BY THE MINISTER OF BASIC EDUCATION,
MRS ANGIE MOTSHEKGA, MP
AT THE OPENING DINNER OF THE TEACHER DEVELOPMENT SUMMIT ,
MONDAY, 29 JUNE 2009
Director of Ceremonies
I am honoured to be with you this evening. We have waited a long time for this moment.
Some would say that we have waited since 1994! Others would say that we have waited since September last year when the main stakeholders and social partners decided to stage this Summit . However long we've waited, the moment has arrived, and I embrace it with open arms.
If we were not already convinced of the importance of this event, the Secretary-General of Education International, Mr Fred van Leeuwen, is with us in person to remind us.
Mr van Leeuwen, I express my appreciation to you and your organisation for honouring us in this way.
As colleagues know, South African teachers have a long, close and valued connection with Education International, and it is a treat for us that you are here today to share our pleasure in this great event and see for yourself how far we have come, as well as how far we still have to travel.
EI's solidarity with the cause of democracy and democratic education in South Africa will never be forgotten.
I want to welcome all other distinguished international guests, especially Ms Marilyn Stewart and Dr Connie Francis of the Chicago Teachers Union (AFT), Professor Dennis Shirley of Boston College and our own Dr Yusuf Sayed of the University of Sussex, who have all kindly agreed to play important roles in our programme. Thank you so much.
The route to this Summit has been pioneered by a Steering Committee representing the principal stakeholders – the Department of Education, the national teachers' unions, the South African Council for Educators, the Educational Labour Relations Council and the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority, with the support of the Education Deans' Forum of Higher Education South Africa .
They and their Technical Sub-committee have worked collectively and with dedication, like climbers roped together on the steep slopes of a mountain, to mark out the path for us to follow over these four days.
I express appreciation to them all. The fact that all these bodies, with their different roles, responsibilities and constituencies, have worked so well together is the best indication that this Summit will be a success.
It shows that we are determined to put teachers' interests first, because if teachers' interests are well served then their learners' interests will be well served. If learners' interests are well served then the interests of their parents, the public at large and the nation will be protected and defended. That is how important this Summit is for South Africa .
My Ministry, the MECs for Education, and the national and provincial departments approach the Summit with open minds. Everything of importance to stakeholders in the broad field of teacher development will be open to scrutiny and debate and proposals for improvement.
It is essential that all participants feel free to speak their minds, respectfully but frankly, without fear of consequences. The spirit of our democracy demands it, and that is the way we are used to conducting important business with each other.
Moreover, we will not find the best way forward unless we share openly our long-standing concerns about:
• the conditions under which too many teachers are still required to work, in schools without walls, let alone computers, or classes of 50 learners and more;
• the challenges conscientious teachers face daily because too many learners come from homes blighted by poverty, disease, alcoholism, drugs, crime and despair;
• the difficulty too many teachers face because their own professional preparation in the days of apartheid did not equip them to manage a 21 st century curriculum in the digital age;
• the frustration teachers face because they can't find their way through the apparently never-ending demands of new policies, new initiatives, new regulations, new forms to fill in; and
• the difficulty teachers have in finding the most effective route towards their own professional growth and fulfilment.
Colleagues, fellow teachers, I pledge that my Ministry is not only willing but eager to consider alternative solutions to these and any other problems on which the Summit offers guidance.
The government I represent has placed Education in the top rank of our national priorities. Efficient, corruption-free service delivery to meet peoples' needs is the dominant theme of President Zuma's administration.
What we expect from this Summit is a Declaration that takes us all forward in that spirit.
We expect the Declaration to embody the elements of a comprehensive new national plan for teacher development that will build on our undoubted gains, discard what has not worked well and construct a well-resourced and integrated system that is truly responsive to our teachers' most important professional needs and priorities.
Building such a system is not an overnight affair. In some ways it is a journey without end, because the legacy we must overcome is so vast, the inequalities we must vanquish are so acute, and the social and intellectual demands on teachers are so varied and ever-changing.
The point about teacher development, though, like learning of any kind, is that it is a journey with its own rewards.
So let us rope ourselves together, map the terrain as we go, and take inspiration when we scale the Summit and admire the view from the peak.
After we disperse on Thursday the hard work will begin again, but I am confident that we will be working harder and more closely together, in teachers' best interests, as never before.
I thank you.