Editorial – You all deserve a medal

Next month the role of teachers will be marked through a number of activities organised by the thousands of men and women who make a difference in classrooms throughout the world. World Teachers’ Day is observed on October 5 with the theme: “Qualified teachers for quality education”.

It is a day ordinary South Africans should also use to voice their appreciation for teachers, without whom learning would not be possible in the country.

Society, particularly parents, must show appreciation for the important role played by educators in raising and educating their children.

Ask anybody, whether a politician, parent or grandparent, about their school days and one will inevitably hear a story of one’s favourite teacher. In this newspaper in June we had an account by Minister of Education Kader Asmal of his favourite teacher. Of course, not everyone has fond memories of school or a favourite teacher. A 5fm disc jockey revealed last month that he had few good memories of school.

Teachers’ Day is about recognising the contribution and role of teachers in educating South Africa. Theirs is a difficult task when you consider the complex problems facing education provision in the country. An estimated R50-billion was spent on education in the past financial year. However, at least 80% goes towards salaries, meaning the remainder is insufficient to meet the needs of the country. Overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of textbooks and stationery, and the absence in a large number of schools of basic necessities, like water, lights and sanitation facilities, are a result of the lack of financial resources.

Furthermore, teachers are battling to get to grips with Curriculum 2005 – in most cases, complaining of inadequate training or time to understand the new system.

Add to the equation the dwindling number of new teachers entering the profession and the exodus of educators to foreign shores and one gets a sense that all is not well within the profession.

Morale, undeniably, is low among teachers. Whereas in the past there was a sense of pride in being a teacher, the mood nowadays is one of despondency. Teachers get little praise for their tireless efforts. One may argue that they receive a salary for their efforts but the reality is that theirs is a full-time vocation.

Teachers, whether at a former Model C school or a rural school, face challenges, but obviously, the extent of the hurdles differs.

Apart from registering and setting standards for the conduct of educators, the South African Council for Educators is involved in initiatives to raise the morale of teachers. In future issues, the Teacher will report on these and any other efforts aimed at making teaching the noble profession it is.

Asmal set up the National Teacher Awards to launch the process of recognising and rewarding good teachers. This was a worthy initiative, one this newspaper will wholeheartedly support. But is it enough?

Hardly! It is incumbent upon us all to acknowledge the important role of teachers in communities throughout South Africa and to show more understanding of the demands of their position. Teachers require the support of learners, parents, academics and civil society. The future of South Africa depends on its teaching force. We cannot afford to ignore this reality and therefore must do everything within our power to restore the teaching profession to its rightful place.

Have your say on the subject: [email protected]

– The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, September 2001.

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Edwin Naidu
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