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Speech on the Education Laws Amendment Bill, 15 September 2005, Deputy Minister Enver Surty speeches


Speech by the Deputy Minister of Education Mr M.E Surty, MP on the Education Laws Amendment Bill

15 September 2005

If, for you advancing means standing still
If, for you changing means resisting transformation
If, for you perpetuating homogeneity means diversity
If, for you representivity means diminishing ability
If you fail to grasp that a ray of light refracted sheds brilliant colours and colours united infuse into brilliant light

Beware, you may just be constricted to permanent darkness.

The introduction of the Education Laws Amendment Bill has, quite expectedly, been accompanied by a fair amount of public interest. It is after all, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will make provision for schools to be declared no-fee schools, and permits intervention in decisions of school governing bodies where teacher appointments are made without regard to the constitutional principles of equity, redress and representivity.

Unfortunately, some of the public comments made on the Bill have been of a negative nature, focussing on narrow political interests and losing sight of its real purpose. It nonetheless demonstrates the vibrancy of our democracy and the space it provides for parties with divergent views to argue and contest ideas.

True to their nature, the Democratic Alliance responded with their usual anti-transformation rhetoric, calling the Bill the “most profound betrayal of quality in public schooling since 1994“. Far from being a betrayal of quality, the Bill seeks to advance the spirit and purport of the Constitution by refining the procedure for the appointment of teachers so as to redress past racial imbalances. It also seeks to elevate the position of the Head of Department from being a mere rubber stamp to one that must oversee compliance with the principles of the Constitution.

The Constitutional imperatives of equity, redress and representivity place an obligation on us to re-examine the conduct of some school governing bodies in so far as it relates to the employment of certain categories of teachers at their schools.

Some school governing bodies are employing all manner of tactics to exclude those who do not speak their language, do not have the same skin pigmentation, do not share their culture or do not adhere to their faith. Such conduct, by its very nature, is a direct violation of the progressive interpretation our High Courts have given to the relevant sections in the Employment of Educators Act dealing with the process governing bodies must adhere to in making recommendations for teacher appointments. Here in particular I wish to refer to the judgement in the Kimberley Girls High School case in the Northern Cape.

In this case, the governing body advertised a vacant post for English first language. The interviewing committee, when short-listing the candidates accorded little or no consequence to the excellent academic (more specifically English) qualifications of three Black candidates. In contrast full or nearly full marks were given to white candidates whose academic qualifications were comparable to or of a lower standard than the Black candidates. The Black candidates were excluded on paper alone and their proficiency in English could not be objectively ascertained.

The Head of Department declined the appointment and the governing body launched an application with the High Court. They did so on the basis that in the High School Carnavon case the Judge stated the question is not whether the recommendation accords with the democratic values and principles, but simply whether the recommendation had regard to it. This approach completely negated the positive duty of the Head of Department. The Court found that the effect of this judgement was that the role of the Head of Department in making the appointment of an educator was reduced to a rubber stamping exercise.

Commendably, the Court in discussing the application found that suitably qualified candidates must be appointed and more importantly that the principles of redress, equity and representivity are central in redressing past racial imbalances.

In emphasising the need to act positively to advance the ideal of equality as envisaged in Section 9 of the Constitution the Court relied on the judgement of van der Westhuizen J (who is now a Constitutional Court Judge) who said the following:
“Efficiency and representiity, or equality, should, however, not be viewed as separate compelling or even opposing arms. They are interlinked and often interdependent. To allow equality or affirmative action measures to play a role only where candidates often have the same qualifications and merits, where there is virtually nothing to choose between them, will not advance the ideal of equality in a situation where society emerges from a history of unfair discrimination. The advancement of equality is integrally part of the consideration of merits in such decision-making processes. The requirement of rationality remains, however, and the appointment of people who are wholly unqualified, or less than suitable qualified, or incapable, in responsible positions cannot be justified.”

The effect of this judgment is that it is not good enough for school governing bodies to argue compliance with procedural guidelines, norms, criteria, regulations and prescripts in the selection process. What is called for is more than a mere mechanical allocation of points and a mere say-so that regard has been has to the democratic values and principles. School governing bodies must recognise and address the need to correct the imbalances of the past as far as recommendations for the appointment of educators are concerned.

This is a primary objective of the Education Laws Amendment Bill. It seeks to nudge governing bodies that refuse to embrace the value of non-racism and non-sexism embodied in our Constitution to accept the inevitability of change and to make our schools models of non-racism and non-sexism.

The Bill in no way takes away the power of school governing bodies to influence the appointment of teachers. They still have the power to make recommendations on who should be appointed. What the Bill will prevent them from doing however is to use race, gender, disability, ethnicity and other prohibited grounds as means to exclude educators from being employed at their schools.

By virtue of the values our constitution seeks to promote, school governing bodies are under a constitutional obligation to accommodate diversity in their schools. Yet, while significant progress has been made in terms of diversifying the learner component at historically white schools, they have not been able to diversify the teacher component. The lack of transformation in this regard means that these schools, many of which are steeped in cultural, religious, patriarchal and racist history, will continue to face challenges in terms of transforming their value system and institutional culture.

From a pedagogical perspective, it is an indisputable fact that diverse learner populations require teachers who understand and can effectively manage diversity. Unfortunately this seems not to be a consideration in the appointment of teachers by some school governing bodies. At some former Model C schools the staff and SGB component has remained relatively the same despite significant changes in the learner population in terms of representation.

By not transforming their staff component sufficiently, school-governing bodies fail to appreciate that students learn differently and that a teacher’s style of instruction risk being to the benefit mainly of those from the same cultural background as the teacher. This in fact undermines the quality of education the other learners receive.

It’s mischievous to argue that quality will suffer if the decision to appoint teachers is removed from school-governing bodies. Quality is not something that can be objectively measured but is an output based on a number of factors including the ability of teachers, a safe learning environment, appropriate learning materials and so forth. Quality therefore has a much deeper meaning and is as much about what is being taught and how it is being taught than who is teaching.

Another important aspect the bill deals with relates to learner discipline. Essentially we proceed from the premise that effective school discipline strategies must seek to encourage responsible behaviour among learners and in order to promote responsible behaviour, we must inculcate in our learners the values underpinning our constitution. These values – a non-racial, non-sexist society based on equality, freedom and democracy – must govern the lives of young learners in their relationship with fellow learners and teachers.

The erosion of discipline has nothing to do with the promotion of a culture of human rights in the classroom. On the contrary it has it roots in the absence of such a culture. It really points to a failure on our side to make learners understand that, not only do they have certain rights, but also that others have the same rights as they.

We recognise the need to address the various concerns relating to discipline in our schools. We also acknowledge the need to equip our teachers with knowledge of alternative forms of discipline. We are confident that these amendments will help school governing bodies and teachers alike to promote positive forms of punishment to ensure a balance between the need to maintain discipline in our schools and ensuring our learner’s right to dignity and physical integrity. We believe the amendments will provide the framework and the consequences for misbehaviour in a way that learners are clear what their roles and responsibilities are with regard to school discipline.

Thank you.

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Written By: Administrator Account
Date Posted: 6/30/2008
Number of Views: 873

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