The NECT reports back on 2014 Education Dialogues to Cabinet

The Education DialogueSA of 2014 came up with several concrete proposals to upgrade basic education – and they are seeking ministerial and cabinet approval

The National Education Collaboration Trust’s (NECT) memorandum to the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, and the Cabinet – informing them of the recommendations arising from the 2014 Education DialogueSA – is a direct response to the NDP’s call for active citizenry. The NECT brings stakeholders from government, business, teacher unions, academia and civil society together with the aim of radically improving the quality of education.

Government cannot transform the education system on its own – only through a collective, committed effort from our citizenry, the private sector and government can we hope to effect rapid and systemic change in education. The NECT is, in effect, an “Education Codesa” – in which every sector takes responsibility for the part it must play in achieving the NDP’s chief goal of ensuring that by 2030, 90% of South African learners will be passing Matric with languages, mathematics and science marks above 50%.

Construcive engagement

The Dialogues allow open and robust discussion, with input from sometimes disparate stakeholders, to formulate bold innovations. The memorandum presents the Dialogue Group’s deliberations, observations, agreements and recommendations from the 2014 dialogues – which will be presented to the Cabinet. Given that the NECT is strongly supported by the minister of Basic Education – she is one of its founders and is a trustee – there is a high expectation that government will note and welcome its recommendations as a guide to policy. Putting the dialogue group’s ideas into action is then the responsibility, both individually and collectively, of all the NECT stakeholders, in collaboration with government.

The memorandum acknowledged the strides that government has made in providing access to education to almost all South African children; an enormous challenge, given the inadequacy of the system they inherited in 1994. It also appreciated the continuity maintained in the education ministries, and thanked Minister Motshekga for her leadership in the co-creation of the NECT, and her willingness to engage in open, honest debate and implement effective innovations.

Since the NECT’s inception less than two years ago it has been coordinating a range of systemic interventions and is engaged directly in eight school districts, representing 18% of our schools and 2million learners in the first phase of its direct intervention programme. These have been set up in partnerships between government departments, business sponsors, NGOs, teacher unions and school communities. Government funding of the NECT matches business contributions rand for rand, so the initiative is already proving to be much more than mere talk shop.

Professionalising teaching

One of the core NECT pillars is the belief that a professional teaching corps is central to effective teaching. Two critical features are needed to achieve professionalisation: the self-regulating nature of a profession, and a shared set of principles and responsibilities among its members. These encompass specialised teaching and subject knowledge, commitment to professional development and research, professional status, admission requirements and a code of ethics.

Instilling professionalism in teachers cannot be the sole responsibility of training institutions or the DBE – it needs to be holistic and systemic. Its needs to be addressed from teacher-trainee recruitment, through University training, recruitment into schools, induction and mentorship, the immediate teaching environment, continuing professional development, and career progression and teacher discipline. Specifically, the Dialogue Group recommends:

  • That Cabinet review the role of the South African Council of Educators (SACE) with the intention of making SACE the guardian of the teaching profession. SACE’s responsibilities and modus operandi – in the registration of educators, promoting their professional development, and setting, maintaining and protecting ethical and professional standards – should be reviewed against the widespread concerns about the low level of teacher professionalism, and potentially benchmarked against the best professional councils in other sectors, and indeed in the world. Of course, there is a need to review what is currently in place that the SACE is working on to achieve some of these objectives as well. But SACE needs to serve as the custodian of the entire value-chain of the teaching profession.
  • That stakeholders urgently address the disconnect between schools and universities – exacerbated by the splitting of education between the DBE and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). This schism, along with underfunding in the teacher-training sector, hampers efforts to recruit more top achievers to the profession. It’s a welcome sign that the teacher-graduation rate has risen from 6 000 to 13 000 per year, as are the DBE’s efforts in the re-curriculation of teachers, but planning to attract more top-quality recruits is essential.
  • That the role of unions be better understood. Despite widespread negative perceptions of unions as a cause of dysfunction in education, the Dialogue Group reasserted teachers’ constitutional right to collective representation. All six teaching unions are party to the NECT, and prepared to engage in constructive dialogue. The NECT would like to see efforts towards improving the language of engagement between unions, government and civil society, as well more support from all sectors for the role unions play in in-service training – including the continuing professional development of union leaders. 

 

Making schools more effective and important in their communities

While the DBE is making progress on the technical means of improving the effectiveness of schools ­– an approach favoured in systems across the world, involving standardised learning and lesson plans, provision of learning resources, tests, support from home, in-class coaching and support for teachers – we fall short in building respect for teaching, and spreading the belief that it is a profession and a vocation essential to society. We need to promote a culture of education – and community involvement in education – that recaptures the idea of “the magic of learning”. A suggested programme for immediate action is the promotion of reading in schools and communities – which will require enormous input from both government and civil society in the provision of appropriate reading resources, but which can also foster higher community involvement in schools through the recruitment of adult volunteers to lead reading groups. Also recommended is to challenge communities to do things for themselves; to create reciprocal accountability between themselves and schools. We should also be promoting schools as public community resources, as opposed to state organisations. This can best be achieved with the participation of community, traditional or religious leaders.

The ability of the NECT to find implementable solutions to education challenges depends on the continued commitment of its stakeholders to these dialogues, and government’s continued willingness to engage with its recommendations and implement them. Considering the progress achieved by this inclusive approach, government and business are urged to continue and expand their financial support for this crucial organisation. Universal effective education is the critical factor in South Africa becoming competitive as a nation.

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