Newspaper clipping – The Mercury – 26 April 2010

Why teachers must lead the way

The education indaba called by the National Teachers Union (Natu) on April 14 is one of the most significant events in education in recent times.

The first was the demonstration by 10 000 pupils marching in school uniform for school libraries. Not a bottle or stone was thrown. It breaks my heart to hear of a young girl who wants to be a scientist, but does not have a laboratory or equipment.

The meeting shows that the union is tackling the challenge to fix our schools. Perhaps the collective wisdom of all the stakeholders will ensure that KwaZulu-Natal shows the rest of the country the direction in which to go.

Perhaps when one day the young pupil Sphelele is a world famous scientist and a great community leader, she will return to the hall and say:
            “I was there when we all decided to turn around our ailing, failing education.”

There has been much honest and solutions-oriented debate, fuelled by media and public concern, on issues such as OBE; the role of teacher unions; workbooks and foundations for learning and inspectors. Two important principles have emerged:

  • Our schools are in big trouble and thus as a nation;
  • We are all in this together.

Some recent headlines have confirmed the debate about teachers and their real problems are:
            “It is time teachers’ union put our children first” in the Cape Times March 4.
            “Teachers not to blame for poor matric results,” in the Cape Times March 5.
            “Teachers are owed R200m: morale low as education department fails to pay for 3 years” in the Sowetan, March 24.

Phathsiwa Shushwana, the 16-year-old student who led the march of 10 000 pupils, said:
            “We are not going to be violent today. We are not going to steal or rob or throw stones. Because we are serious about our education, we really want those libraries and if we are violent the department will think we are not serious….. Having a poor education and knowing that somebody else, somewhere, is receiving a better education makes me feel like a bystander in this country. Please Minister Motshekga, can you lend a helping hand – we need libraries. They are our dream!”

This indaba is about this search for dreams and solutions.

Mr Ndlovu, from Mpumulanga, raised his school from a 34% matric pass to 68 percent to 76 percent, before he was chased out by a rival union and the marks plummeted again. His secret: organization and discipline; inspiration and teamwork; non-negotiables; and a hands-on, face-to-face style that offers support.

A turnaround strategy stresses the importance of self-responsibility and self-belief. With all stakeholders wanting to make a difference, there should be high morale and commitment from the government and the Department of Education, yes, but also mayors, indunas, religious communities and the pupils and teachers themselves. We can do it.

Teaching is challenging. It takes hard work and discipline. It requires knowledge and empathetic management. Time and time again, people have said we must separate politics from education. The emphasis has to be on good, basic, old-fashioned teaching with a strong emphasis on building foundations. Teaching is magic, it needs commitment.

An active citizenry want government programmes and words to hit the ground and officials to do the jobs for which they are paid.

An indaba like this shows there is no need to wait. It will be a long journey and we must start now. Natu is showing that something is stirring in KZN that may well show the nation the way to a renewed and quality education. – Graeme Bloch