Press Statement dated 8 February 2019

While there may well be much to be thankful for in the text of the President’s State of the Nation (SONO) speech, as a professional education body, the South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) has a growing concern that the emphasis in respect of the improvement of education and the delivery of education excellence throughout the country may be critically misplaced.

“Of what good is the supply of some 12 million tablets to learners throughout the country, not to speak of the further 400 000 to the teachers who will need to each have one of their own devices to prepare lessons, while there are still thousands of schools without adequate ablution facilities and proper classrooms in which to apply these 21st century education aids? A simple arithmetical calculation puts the cost of the ‘promise’ at billions of rands. The conundrum begs the question: Does the President actually understand the scale of what has been offered? And what is of greater importance: A safe, healthy teaching and learning environment as prescribed by the Constitution, (as one of the architects of our Constitution, the President needs no reminding of what that document’s answer would be), or the installation of Wi-Fi facilities and the constant supply of ever-diminishing data bundles? All this, in the face of international research that has shown that IT does not automatically improve achievement in the crucial areas of literacy, Mathematics and the Sciences. Those countries that have successfully implemented a digital education environment first mastered the three Rs (writing, reading and arithmetic) successfully. That is where our primary aim must be!”

Chris Klopper, CEO of the SAOU went on to point out that the professional skills required to make the best use of tablets in the classroom are highly specialized and specific. To assume that all teachers have those necessary skills would be to debilitate a significant percentage of the profession. Brief and sporadic up-skilling in-service and further training courses, while they may be to some extent efficacious, will add significantly to the cost burden.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) is educationally recognized to be of seminal importance to a child’s later academic achievement and the President’s statements in this regard are certainly to be applauded until the impact of the dream on the rest of the education structure is contemplated. The addition of at least 1 million learners to the system means that the current number of teaching posts (372 thousand), which is already spread across 12 grades will, in the future have to be spread over 14 grades. The reality is counter -productive to best practice; class sizes can rise by as much as 8-15%. It is heartening to learn that ECD will fall under the auspices of the Department of Basic Education (DBO). Required: the budget from the Department of Social Development must follow.

The learning-to-read process and fluent reading skills are pivotal in the general learning process across subjects and thus remains an international education focal point so the emphasis placed on this area of education was welcomed especially in regard to the needs in Grades 3 and 4. However, once again, no significant reference was made to up-grading quality language teachers. This matter requires careful consideration and planning to ensure eventual success as the quality of teachers has always been, and will always be, the primary determining factor.

Establishing Technical schools will profit little while little if any attention is paid to the kinds of demands made by the much vaunted needs of the so-called 4th Industrial revolution. The current complaints among teachers of the subjects are that the curricula for Technical Mathematics and Technical Science do not address the needs of technical schools. The universal problem with excellent ideas is that unless they are accompanied by thorough plans for successful implementation they simply remain bright ideas.

“The fact of the matter is that without the political will to address the education gaps where they are needed most:

  • Providing proper, safe and healthy places of teaching and learning
  • Supplying sufficient numbers of dedicated, well-trained and well-qualified teachers
  • Ensuring that both educators and learners are adequately supplied with the necessary and appropriate teaching and learning support materials
  • Encouraging the development of value systems within the education community of self-discipline and mutual respect
  • Focussing on Early Childhood Development and,
  • Providing the budget to achieve all of the above while raising teaching to the professional status it deserves

Education in South Africa will not prosper.

While free tertiary education sounds good rolling off the populist political tongue the concept needs rigorous pragmatic economic assessment while it is equally important for the country to encourage young people, especially in the face of the 4th Industrial Revolution, to explore the urgent work-place needs that are not necessarily supplied by the universities.

‘Varsity’ and tablets are not Holy Grails.

And finally, the Union feels that the President’s lack of reference to the Hoërskool Driehoek tragedy, a tragedy that deserves to be seen on a national scale, as must every child who drowns in a pit latrine, represents a lost opportunity to honour not only the children who died but all South Africa’s children. The rapidly deteriorating state of school buildings is a ticking time bomb and requires urgent and specialist attention.

Issued by Chris Klopper, CEO, Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU)