The role of school district officers was one of the critical issues under the spotlight at the opening of this year’s Education Week Convention and Learning Expo held in Ekurhuleni this week.
The convention is held annually and is a gathering of education experts, government officials, teachers, and suppliers of education products and services.
Shanti Govender, deputy chief education specialist in the Department of Basic Education told a breakaway group this week that in order to provide quality support services to schools, district officers need to make a mindset shift from that of “bureaucracy to customer focus”.
Govender said district officials are critical to the delivery of the school curriculum because of their proximity to schools. But, she said, too often they get bogged down in bureaucratic issues and focus less on their key responsibility of providing support to teachers.
“District officials must be conversant with both provincial and national policies so that they are able to explain them [policies] to teachers and also know how to translate them into action,” said Govender.
She said although district officers differ from their apartheid counterparts, they still seem to put more emphasis on compliance with policy and this often leads to the alienation of teachers. Govender said district officials should foster human relations with teachers and display attributes such as empathy, tolerance and open-mindedness to help build trust and minimise feelings of negativity between them and teachers.
Govender said: “District officers must be able to lead and manage policy and curriculum changes as well as make better use of data for purposes of improving school management and learner attainment.”
Her presentation echoed what education experts have been complaining about: district offices have a poor history of implementing national education policies and projects.
Former education minister, Naledi Pandor, acknowledged publicly that district offices lack the requisite capacity to render regular professional and logistical support to schools, and explained that this accounts largely for the poor matric pass rates.
Her successor, Angie Motshekga, recently announced plans to invigorate the district offices with emphasis on skills development and monitoring and evaluation of spending patterns.
The use of technology in the classroom meanwhile featured prominently at the convention, with various IT companies displaying the latest devices.