Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, MP, at the World Teachers Day celebration, Pretoria
8 October 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen
I want to begin by thanking the South African Council for Educators and the Education Labour Relations Council for their role in partnering the DoE in convening this event.
World Teachers’ Day was on the 5 October, but this event today is part of what has been called World Teachers’ Week. The week gives us the opportunity to draw public attention to the role of teachers worldwide, as well as to the crucial importance of the role they play in our society. Over the past ten years, the public education system in South Africa has grown enormously and various steps have been taken to transform it.
Prior to 1994 there were insupportable inequalities in public education. We have come here today to look back on the changes of the immediate past and to celebrate our achievements. A dialogue between the past and the future took place earlier this year and all of you are aware of the complex and difficult challenges we must still address.
The departments of education and the ministry have committed themselves to practical steps to address the morale of teachers, supply and demand, recruitment, and the retention of teachers. Our primary objective is to increase and strengthen quality in education for all our people.
Some people may ask why we have chosen to recall and recognize our exemplary education leaders to day. We will make our motives very clear. Our aim is to celebrate the role teachers have played in transforming our education system over the last ten years, and to recognize that there are many of our senior educators who have exhibited exemplary practice in the provision of education in South Africa. Educators who were able to assert freedom and liberation through education, who did not allow apartheid education to cause them to act in a manner that would hamper the intellectual development of the people of South Africa. There are many such former teachers; to all of them we say thank-you today.
Our aim is also to use your example, to encourage young people to recognize and choose teaching as a noble profession. The main message that I want to send out today is that our government values education and we believe that teachers have an absolutely crucial role to play in transforming the economic and social prospects of our country.
We need better education and training for its own sake, but we also need it because the basic truth is that the economic future of this country will depend upon better education and skills for our teenagers. And future investment in this country will depend on our success in education.
So celebration is not the only reason we wanted to host you here today. I believe that former leaders in education have a lot to offer to our system and I am reluctant to see you remain uinvolved in education. One of our most significant challenges is ensuring quality learning and teaching. Former teachers and principals are not used in devising strategies or in implementing plans for improvement. We have allowed them to drift off in retirement. It is time for the sector to consider how we can tap into experienced expertise. Could successful principals of the past assist in generating success today? Could former well respected mathematics and science teachers assist in enhancing quality in these learning areas? The demand for multiplying quality outcomes at all levels is so great that we should leave no stone unturned in seeking solutions.
As the United Negro College Fund slogan asserts, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste’”. Already far too many minds have been wasted. I urge you all to think about how former educators could play a role in advancing quality in education, in supporting our aspiration to offer each child positive opportunities and in realizing the true human development potential of South Africa.
Of course, your retirement has been well earned, and retirement often gives you the opportunity to indulge in those things that you have wanted to do all your lives but for which you never found the time. However, retirement does not mean that you need to sever your connection with education entirely. There are a number of activities in which you could consider becoming involved.
I have spoken to a number of retired teachers recently and marking is the one activity they are all happy to do without. In fact, retirement is very closely associated with relief from the daily grind of marking. So imagine a retirement in which you can teach without having to mark! I am sure that many of you have felt constrained by the limitations of the curriculum and the need to be accountable to your school, district and province and have felt that you have not been able to devote as much time to the simple joys teaching as you would have liked. Perhaps opportunities could be created for you to teach without marking, to make a difference to the lives of children without continuous assessment, to inspire children without having to fill in forms, to mentor other teachers outside the classroom, and to assist in areas of the education system where we are desperately short of skills.
The first area in which you can play an important role is in the development of the curriculum. It is clear that most of our advantaged schools are ready to implement the new curriculum in grades 10 to 12. But it is equally clear that we have some way to go in our disadvantaged schools. In a new book Changing Class: Education and Social Change in post-apartheid South Africa (2004) edited by Professor Linda Chisholm and published by the HSRC, two scholars argue that the new curriculum is at risk of reproducing class inequality in our system because our teachers lack training and our disadvantaged schools still lack resources despite the best efforts of our funding norms. The curriculum is all about transformation in its widest sense of providing a framework for emancipatory education, providing an integrated system, the establishment of learning areas instead of subjects, the discarding of exotic subjects, and the spreading of democratic values through the teaching of an understanding of human rights. The curriculum and the constitution have been two of the most remarkable achievements of our democratic system over the past ten years. And yet the learner-centred principle of teaching remains a challenge.
You could build knowledge about our new curriculum and play a role in unraveling the puzzle resistance and mystery that is associated with it.
Second, I appeal to those of you who are maths and science teachers to continue teaching children and younger teachers outside of school hours and on the weekends. We are short of trained maths teachers and we have undertaken recruitment and retraining and upgrading drives to encourage the development of maths teachers.
International studies have shown that South African learners fare very poorly in mathematical literacy tests when compared to other developing countries. Learners who could not do well mathematically in general education and training usually give up mathematics for matric, thus perpetuating our poor standard of innumeracy.
As actors in education we have also stressed the need to focus on strengthening the creative genius of South Africans. The necessary regime of stressing science and technology has not blinded us to the need to develop music, art, theatre and other arts. There is still a great deal to do in these areas and I hope you will assist so as to build on the recent explosion of success in fashion and music and art.
In closing, let me encourage you to remain involved with education. There is an important role for you to play in mentoring young teachers and I have seen the importance of mentoring over the years in my involvement in the International Women’s Forum. Then there are a host of government and non-government programmes that would benefit immensely from your contribution – I think of the girl’s education movement and other girls and youth development programmes. And then there is career guidance as well as skills development.
I would also like to make a final appeal to you to encourage our children to read. At a recent symposium run by the Department of Arts and Culture on the cost of a culture of reading, Elinor Sisulu took the education ministry to task for failing to carry through with our Masifunde Sonke reading campaign (“A culture of reading”, This day, 22 September 2004, p11) The vision she presented to the symposium – lifelong readers, government promotion, reading integrated into the core of the curriculum, a flourishing publishing industry, and strong library network – was the one developed by the ministry in 2001. The campaign’s mission was “to engage the whole nation in a dynamic effort to build a sustainable culture of reading and writing that affirms South African languages, history, values and development”.
Ms Sisulu argues that it failed because it was located within the Ministry of Education rather than in the Centre for the Book, the core business of which is to promote a culture of reading. I believe as passionately about the importance of reading as she does, and I undertake to evaluate the campaign and, if it is true that we have reneged on our central obligation to foster a nation of readers, I will ensure that we reignite the pilot light for the campaign and I ask for your support in turning that light into a flame.
I thank you.