We’re working on our trust issues

As South Africans, one of the common concerns we share relates to implementation of the remarkable plans that the government develops. This concern has persisted since the adoption of the National Development Plan and the Medium Term Strategic Framework 2014-2019, and is a clear indication of the broad agreement that the success of the NDP lies in its implementation.

Although the government has to take the lead in implementation as its primary responsibility, success depends on all sections of society playing their role. The NDP reminds us that we need active citizens and strong leadership who work together to solve our problems.

On Friday August 22, President Jacob Zuma hosted a breakfast meeting with members of the National Education Collaboration Trust at the presidential guest-house. The purpose of the meeting was to present a report to the president on what has been achieved since the establishment of the trust and to cement the partnership between all key stakeholders.

The trust was launched in July last year through a collaborative effort that brought together government, business and labour in the education sector into a partnership aimed at improving educational outcomes.

Strongly driven by leaders from the private sector, such as FirstRand Limited chief executive Sizwe Nxasana, and with its operations steered from outside government, the trust is an ideal platform for the private sector to contribute meaningfully to the implementation of the NDP, and integrate the various education efforts by the private sector.

A good setting
It also provides a good setting for trying innovative ideas in education and, as reflected by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, once proven to work, these would be taken into the department for further implementation. It also co-ordinates the support from the private sector, labour and government at school level.

A great deal has been said about the need for a social compact – that is, a need for social partners to work together to advance the objectives of the NDP. In this context, trusting each other is important; this can be built more effectively when working towards a common vision, as is demonstrated in the trust. Our common concern for improving the outcomes of our education system enables us to put our differences aside.

Our shared understanding of the importance of education as a catalyst for addressing poverty and inequality – the most pressing challenges in our country – brings us to the realisation that we need each other.

Once we have accepted that the government cannot do this alone, this initiative forces us to confront the question: What are the ingredients for an effective partnership? We do not have all the answers to this question as yet, but we are learning more each day.

A year after its launch, the trust is evidence that, if we are able to put our differences aside and work together as a country to advance the education objectives outlined in the NDP, we can make great strides. The development plan, which provides a broad vision and road map for the country, is the genesis of the trust, which drew its themes directly from the NDP’s chapter on education.

The trust complements the work of the state while acknowledging that ultimately the state has the constitutional responsibility to provide education. It also reminds us that education is everyone’s responsibility.

Six themes
In support of the NDP’s education targets of increasing the proportion of pupils who achieve more than 50% in literacy, mathematics and science to 90%, the trust has chosen to focus on six themes:

  • Teacher professionalisation;
  • Courageous leadership;
  • Improvement of state capacity to deliver quality education;
  • Improving school resources;
  • Parent and community involvement; and
  • Pupil welfare

Achieving the NDP targets is not going to be easy. The president, in his opening remarks to the trust meeting, noted that, although we have made steady progress, we still need to do more to improve the quality of matric passes, invest more substantially in mathematics and science teaching, and train more teachers and principals so that they can teach and manage the schools better.

We are moving from a very low base, as the 2012 and 2013 Annual National Assessment reports show that only 20% and 2% of our pupils perform at the required level in grade nine for literacy and mathematics, respectively.

Support for teachers
To ensure that teachers are able to meet their obligations, they need to be supported and assisted. Although there may be many negative perceptions about the professional behaviour of some of our teachers, there are also many instances of good practice, with teachers working hard and performing exceptionally under very difficult circumstances.

There are, however, also many real challenges that we need to confront frankly. One of the non-negotiable actions that the president communicated to all was that teachers must be in class, on time, teaching for at least seven hours a day.

To teach effectively, our teachers must have appropriate content knowledge and, in this regard, we need to have a robust teacher development programme.

Despite the fact that over 90% of our teachers are qualified, compared with 54% in the 1990s, and having spent millions on teacher development, a report by the department of basic education 20 years later still criticises the poor content know-ledge of our teachers.

We need to identify the problem with teacher development approaches, as well as the issues relating to professionalisation, employment conditions and appointment of teachers. These are some of the issues that have emanated from the Education Dialogue SA discussions.

Dialogue sessions
The Education Dialogue SA initiative is part of the trust and aims to mobilise and hold regular dialogue sessions with stakeholders who are tasked with performing oversight on the education improvement programmes. The issues that surfaced in the dialogue session are not new. The main lesson we are learning is that we need to do things differently if we want to see significant change.

We need to stop throwing money at the problems, and instead confront them directly, to address the underlying systemic issues.

The importance of initiatives such as the trust lies in their agility and capacity to innovate. We need to use this opportunity and momentum to innovate and look at issues differently as well as seriously reflect on the value of our current approaches.

Critical in this regard is the involvement and commitment of each one of us in society, parents and communities at large. Education begins at home. Parents and communities also have a huge responsibility to ensure that schools are held accountable, that the children are being taught, and that teachers are at school and on time.

The trust enjoys the support and commitment of government, the private sector and organised labour. We all need to do more to support, participate in and oversee the implementation of this programme. The National Education Collaboration Trust has already helped to build trust between social partners. We can only build on this positive initiative and work together to address challenges in other sectors.

Jeff Radebe is the minister in the presidency responsible for planning, monitoring and evaluation

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