The NECT: a cycle of trust

For the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) to succeed in assisting the Department of Education to overhaul education, it is going to have to ensure that its primary stakeholders find common ground and a climate of growing trust between themselves. Business, Government and the Unions are not historically endowed with trust for one another.

All the more remarkable then is the fact that NECT has been charged by these three critical educational stakeholders to provide the impetus for educational improvement in some key areas. The progress made to date is a welcome indication that co-operative action is not only possible, but effective, and a catalyst to greater trust between all parties.

The NECT has one aim: to actively contribute to the transformation of South African education – one of the top priorities of the National Development Plan (NDP). No one can deny that access to basic education has improved comprehensively since 1994, but it is equally obvious that the quality of that education, in many cases, needs radical improvement. Radical change was certainly a promise made before the 2014 elections, but as we listen to post-election budget speeches in national and provincial legislatures, it has emerged that what government intends is not a radical change in policy, but a radical change in implementation. Continuity has been maintained, with Angie Motshekga and Blade Nzimande retaining their posts in education, which implies policy will remain unaltered. However, the fact that the NECT has received unanimous buy-in from government, big business, teacher unions and NGOs shows that the implementation of that policy has been radically changed – to a strategy that inclusively and actively involves all these stakeholders, as well as parents and learners.

The enthusiastic support of business – whether big business or SMEs – is a vital link in the NECT chain; as important as the co-operation of teacher unions or the involvement of parents in school governing bodies. However, it is in this area that a certain amount of trust needs to be stimulated if the NECT is to thrive. In parts of the corporate world, there are longstanding positive relationships with government but sadly in others this trust, which is key, to the funding the NECT requires to succeed is missing. The transformation and redistribution agenda being in seeming conflict with the private sector profit objective. The same could be said of the state of trust between the Unions and both Government and Business. There are widespread views that teacher unions sometimes put selfish interest over educational responsibilities. Both Government and Business have been involved in protracted and bitter wage negotiations with Unions, and while the timing of strikes may be questioned, the need to raise both the professional standing and the pay for dedicated and skilful teachers is common cause. From some perspectives within government and labour, business is seen with great intent to be investing in individualised CSI projects that improve their BBBEE scores, but which do not succeed as they might because they miss the strategy and the synergy that comes from an overall, co-ordinated plan to improve education. Likewise the failure of NGOs – with excellent leadership, significant funding and targeted strategies – to make a more major dent in inadequate education can also be attributed to both this piecemeal approach, and also in cases to a lack of trust between stakeholders.

The NECT seeks to overcome this lack of coordination between the power of teachers, NGOs, business, communities and the Department of Education. “Our vision should be a shared vision where we all, as participants, will create a better South Africa. It is important for us to have these robust debates... but at the end of the day this should culminate in a common vision about education,” said Deputy Minister Surty. And while the NECT holds regular dialogues to determine that common vision, it is more than just a talk shop. It has narrowed its focus to six themes for action:

  • Professionalisation of teaching,
  • Courageous and effective leadership,
  • Improving government capacity to deliver,
  • Improving resourcing to create conducive and safe learning environments,
  • Community and parent involvement, and
  • Leaner support and wellbeing

Implementation around these themes has already begun.

The purpose of the NECT is not to divert NGO funding but to augment it, and to enable them and to focus their activity – in fact, NGOs are crucial to the hands-on implementation of various interventions. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga confirms, “The formal relationship we have with the NECT helps us, because it is now formalised through government, and it helps us to do some of the work through NGOs.” The NECT aims to act as a catalyst – to co-ordinate the efforts of government, labour, business, NGOs and school governing bodies so that they will be most effective – and, of course, to see that the project is appropriately funded. Government has considering incentives for business to participate in funding the NECT, and matches private donors rand for rand – to the tune of R200 - R300 million so far.  

Continued funding is essential if the NECT is to continue its work, with its aim eventually to transform 80 percent of SA’s schools into centres of excellence. BLSA and other NECT stakeholders are urging both big business and SMEs to channel their educational CSI spending into this initiative, with amounts immediately being doubled by government. Beyond the social good of being actively involved in a partnership with a committed spectrum of partners to create positive, permanent change in our education system, it’s an investment in long-term sustainability. For businesses large and small to prosper in a stable, growing economy, we need an educated populace, equipped to create jobs and fill critical vacancies, enhance productivity, pay taxes, and buy goods. Funding the NECT makes cold, hard business sense, no matter what business you’re in.

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