Welcome to this Colloquium on workbooks and teacher development. I must urge you from the onset to locate today’s discussions within the context of the government’s decision to make education and its quality in particular the apex priority.
Unfortunately, as we are gathered here, our country is gripped by a debilitating national strike by public sector workers, including teachers, that is not at all helpful to the goal of improving quality and learning outcomes. I do sincerely hope we will find a speedy resolution to the current impasse.
The quality of education, as we all know, depends critically on teachers who are motivated, professional and properly qualified. Their subject knowledge is a major challenge to the achievement of quality and higher student learning outcomes.
Many have argued that good textbooks and workbooks can be a compensation for the weaknesses in teacher preparation and commitment.
My view is that access to good textbooks and workbooks are a right that every school-going child should have. This right provides the cognitive access about which many of you have written so passionately.
Teachers and textbooks are both vital and go hand in hand. Without guidance, students may not have an automatic interest in books. And without knowledge and interest, teachers will not have an interest in using them effectively. So we do need both teachers and texts.
Much of the research on education in South Africa has emphasized that while we are doing relatively well on enrolments, our weakness is in the quality of education. This is revealed time and time again: in TIMMS, in PIRLS, in SACMEQ and in our own ANA data.
I do believe we should go beyond this lamentation about how badly our children and teachers are doing and begin to identify and tackle specific areas of weakness.
My firm conviction is that we should use tests not only to prove how badly we are doing, but also as a diagnostic tool to help us learn where we should focus our efforts at remediation.
As you all are aware, the National Teacher Development Stakeholder Conference of 2009 has led to a research and consultative process that is now coming to fruition with several proposals that I need to finalise with the Minister of Higher Education and Training.
Whereas the Department of Higher Education and Training will be focused on proposals related to pre-service education, the Department of Basic Education will be and is focused on proposals related to continuing professional education and development.
Among the recommendations that we need to consider are those for the development of courses targeted at specific officials and teachers. These courses need to be both pedagogically sound and content rich. They need to help us address those content gaps that this colloquium should help us tease out.
At the same time, we are in the process of developing workbooks in maths and literacy for Grades 1-6 that will be distributed to schools next year. Here too, we would appreciate a discussion on how workbooks should be tailored to address our specific needs.
The panels on maths and literacy have been structured in such a way that we can hear first from the research and then from discussants.
I am looking forward to a lively discussion with the hope that we will gain new knowledge so that we can push forward the frontiers of our knowledge about education and also broaden the understanding of what we need to do to improve the quality of education and thus turn the system around.
In closing, let me say that working together in our different ways to support our schools can make a big difference to education. Our children are our national treasure. Let us put the education of our children at the top of our agenda.
I wish you a successful day.