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Propel Our Education System Forward

We need to look back in order to propel our Education system forward' by Matakanye Matakanya, General Secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB)

Active promotion, reflection of our past and collective collaboration are the keys to addressing the current negative view of teachers and teaching around the country. Having worked in South Africa's education system over the last 30 years, I have witnessed first-hand the regression in the way teaching is valued across the country; the once high regard for teachers being taken for granted and even now, not being acknowledged for their vocational duties and place in society.

Spending the majority of my teaching career in Soweto, witnessing and participating in monumental changes and revolutions within the past two decades in our country, provides a context for my reflection on the state of the education system today. The negative view of teachers and teaching, the lack of credibility in educational standards are all bi-products of the changing political and governmental laws.

When I began teaching in the 1980's, teachers were held in high esteem, among the noble class with chiefs and kings. Teachers provided community services over and above their teaching duties, ranging from coaching, court interpretation, establishing moral guides and were seen as those who set high moral standards in society. These teachers, mainly mature women, introduced Christian education to the classroom and schools. Then with the advent of apartheid, teachers were separated by colour, race and class. The African teacher was highly condemned, disadvantaged and poorly trained; teaching became a job, no longer community service. At that stage, the noble profession incrementally became just a commodity. Teachers were called by their names and not official titles or "sir" and "ma'am".

Key structural changes are needed to transform the negative perceptions of teachers into positive ones. These negative narratives of teachers have caused tension. To solve the problem we have to reflect on the past that will inform the current in preparation for the future. There must be dialogue at different levels. To make lasting change, dialogue on the following is necessary:

i. Between state and labour movement, teacher union in particular.
ii. To balance the work conditions of teachers with the needs of society.
iii. Discuss the kind of teacher that will serve the democratic society in a democratic state.
iv. Discuss and make important the noble profession.
v. Curriculum support that will help the teacher contribute to the advanced development in South Africa.

Another factor is the dialogue between society and teacher unions. In order for collaboration and the same understanding across the board, there needs to be constructive communication between society and teachers.

Traditionally, education by itself was triangular; you had the learner, teacher and parent who were all equally responsible for their child's learning and progression. This has now been extended to now also including the school community, support staff, stakeholders who are controlling access to education and attributing partners who support the teacher. It is no more a triangular focus and responsibility; it is a wide community inclusive approach that will ensure progression and lasting change in amongst the educational sector.

In a collective partnership effort governed by the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), the current initiative, including NASGB, that is being rolled out is seeing increasing parental involvement in their children's education and that of the support of teachers. This initiative involves learners from grade 8 and the committee of parents who communicate with all stakeholders the needs of the schools and teachers to impact change and uplift them.

The NECT is also encouraging dialogue about professionalising teaching. Involving all stakeholders in education, discourse and meeting in regards to professionalising teaching and making schools run effectively as they had in the past. This will also involve a discussion on compliance by stakeholders involved in the system of education as well as society. The benefit of this will be quality learning and teaching, and thus leaners who leave school to be actively involved in the economy of South Africa. Through professionalising teaching and working together, we aim to achieve greater education that will also boost the economy of the country, empower citizens and learners, will enable our children to become critical thinkers and good citizens focused on social coercion.

Ultimately, we need to respect teachers and teaching within the country. If we don't, our children will also undermine them and lose respect for their teachers. Society at large, teachers themselves, media and the public must change the current stereotype of teachers and support the learner. Involvement of parents in education, with their support of the teacher who in turn supports the learner is a tactic that is needed. Also, looking to the government system, concrete dialogue between the state and society needs to be implemented within current structures.

Article courtesy:  South Africa The Good News