His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty
Parents and educators
Leaders of teacher unions
Business and community partners
Adjudicators and officials
Members of the media
Let me start by thanking most heartily all of you for making the 13th annual National Teaching Awards a success with your presence. We’re greatly honoured to have you here.
This is a special night in which we celebrate great and remarkable exploits of teachers who give of themselves to the education of the nation and its children.
Gracing this event with your presence goes to show you love education, unconditionally.
I note with humility how this event has grown in magnitude, from a handful in 2000 when the former Minister, Prof Kader Asmal, introduced the awards, to around a thousand guests.
As a cherry on top, the 13th NTA is set in one of Africa’s largest conference and exhibition venues, the elegant Gallagher Conference Centre and the home of the African Parliament.
The 13th NTA awaits with bated breath to be addressed by the first citizen, President Jacob Zuma. If all this doesn’t begin to say we respect and appreciate teachers, then nothing will.
We all came here to honour the best of our teachers. These are men and women of our beloved republic who’ve distinguished themselves by finishing the 2012 race ahead of their peers in diverse areas as the various award categories will show.
In a nutshell, the purpose of the National Teaching Awards is to recognise excellence and outstanding contribution of teachers in enhancing the quality of teaching. The awards are a special event high on the Basic Education calendar.
We strive in this way to motivate teachers to do more to improve performance and learning outcomes. This we do for the sake and good of our children.
Over the years, and through extensive consultation, the NTA has been duly refined. I’m pleased to announce a new category, the Excellence in ICT category.
Two new awards were introduced last year. The first is the Kader Asmal Excellence Award, which is a special ministerial award named after the former Minister of Education, Prof Kader Asmal. The second is the Via Africa People’s Choice award that is presented in collaboration with Via Africa Publishers. We’re glad to have them for the second year.
Through the National Teaching Awards, we’re succeeding in forging viable partnerships understanding that education is a societal issue.
Education partnerships received a further boost when we launched in 2011 the NEDLAC Accord on Basic Education and Partnership with Schools. Since then, more partners, social formations and individual South Africans have come on board to help us turn schools around.
In the first half of 2013 we will launch with education partners in the business sector and our key stakeholders a national education partnership initiative whose main object is to help pool resources that are invested in education.
The national education partnership structure will bring better coordination, synergy and impact to all contributions and interventions in education.
In this way, we can even guide, with the help of communities, our partners towards areas where support is really needed.
We’ve heeded the call you’ve all been making on the need for more accountability in the education system. Among other things, last year we institutionalised our quarterly meetings with District Directors to ensure we have in place another mechanism to get to the problems at the coalface of delivery.
We acknowledged the need to train and provide more teachers to advance the goal of turning public schools into centres of excellence that the President charged us to prioritise, working in partnership with stakeholders and partners.
We’ve introduced the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme that assists talented young people to join the teaching profession, particularly to teach, maths, science and languages, and mainly to close teacher shortages in the rural communities.
By the end of 2012, we had awarded approximately 11,500 Funza Lushaka bursaries to student teachers. Our aim is to increase the number to 14,400 in 2013/2014. This intervention makes a difference notwithstanding problems around placement of graduates. We’ve asked provinces to attend seriously to this problem, so as to benefit from this investment.
The Department has developed a magazine for teachers, called What’s up Teach? It offers a fresh, new way to communicate critical information to teachers in a friendly and interactive way. This is one of our responses to a call in the National Development Plan for lifting standards of teaching and learning.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we celebrate our teachers, it will be remiss not to address the false impression that we have undermined collective bargaining in the sector by withdrawing Collective Agreement 1 of 2011.
People should leave this place understanding that we will not do anything to jeopardise the sector, and that’s why we’re here recognising and awarding teachers for excellence.
To set the record straight, and to assure all South Africans that we will never compromise labour peace and the values in our Constitution, I must clarify this matter as a responsible Minister.
We could not implement an agreement that is fundamentally flawed. In April 2011 our negotiators erroneously signed an agreement that was not implementable. This was communicated to the parties and discussions on this matter had been going on since November 2011 and continued through conciliation where parties were trying to find each other.
We had agreed on an addendum to deal with the payment of markers for 2011. We further agreed that the erroneous agreement will be corrected in 2012. But by 2012 it had not been corrected and so we were forced again to use the addendum to pay for 2012.
I was taken aback last December when I received a letter from SADTU demanding that we should pay the markers.
The only reason I had to withdraw the agreement was to pave the way for a new agreement to be negotiated, for the matter to be amicably resolved to the satisfaction of all parties concerned in the bargaining environment.
There was no malice on our part. We made the laws. We are bound by them. We respect all the values in the Constitution. The suffering of each working class child is my suffering. Education must be kept on track for the child’s sake.
We will invite SADTU to a meeting to discuss their reaction to the withdrawal of the agreement and further engage them to ensure we move with speed to resolve the impasse.
We invite people to visit our website for more clarity. We invite the SABC and other media houses to engage the Department on this matter.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are here to recognise and honour our dedicated and caring teachers for their efforts in turning each learner into a leader of the future, into a true role-player in the local and global economy and into an assertive nation-builder with the capacity to create jobs for others and develop other young people.
Tonight we thank and celebrate teachers who bear the most daunting of challenges in the sector, and still manage with passion and unflinching commitment to do us proud as you saw with the 2012 matric results.
These are the teachers Paulo Freire would have imagined when he said that:
“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
I am positive a day will come when we will wake up in a world wherein teachers enjoy universal recognition and respect tied thereto. Teachers are educators, nurturers and change-agents.
Even as we recognise the best among our ranks, still we know that much needs to be done efficiently to produce the learning outcomes required of us as a sector.
We welcome the President’s announcement last month of a Presidential Remuneration Commission to review salaries of public servants, with teachers as a priority.
This should advance efforts to improve learner outcomes to which we have committed in the delivery agreement for the basic education sector.
I salute all schools and teachers, particularly the recipients of the awards and finalists, for their sterling efforts. Other teachers should not despair. There’s always room for improvement.
The best words and detail we reserve for our President who has ensured that time is put aside from his busy schedule to honour and inspire the nation’s teachers.
Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the rest of the evening. Working together we can do more to improve the quality of basic education.
I thank you.