Newspaper clipping – The Daily News –18 May 2009

Our failing schools

Teachers are spending less time in the classrooms and instead are confused and swamped by paperwork and administration, a ministerial panel has found.>/p<

The culture of teaching and learning has disappeared in most rural and township schools, the panel found.

The committee, set up last year by former minister of education Naledi Pandor, was appointed to recommend methods by which schools could be evaluated and developed. It comprised education experts and was chaired by Professor Jonathan Jansen, a highly-respected educationist who has been assigned to run Mangosuthu University of Technology in Umlazi, to get it out of trouble.

Teachers and principals complained to the panel that time was lost because of teacher absenteeism, incompetent principals and under-prepared district officials. "The committee received consistent reports from schools about confusion, suspicion and at times, outrage about the underlying dysfunctionality of schools," the panel said in the report. His panel found the "plethora of policies" teachers had to contend with led to confusion and placed heavier administrative demands on them. This translated into teachers spending less time in classrooms.

The ministerial committee also found there were suspicions about Outcomes Based Education. "There remains, in some provinces, very articulated expressions by managers and teachers about the failure of curriculum implementation to address the basic competence of literacy and numeracy in schools. The committee heard harrowing stories about official instructions to raise test scores across the board to compensate for curriculum failure."

Schools and teachers also complained about curriculum advisers who did not provide enough support for teachers when they visited schools.

The committee recommended, among other things, that the authority of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit be established to ensure that it had the legal authority to conduct its work. It also called for officials from the unit to be given the legal and political authority to enter classrooms for purposes of monitoring and evaluation.

The report recommended, that the unit provide the minister of education with an "authoritative, analytical and accurate account on the state of schools in South Africa" and on teaching and learning at the schools.

Teachers unions expressed optimism that the unit would improve the situation in schools. Chris Ndlela, provincial chairman of the South African Teachers Union, said he had not yet read the panel's report, but welcomed any initiative that would improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools. He agreed with the finding that teachers were often swamped with paperwork. "We get many complaints from our members that they would spend a lot of time preparing paperwork instead of doing work that would benefit their pupils," said Ndlela.

Anthony Pierce, provincial CEO of the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa, said the union had given the unit its blessing. But he cautioned that it should not be seen as a policing unit, adding that the era of policing teachers was long gone. "The unit must be associated with development processes rather than performance based. There has got to be a dedicated budget set aside for it. We can't establish a unit like this and then not have enough money to fund it," said Pierce.

He added that those people involved in the unit needed to be competent, with a good understanding of the curriculum and issues concerning pupils and teachers.

In 2006, Jansen was appointed administrator of the Durban University of Technology, to restore proper governance and management there.