Your editorial (09 October 2014) entitled; “Teachers are not valued” requires a nuanced response. Your editorial is tinged with hyperbole and half-truths. The Department of Basic Education and all its nine Provincial Education Departments place a premium on the value of its teachers. We believe that teachers are a heartbeat of a functioning school system. It is often said that the quality of education cannot exceed that of its teachers. We cannot expect teachers to promote quality learning and teaching alone. Hence our contention that education is a societal issue.
It is within this context that teacher development is one of the major focus areas in this current term of office. This will include various policy reviews including conditions of service, teacher recruitment, deployment, utilisation and development including a sustained focus on teachers’ professional development.
To demonstrate our seriousness in the premium we place on teachers, the Mangaung conference of the ANC resolved that we should establish a Presidential Commission to review the remuneration and conditions of employment of education and health professionals. Speaking at the SADTU 8th National Congress President Jacob Zuma announced that such a commission has indeed been established and is headed by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.
All of us involved in this sector know very well that in order for us to improve the quality of our education – classroom teaching must improve so that learners can receive quality knowledge at the requisite level. Equally, in-order to effectively deliver the curriculum it is crucial that we have the correct teacher, teaching the correct subject in front of the class.
To achieve this we have launched various initiatives including 131 fully functioning Teacher Training Centres (including 40 ICT enabled Centres supported by our generous partner Vodacom). We firmly hold a view that the classroom is a centre piece of learning and teaching. And, at the core of this learning and teaching is a competent and confident Teacher. We note with appreciation that all Teacher Unions have also launched their own Teacher Development Institutes. These Institutes are owned by Teacher Unions but receive substantial monetary and non-monetary support from the Basic Education Department. Teacher development is one area where both Teacher Unions and the Department sing from the same hymn-book.
To augment Teacher Training Centres and Teacher Development Institutes, we have also launched Subject Committees and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). These committees provide a uniform mechanism for subject teachers and other subject specialists to contribute to the continuous process of curriculum development and effective curriculum implementation.
However; our singular focus on teacher development is anchored equally by our conscious bias towards Information Communication Technology (ICT). The Council of Education Ministers’ (CEM) has resolved that ICT is to be one of key priorities for the sector to act as an anchor for the radical transformation of the basic education. We have come to the determination within the sector that ICT is crucial to improve the quality and efficiency of the system from a number of aspects including administration, e-learning and teacher training. The ICT rollout to succeed requires an interdepartmental approach looking at various issues of connectivity, broadband, devices, electricity, and budget amongst others. I am happy to report that the Presidency is leading the ICT revolution in our sector through its Operation Phakisa.
We are therefore at pains to reconcile your assertion that we don’t value our teachers with the eventuality of what we do in tandem with teachers on daily basis. It’s a good practise for journalists not to adopt a culture of journalistic titillation. It is not advisable to teach your readers that trivia is significant, that the lurid and the loopy are more important than real news. Newspapers must serve their readers not pander to them.
Motshekga is the Minister of Basic Education