The department of basic education’s intention to begin giving school principals competency tests as a condition of their employment is laudable — the ability to do a job is usually required if you are going to get it.
The job of a school principal is very important: he or she is tasked with holding together the ongoing, collective enterprise that is a school. He or she should indeed have communication and financial skills as well as the usual competencies to do with the core business of education, which is teaching. All that seems pretty basic.
Resistance to this comes from the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), as it has resisted the idea of teachers being tested to ensure they are competent in their subjects as well as in the most effective teaching techniques for their level.
Sadtu says testing demeans their members. Why? Is it demeaning for a doctor to assure you that he or she has the requisite qualifications to be dealing with your ailment?
What Sadtu possibly fears is that these tests will reveal the degree to which the teaching profession is failing to do its job, as if that was not already revealed by the kind of education results we see in South Africa every year.
Those results are distressing, for it looks as if another generation (or two!) of South Africans is emerging into adulthood without the skills, including basic literacy and numeracy, that will enable them to get a job and make a decent life for themselves and their families.
Someone in the basic education department has to realise that it’s not enough to keep massaging the numbers, whether by reducing pass thresholds to 20%, as was done recently in some areas of maths, or by finding other ways to make it appear that increasing numbers of young people are getting a decent education — and are getting better at getting through it.
Someone must see that this kind of juggling and gerrymandering is nothing more than a form of state propaganda — it is not a solution.
Ordinary citizens do, watching as we do coverage of the matric results and the way in which the numbers are shuffled — never mind the train wrecks that occur when would-be university students, entirely unprepared for tertiary education, are shoved in that direction, as though it is the universities’ problem to solve.
So Sadtu’s objection to the idea of competency tests should be swept aside. Teachers, too, should be subjected to such tests.
But Sadtu is on firmer ground when it objects to schools that are in a state of collapse, or when textbooks are not delivered. Indeed, too many still lack basic facilities such as lavatories and libraries. Without the department paying attention to such infrastructural necessities, competency tests will not help that much to push up the standard of education.