Chair of the ISASA Council
Executive Director of ISASA
Speakers and Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour for me to participate in this august occasion namely the 2018 ISASA Combined Conference. The theme of this conference says, ‘Schools Driving Change’. My take on the theme is that we should as a sector reflect on the pace of basic educational change in South Africa over the past 25 years. As we recall, the end of apartheid was lauded nationally and internationally as a birth of a new South Africa founded on the basis of non-sexism, non-racism and democracy. Our Constitution forbids any form of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, culture or language. To drive the human rights agenda home, our Constitution deliberately has a bill of rights, and is a supreme law of the land. The question remains are our basic education system both public and private committed to promoting and advancing the values that underlie our constitution?
Another key question is: at what pace should progress be made in transforming basic education in South Africa? Is enough being done to ensure significant advances towards transformation and excellence in basic education across the divide of private and public schooling? Or have we settled for less?
Ladies and gentlemen, South Africa has often been recognised as an epicentre of the basic education transformation with its successive education transformation initiatives.
These have included curriculum reforms, governance and employments standards over the past two decades or so. It is therefore about time for all of us to come together to share positive stories and compare notes on the progress made, targets set and target missed.
In the public schooling sector, we derive our mandate from such policy instruments such as, the National Development Plan (NDP), Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) 2014-2019 and Action Plan 2019: Towards Realisation of Schooling 2030. As a signatory to the UNESCO Declaration, we also have to align our country’s policies to be in line with the new Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The major task for some of us in the public schooling sector is to accelerate transformation to be in accordance with the constitutional values of human dignity, and equality. We have no choice but to drive the system so that it enhances the country’s ideal of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. We are bound by section 29 of the Constitution that guarantees everyone a right to basic education.
However, the basic tenet of our Constitution is that it is a law of general application. This, therefore, means, the private and/ or independent schools must also promote and advance the values that underlie our Constitution.
You have a role play to play in delivering a basic education system that serves the greater good of our country. This is despite the fact that some of you in the private education sector also have a profit motive.
Unfortunately, the reality is that our schools are running the risk of being breeding grounds of racial and social inequality of the past. The elephant in the room is a humble staff room. No matter the demographics of the learner population, staff rooms remain above 90 percent white. There seem to be a casual relationship between the student fees and whiteness - the higher the student fees - the whiter is the staff room. You guys must not feel alone, in the public schooling sector, our former model C schools still bear the imprints of the old South Africa.
It doesn’t help that we have witnessed an increase in reported incidents of racists’ behavior, storm over black hair policies and confusion on the treatment of transgender community amongst others. But, what is wrong with the picture of staff rooms in the fee paying schools – whether private or public? It’s not really about the 90 percent white teaching and management staff, the problem is that all non-teaching staff such as cleaners, security guards and cooks is all black. And, the same school will boast 90 percent black children.
It can’t be that parents who want to give their children alternative education must compromise on diversity. The unintended consequences of these overwhelmingly white staff rooms are that pupils don’t have role models that reflected their culture and traditions. The danger is that the racial relationships that thrive in this environment in the worst case are of a subservient one. If the picture I have painted persists, then the underlying ethos of our Constitution won’t be realised.
The Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi put it nicely when he said, “our society is a mosaic of differences in culture, skills, religion, skin colour, ethnicity, thinking, communication styles, language, education levels, talents and goals.” He correctly pointed the way forward when he said, “In order for us to successfully capture the benefits of these unique qualities, and for communities to flourish, we must learn to take advantage of these differences to create a culture that encourages diversity, accepts differences and makes us a true Rainbow Nation.”
All educationalists know that it is essential for pupils see those who look like them at all levels in the school, including management and senior staff. In addition, we must also deracialise sports in this country. There’s nothing called ‘white’ or ‘black’ sport. We all know that sport has a power to be a popular raiser of non-racial consciousness.
The sector can also do itself a favour by undertaking a comprehensive review of all disciplinary codes, and hair policies. I don’t understand you guys and our fascination with black hair.
Programme Director; these are just my reflection. I am posing a challenge to all of us to take transformation to greater heights. For example as of 2018, according to the CDE Report, we are producing more teachers in our universities than the public schooling sector can absorb in the next years. As we speak there are some unemployed teaching graduates. So really the issue of transforming staff rooms is a low hanging fruit. So nobody can tell us there’s shortage of qualified black teachers in this country. I must emphasise that greater effort should be made to diversify the profile of the teaching staff in all our schools. It is a festering sore on the new South Africa.
For our sins in the public schooling, we are going ahead with a draft legislation that will give us power to intervene in cases where school governing bodies failed to appoint black teachers.
Let’s move South Africa forward by promoting racial harmony, religious tolerance and banishing all remnants of discrimination. In fact, transformation is a business imperative. We need to transform our schools and build educational institutions of the future. We must view transformation and promotion of diversity as strength not a deficit.
We must go beyond the “numbers game” which opens up schools up to formerly disadvantaged groups but rigidly clings to the old ways of doing things - static (often colonial) institutional cultures. This is a call for organisational review of all policies, practises and culture of our institution so that they can all respond to the call of our Constitution. That call says we need to address the injustices of the past. The educational institutions of the future must ensure that they accommodate and adapt to different identities, backgrounds and experiences. Institutions must also consciously strive to address often chauvinistic, racist and alienating organisational cultures.
This leads me organically to the launch of the ISASA book “A guide to effective school transformation and diversity management.” It’s a necessary and timely book. It opens up an important conversation about the importance of transformation and promotion of diversity. We therefore commend the visionary leadership of the ISASA for developing this book. We commend you for recognising the importance of transformation and diversity management and for investing the time and resources to its success. Your commitment to this process is further evidenced by the fact that this book is issued as the third edition, so it indeed as a living document that constantly seeks to adjust to changing conditions in our schools.
Programme Director; what stands out for me is that this book has been developed as a guide to assist institutions to address the challenges of transformation and diversity management. This should be done within their own contexts and experiences. The book does not seek to provide a rigid blueprint to schools, but rather provides a framework for change based on our constitutional values of non-discrimination, equity and respect for all. It recognises transformation and diversity management as a positive feature of education which will in the long run ensure that ISASA schools remain sustainable and relevant.
In conclusion, this guide is a very welcome addition to our various initiatives in the basic education sector to address the issues of transformation and diversity. It greatest strength lies in its practical approach to providing step by step guidance to institutions, without becoming overly prescriptive. It’s premised on the values of our Constitution which provide the bedrock for all transformation initiatives in all facets of our life. This is particularly important for the independent/private schooling sector that is often criticised as elitist in it outlook.
I thank you.