Education is essential - but not an essential service

Education will become a priority that all stakeholders will look at uplifting, says the basic education department. (Shelley Christians)

Education will become a priority that all stakeholders will look at uplifting, says the basic education department. (Shelley Christians)

"This essential service thing is semantics. We never spoke about it an a legal sense. Everyone must work together on this to ensure education is uplifted," Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga told journalists in Parliament on Tuesday.

Confusion over making education an essential service has reigned supreme after the ANC announced in January it would fast-track the controversial move.

"We will leave no stone unturned to make teachers an essential service – education must be a priority – when you disrupt education you are not threatening life and death, but you are disrupting the future prospects of the country," governing party secretary general Gwede Mantashe said.

By declaring education essential, the rights of teachers and education professionals to protest will be rescinded, something the ANC said would lead to an immediate improvement in education.

But the ANC was immediately rebuffed by tripartite alliance member Cosatu as well as the ANC Youth League, who both refused to back the move.

Both the labour federation and the youth body claim education can best be improved by addressing learning conditions in schools as well as teachers' conditions of employment and not taking away their right to strike.

Not off the table
But Motshekga said on Tuesday that moves were never discussed to implement legislation that would make education an essential service.

Motshekga added it was the responsibility of government, state teachers, parents as well as learners to improve education in South Africa by working together.

Nonetheless, Motshekga did not rule out the possibility of this materialising in the future if the aforementioned strategy did not bear fruit.

"We may need to look at making education an essential service [in future]. For now we must cease hostilities and make it a priority," Motshekga added.

"So I don't know what will happen in the future, for now we are using the word 'essential' to show it is critical and must be worked on accordingly."

The minister also said she expected a "healthy" budget allocation for education when Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan unveils his 2013 budget on Wednesday.

"Education has always received a big part of the budget and I would expect that to continue," Motshekga added.

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer

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