Government and stakeholders focus on thorny issues blocking better school performance

The recently established National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) kicked-off its programme of dialogue for change in basic education in Pretoria today (Friday 15 Nov) with a meeting of some 50 leaders in the field.

Professor Ihron Rensburg, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg and co-chair of the meeting, appealed to participants to approach the NECT, which is a civil society-government partnership, as an opportunity for a fresh start.

“It would be wonderful if we could walk out of here challenging ourselves to treat today as a fresh start in terms of building the confidence and the trust that we need to succeed. It is evident that our nation seeks strong leadership that brings together the state and the kinds of organisations represented here today.”

Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty, the meeting’s other co-chair, also appealed to participants to engage the many challenges that remain in the field of public education constructively. “There is a belief that things are changing, that better education is being achieved. Let us not diminish the hope that South Africans have for the future even as we address the challenges of change.”

The Dialogue Group of the NECT comprises senior managers in departments of education, academics, trade unionists, members of parent, youth and NGO formations, and representatives of trusts and foundations and the independent school sector. It will focus on “action-oriented” dialogue and meet regularly on a four-monthly basis to find solutions to issues that are blocking progress in basic education.

Among the issues the meeting discussed was the critical subject of professionalising the South African teaching service.

Professor John Volmink, chair of the Task Team on Professionalisation of Teaching at the SADTU Curtis Nkondo Professional Development Institute said, “Whatever we do, we have to do it with teachers – not to them or for them – or we are doomed to fail.”

Trade unions, he said, could either play a role in fostering professionalism in teaching or they could serve to obstruct professional accountability of teachers. Strong teacher unions were a feature of several countries right at the top of the education league table. This indicated that unionisation in these instances went hand-in-hand with a high degree of teacher professionalism.

A further important matter discussed was that of improving the effectiveness of schools. Prof Brahm Fleish, of the University of the Witwatersrand, said, “What matters is improving the instructional capabilities of our teachers. This is about teachers understanding the subject content, how to teach it to different age learners through the effective use of books.”

The Dialogue Group identified a range of possible actions it could advocate in relation to professionalisation of teaching and making schools more effective. These proposals will be further filtered by a task team and a small number will be prioritised for the NECT’s focused attention.

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, who participated in discussions throughout the day, said she was “very grateful and very hopeful” at the progress of the NECT since its launch in July and the dedication shown not only by education specialists but also by business and funding agencies.

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