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Keynote Address by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs. Angie Motshekga, MP, at the NATU 2018 Principals' Conference held in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 15-16 March 2018

Programme Director

NATU President: Mr. S.L. Ngcobo

NATU Deputy President: Mr. S.A. Thompson

NATU’s Vice Presidents Mr. R.N. Ngcobo, Mrs. B.Z. Mbatha and Ms. G.E. Mbele

Leadership Collective of NATU and Members

Fraternal organisations present

All Principals and their various associations

Fellow South Africans


Programme Director; it gives me great pleasure and immense pride to be standing here and addressing you on this auspicious occasion namely the Principals’ Conference, which is a novel, noble, imaginative and forward-looking project of the National Teachers’ Union (NATU).  I am indeed humbled that you decided to invite me to address this august occasion.

I greet you, “in a year of change, in a year of renewal, [and] in a year of hope,” as President Cyril Ramaphosa puts it in his maiden State of the Nation Address (SONA).  He characterised the current epoch as, “a new dawn.”

As a nation we are called upon to seize this window of opportunity, and thus put behind us, “the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment.”

Programme Director; we converge here today under the theme:

“School Principals as the vanguard of change, improving, supporting their schools and harnessing the best opportunities for learners to succeed.”

The theme of this conference is apt, considering that the expectation of society from principals has evolved quite significantly in the last decade.  Today, the expectation of society is that principals would usher the millions of children under their care to the academic rigours of the 4th Industrial Revolution.  The role, function and relevance of principals are evolving at a faster pace.  Ours is to adapt or die.

According to the English dictionary, a principal is a chief or head, particularly of a school.  Principal can also be used as an adjective meaning, “first or highest in rank, importance, or value.”  I am re-examining the definition of a principal to underscore one important strand of the definition that is, “value.”  In the 21st century, a principal is not just the highest ranking official in a school environment, but a custodian of values that underlie our basic education system – values of selflessness, probity and value-added proposition.  It is no coincidence that our principals are at the pinnacle of our basic education value chain.

To remain relevant, principals must be agents of change, and lead by example.  To add value to the system, all principals must exhibit the virtues of academic excellence by remaining life-long learners themselves.  They must be the change that we as society expect to see in our schools.  They must lead schools that are geared for the future not the past.  If we get this right, public schooling would be regarded as a sunrise sector in the face of relentless attacks by critics, and billions of rands invested in the private schooling sector.

Programme Director, Ladies and Gentlemen; we must bear in mind that public schooling is for public good.  We are the custodians of Section 29 of the South African Constitution, which states that “(1) Everyone has the right – (a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and (b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.”

Programme Director, with your permission, please allow me to digress.  The year 2018 marks the centenary of the esteemed Member of the Order of Mapungubwe, Nobel Peace Laureate, Isithwalandwe, Seaparankwe, Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name Madiba.  Inevitable, we, and peoples of the world regard Madiba, “as one of the greatest sons of Africa to ever walk on planet earth.”

As principals you ought to internalise Madiba’s core values – spirit of forgiveness, his passion to put people first and courage.  These attributes must guide your work as you interact with your peers, learners, teachers and community.

In her eulogy at the funeral service of Madiba, former Malawi’s President Joyce Banda said Madiba was, “…one of Africa’s unique leaders who gallantly fought for freedom and peace for this great country and the world.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address referred to Madiba as, “one of the most remarkable leaders this country and this continent – and indeed, the world – has known.”

Similarly, in his eulogy at the memorial service of Madiba, the former United States President Barack Obama said Madiba was, “a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”  Obama summed up Madiba’s contribution to humanity when he declared that he was, “the last great liberator of the 20th century.”

As we know, Madiba dedicated himself towards the realisation of a noble goal, that of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, and prosperous South Africa.  He emptied himself for the betterment of the conditions of the oppressed throughout the globe.

As we confront the challenges of the present we continue to draw lessons and inspiration from his life.  We shall use this historic occasion to unite, rebuild and renew the basic education sector, so that it can leapfrog into the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Madiba dedicated his life to the betterment of the children of South Africa.  In his retirement, he built more state-of-the-art schools then he did while President of the Republic of South Africa.  He valued education, believing that it was the greatest engine of personal development.  He said:

“It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.”

As we celebrate Madiba’s achievements as a freedom fighter, a leader, a democrat, and the founding father of our modern nation, we must do so cognisant that his legacy cannot die while we live.  We must reflect on his contributions as we strive to build a humane South African nation that espouses the principles of Ubuntu and social cohesion.  We must all agree that basic education is at the heart of building such a South African nation; and that the teaching profession plays a pivotal role in building a cohesive society.  We dare not fail.

Programme Director; there is a nice coincidence in that, as we celebrate Madiba’s centenary, NATU is also having its own celebratory moment.  The year 2018 marks the centenary of NATU.  For 100 years, NATU has been a torchbearer, not only defending the rights of children to learn, but also that of safeguarding, adhering and dedicating herself to working selflessly for the rights of teachers to teach.  We salute NATU on this momentous occasion.  May you grow from strength to strength!  Here, is to the next 100 years of selfless dedication to teaching and elevation of the teaching profession.

Programme Director, teaching, and therefore education is so vital to our human progress as a people such that it requires the collective effort of all of us.  To reinforce this point, our founding President Mandela said:

“Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face.  So it's very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.”

Programme Director; education scholars have long concluded that there is causal link between excellent school leadership and improved learners’ achievement.  It is considered that a capable school principal with zest for knowledge and heightened leadership abilities has a direct effect on the improved performance of learners.

Thus, exemplary leadership can certainly contribute to the school improvement by aiding and abetting the heightened motivation of learners, increased participation of the local community, and coordination and increasing the morale of teachers.  Recent studies have widened the range of action of school leadership research to the various organisational levels: school managers, department heads, coordinators, teachers (Goldhaber, 2002; Harris, 2004).  In this regard the principal remains the central source of leadership influence.  He/she is at the coalface of the school’s fortune.

ever changing education environment, and more so in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution.  There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution, but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact.  The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent.  When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.  Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country.  And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.Indeed school management and leadership is faced with new demands in the

Hence, the demands on school management must evolve fast and swift.  We need principals with a long-term vision, to inculcate within the school communities issues of innovation and integration of the information communication technologies (ICTs) for both learning and teaching.  Traditionally, we needed a dynamic principal with emphasis growing on managing learning, safe, diverse, integrated, and challenging, school environments appropriate to a 21st century progressive African country.  However, the 4th Industrial Revolution brings with it the technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.  In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.  We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

This new shift brings with it dramatic changes in what public education needs from principals.  They can no longer function simply as building managers, tasked with adhering to district rules, carrying out regulations and avoiding mistakes.  They have to be [or become] leaders of learning who can develop a team delivering effective instruction.  According to the Wallace Foundation research, a New York based philanthropy foundation that works nationally to improve learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children, concluded that successful education managers must focus on five key responsibilities:

  • “Shaping a vision of academic success for all learners, one based on high standards;
  • “Creating a climate hospitable to education in order that safety, a cooperative spirit and other foundations of fruitful interaction prevail;
  • “Cultivating leadership in others so that teachers and other adults assume their parts in realizing the school vision;
  • “Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach at their best and learners to learn to their utmost; and
  • “Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.”

For me, the fifth responsibility of managing people, data and process, is at the heart of the new principals that we need.  As you might be aware basic education systems around the world are migrating to evidence based decision making processes.  This means dealing with multiple sources of empirical data, and the principal’s job is to distil from the data the best possible course of action.  In a sense, we are in dire need of new principal, who honestly believes in rational thought and rational action; and whose thinking is not linear but exponential.  This new principal must be technologically savvy, and a lifelong student with multiple skills set.

The current cohort of principals will do well to reinvent themselves if this sector is to survive the demands of the 21st century.  It is, Ladies and Gentlemen, no longer business as usual.  As the Department, we are ready for the revolution in school management and leadership brought forth by the 4th Industrial Revolution.

As we know it is not easy to be a principal in the South African context, where external factors weigh heavily of the shoulders of principals.  Schools in South Africa, more than any other part of the world, are truly the microcosm of society.  We have the urban-rural divide.  We are culturally, socially and politically diverse.  These challenges demands of the principal to be dynamic and responsive to a culturally and economically defined contexts.

Compounding the above challenges is that our schools cater for a variety of leaners: teen parents, learners from child-headed households, orphans and children from well-heeled homes.  As a result learners have varying education levels, health needs, wellness status (mental, physical abilities), and socio-economic status, religious and cultural beliefs.  School communities reflect this diversity, both within and between schools.

We therefore, need principals with the ability to interpret the demands of their jobs and determine how they will perform their function within the context of national development thus fostering social cohesion without compromising academic standards.  The principals need to tap into the full potential of themselves and the rest of the school community, while seeing their jobs within the context of improving teaching and learning in the school through the adoption of ICTs and other innovations.

To produce such a principal, requires the collaboration of all stakeholders, unions – such as yourself, being key in the whole equation.  We need to develop leaders with appropriate administrative skills and professional education management competencies if we are to remain relevant.  We, together, need to build the ability of our principals to work in a holistic way, bringing in staff, community and other partners in a supportive manner while integrating ICTs learning in a safe, diverse and integrated manner.

What we all have to do now is to upskill the current corps of principals and make them relevant to the current changes in our global village society.  Tailor made, relevant, and on time capacity building programmes are a must in this new era.  Upskilling must become the new normal.  The development of such is a joint responsibility between the Department and yourselves, as we have demonstrated in the development of the training programmes for principals under the Teacher-Union Collaboration initiative.

I am aware of how the NATU and the DBE’s management and governance section have jointly been conducting training programmes for principals across the country.  This is a welcome initiative.  The next step will be how we prepare aspirant principals to take over the challenge when the time comes.  This should be calculated move of introducing preparatory programmes, long before principal vacancies become available.

Obviously this must be preceded by a well-defined talent identification programme for those who have the capacity to become good school managers after proper mentoring and coaching by relevant experts in the sector.  We need proper succession planning where we lay down the new attributes and competencies for deputies and middle level managers.

We have to improve the recruitment and selection procedures for the appoint of the new cohort of principals, if we are to ensure that only the best are appointed to leadership positions, as the National Development Plan (NDP) demands of us.  It stands to reason that the use of interviews alone is not adequate as only selection criterion for the appointment of principals.  The NDP calls for the introduction of competency assessments in the appointment processes of principals to ensure that only competent teachers become principals.

Given these realities, principal selection, demands devoting more time and resources to uncover the right talent for the position.  Selecting the right people to lead schools is a process worthy of investing time and money.

The appointment of principals must be followed by a comprehensive induction programme which should prepare them thoroughly for the envisaged challenges.  The promulgated Policy on the South African Standard for Principalship will play an important role in providing guidance for the selection process and capacity building programme for principals.

What is encouraging is that, regardless of these many challenges experienced in our schools today, we do have to a large extent some visionary and proactive principals, who are able to rise above every obstacle and turn around our schools to become what they ought to be.

Notwithstanding the granular strides made in improving efficiency and equity in the sector, as demonstrated in the 2017 SACMEQ IV report, the overarching “bugbear” of improving quality in the sector to the desired levels still remains.  To improve the quality of education, we must offer our learners, through the appropriate curriculum, a higher skill set and values.  We are increasingly prioritising interventions, policies and strategies that target an improved quality of learning and teaching.

Similarly, we are implementing accountability systems to ensure that quality outcomes in the basic education sector are achieved.  To this end, principals are certainly the pivot around which the new dawn will set for our basic education system.

I thank you.


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Written By: DBE Webmaster
Date Posted: 3/22/2018
Number of Views: 697

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