If Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has her way, public school teachers will wear business suits and ties.
Her spokesperson, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, this week told the Mail & Guardian that Sisulu wants teachers’ dress sense to help prepare pupils for the business world.
“The minister believes teachers must wear formal wear as the corporate world will demand formal wear from the students when they pass matric,” Mabaya said.
Sisulu announced plans to enforce a compulsory dress code for teachers last week, the week in which she told the M&G the government wants teachers “dressed properly, looking the part of a teacher”.
Sisulu also plans to bring school inspectors back into the system to ensure teachers are actually “providing the service for which they seek remuneration”. Her plan is chiefly meant to monitor teachers’ performance; an activity which unions said should be done by the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Inspectors were abolished in the 1990s after members of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) revolted against them. Teachers despised inspectors for their autocratic style when assessing their performance. Sadtu has vowed to resist re-introduction of inspectors.
Mabaya said Sisulu’s dress code plans are a result of “concern” about teachers dressing inappropriately that has reached her. She now wants to nip this in the bud.
Sneakers and shorts
"Concern has been raised about teachers wearing sneakers and tracksuits or sportswear to school. [Sisulu] believes sportswear is for sports day,” Mabaya told the M&G.
Sisulu, who’s unarguably one of the most elegant dressers in President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet, seems to hope her chic sense of style rubs off on government employees and not just teachers. Said Mabaya: “This is not only for teachers ... All public servants must dress formally because they represent the state.”
A self-declared securocrat, Sisulu became minister of public service and administration eight months ago, following a Cabinet reshuffle by Zuma. She was previously minister of defence.
Ronald Swartz, an independent education management professional and former head of the Western Cape education department, told the M&G he is “fully in favour of a dress code for teachers”.
“There are just too many schools where the dress code is horrendous and where it is extremely difficult to distinguish between teachers and learners, and many times, between teachers and thugs who manage to invade schools for various purposes,” Swartz said.
“It is critical that teachers are professionally attired. I am not a 'suit-and-tie' stickler, but I do expect that teachers should exude a professional image. Some of the worst examples I’ve seen are of teachers coming to school dressed in shorts and sandals on normal school days.”
The South African Council of Educators (Sace) is cautious about enforcing a specific and regulated dress code for teachers. The body, which is a custodian of teachers’ code of ethics, tried that route in 2008.
But Sace has since formed an opinion that by being products and members of certain communities, teachers should only wear what is deemed apt in their settings. “We’re saying our teachers must dress appropriately, they must be neat,” Themba Ndlovu, Sace’s spokesperson said.
“[However], we cannot prescribe that teachers must dress in a Western manner. If you go to the Indian community you find that they have their own religious and traditional garbs. Teachers do wear those in school. You can’t come and say must wear suits and ties,” he told the M&G.
“Society’s norms and values must determine teachers’ dress code in schools.”
Ndlovu said it couldn’t be concluded that the problem of teachers dressing inappropriately is widespread, but there have been some observations.
“We don’t want teachers wearing see-through clothes, clothes that are provocative in nature. If our teachers are to be role models, they must lead by example,” he added.
'She’s running too fast'
Sadtu, the largest teacher union in the country with more than 250 000 members, also does not think teachers generally wear objectionable clothes.
Mugwena Maluleke, the union’s general secretary, can’t fathom why Sisulu wants to enforce a teachers’ dress code because there was not an outcry over teachers’ clothing. “The problem with the minister [Sisulu] is that she’s running too fast,” he said.
“In majority of the schools in the country you find that teachers are always presentable. You’re able to distinguish in a crowd that this is a teacher. Sadtu has a resolution that all of us must be presentable because we must be role models to our learners.”
So, it was not necessary to introduce a dress code for teachers “as if they are nurses”, Maluleke said.
“The problem is that [the government] picks up small things and want to make them policy issues. You generalise and destroy the image of the profession.”