/ 8 September 2011

Public education sector challenged to reform

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) has challenged the public education sector to form a social movement to improve education in South Africa.

In a report released on Wednesday the CDE details the need for a “new social compact” that will rally wide-ranging groups behind a common goal of reforming the public education sector.

All political parties and teacher unions would have to be part of the proposed social movement regardless of their ideologies, as “national interests now need to trump minority interests”, the report said.

“This is an inclusive idea of educational and social movements taking along everyone who wants value for money and improved quality for what is clearly a crisis and a major national priority,” said the report.

The CDE criticised teacher unions for strongly promoting their agenda over certain education reforms, saying “where [their] vested interests are involved, it is very difficult to find compromises”.

While various groups, including businesses, are already involved in education improvement projects, the CDE’s concern is that the efforts are happening in isolation. A social movement would help thrust the pressing need for reform into the national agenda, it said.

“For South Africa to make real progress the country needs a new social compact for quality schooling,” the CDE executive director Ann Bernstein said in a statement.

The united social movement will support the department of basic education and political leaders in effecting change, instead of pulling in its own direction. Hard choices would have to be made for the “compact” formation, whose focus would be results, said CDE.

The CDE report, titled Schooling reform is possible, was compiled after a workshop, which included Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and director general Bobby Soobrayan, as well as over 60 international and local education experts.

According to the report, Motshekga spoke in favour of education reforms. She said the report’s demands were informed by the need to address and redress the legacy of apartheid and segregation.

Social participation played a vital role in helping Brazil implement reform policies, said Brazil’s former education minister Paulo Renato Souza in the report. A programme called Wake up, Brazil, its time for school, launched by erstwhile president Fernando Cardozo mobilised “all segments of society to help transform education”.

While former president Lula da Silva’s administration lost track of social involvement during his first term in office, it took advantage of it in his second term. “This was because business leaders approached the president and the ministry of education and told them, let’s get back to reality.

“[Business leaders] were really responsible for education policy during President Lula’s second term. This demonstrates the important role social constituents can play in helping to formulate and implement education policy,” said Souza.

Brazilians embarked on a social movement around education because they realised their country was in a crisis, said the CDE report. “They said we are bottom of the class. They are no longer at the bottom of the class,” while South Africa remains in the bottom in many ways.

“We have these examples of other countries that have achieved better results with far more limited resources, and we should form a social movement aimed at emulating their example,” said Bernstein.

In the report, Soobrayan supports the social movement proposal, saying such a movement is important.

Reforming South Africas education could take just five to six years to achieve if proper action was taken soon, said CDE.

The organisation recommends incentive-based remuneration for teachers, as part of new plans for reform.