblood from the classroom interactions can be reduced and the process made more efficient.
2. Every teacher union should examine its constitution to establish the extent to which the welfare of the children, and not only its members, is served thereby.
3. The South African Council of Educators guiding document should be re-written to incorporate criteria related to the processes of educating children rather than imposing constraints interpersonal relationships, important though these requirements are. One needs a reaffirmation of such qualities as punctuality, a work ethic, wide teaching skills, subject knowledge, vision, imagination and critical thinking, fiduciary responsibility, sound administration and much more.
4. Hold teachers accountable for their performance, by the re-introduction of inspectors if necessary, by setting targets related to the mastery of subject knowledge, teaching skills and administrative procedures. Allow a period of grace during which professional criteria will be designed, published and implemented, but don’t let it drag on. Many children have suffered too severely already, and need their place in the sunshine. Focus resources on those most in need. The process will require courage.
Now retired, I spent forty years in education. What a special privilege it was! Why do so few now seem to share the excitement?
Dr Alex Coutts
Retired Deputy Rector, Edgewood College of Education.