Taking teachers to heart

Following the release of the 2010 matric results and in spite of various interventions identified by the department of basic education for the improvement of the public school system, many questions remain unanswered. These push us deeper into the discourse of education as crisis, education as dysfunctional and education as toxic.

The critical issues remain. What is the role of teachers in this roll-out of interventions? Why the persistent public view that teachers in South Africa are not committed? How much do we know about teachers and their resilience in the face of adversity? Why the general view that many teachers in South Africa are incompetent? Will we ever reach a stage when the discourse is characterised by pride, achievement and excellence?

Wits University’s school of education, the University of Johannesburg’s education faculty, the Mail & Guardian and Bridge this month launch “Teachers Upfront”, a series of education dialogues that will address these questions.

Why “teachers upfront”? Because we concur with the McKinsey report that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”. In 2006 the world’s governments spent $2-trillion on education and yet there are only a select few school systems in the world that perform consistently well. McKinsey and Company studied such high-performing school systems, researching what they have in common that leads to good learner performance.

They concluded that three things matter most:


  • Getting the right people to become teachers;
  • Developing them into effective instructors; and
  • Ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible teaching for every child.

Encouragingly, according to the McKinsey research, it is not a prerequisite that these successful school systems operate in a developed socioeconomic environment. The researchers found that the best methods of achieving the three elements mentioned above work irrespective of the context in which they are applied.

The successful schools highlighted in the report demonstrate that substantial improvements in outcomes are possible within a short period of time and that applying these methods could have an enormous impact on improving school systems, wherever they may be located.

In our dialogue series we want to foreground the teacher as the key agent in quality education and to suggest that teacher agency is important to thinking about excellence in education.

The dialogues will involve a wide spectrum of role players in education. The series will provide a shared platform for stakeholders who will confront issues related to teacher performance (or lack of performance) head on. It will also provide a platform for supporting, developing and acknowledging the contribution made by teachers.

  • The inaugural “Teachers Upfront” dialogue will be held on Tuesday March 29 at 4pm for 4.430pm at the Wits School of Education, Staff Lounge, Bohlaleng Building, Wits Education Campus, 27 St Andrews Road, Parktown. The series will kick off with the topic, “Profiling contributions by teachers”.
  • Professor Sarah Gravett is dean of education at the University of Johannesburg and Professor Ruksana Osman is head of the Wits School of Education

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    Sarah Gravett
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