/ 21 April 2005

Lessons in hunger and shame

Political tempers are rising as the Democratic Alliance (DA) adds its criticism against the Department of Education’s (DoE) proposed changes to education laws.

The Education Amendment Bill was released for comment in May, and was under discussion in Parliament last month.

The underlying implication of several of the proposed amendments, says DA education spokesperson in Gauteng, David Quail, is that “these are escalating moves towards centralisation”. The DA intends to launch a campaign to alert parents and schools about the “dangers” of the amendments. Quail further accuses Minister of Education Kader Asmal of being authoritarian and dictatorial.

The particular amendment provoking the outcry involves the appointment of educators. The DoE is attempting to take control of appointments involving newly qualified teachers and those returning to the profession. This implies that the school governing bodies (SGB) will have their powers to appoint teachers curtailed – and that these categories of teachers will not have a choice of where they want to teach.

David Quail, says, “What Asmal is saying to parents is, ‘You don’t know what is best for your children. I’ll decide for you’.”

Teachers’ unions have also expressed concern about the changes, the most vocal being the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa). Naptosa executive director Henry Henricks says the organisation cannot accept the amendment on employment because “the changes do not make any substantive differences to the intention of Asmal to further limit the powers of governing bodies and restrict the choice of educators and communities”.

Quail also warns about possible consequences. “What we are going to have is qualified teachers leaving the country to go overseas where they are paid in pounds and dollars. Who will want to become teachers if their fate will be decided by some government officials?” Quail suggests that another way to distribute teachers is by offering them incentives to teach in rural areas.

In June the Teacher reported on the criticisms levelled at this proposal from teachers’ unions and SGB organisations alike.

The DA is also opposing another of the proposals, which aims to establish a single national assessment instrument for learner achievements.

Support has been voiced for other proposed amendments, particularly the move to prohibit initiation practices. While Quail describes the proposal to lower the admission age as “a smart move”, he says the DoE had not taken into account issues such as the lack of sufficient classrooms, and implications on teacher post-provisioning.