Monday 20 February 2012

SACE - We need your intervention!

I had a conversation with one of my 4th year students in Education Management, who had been employed, with sadness, by a school in Mpumalanga.  This is a student who comes from a poor family, desperately looking for financial assistance as soon as possible, since the family has been 'carrying' this child for the past three years after Matric.

She is but one of the many students I have been experiencing over the past two years since I have taken on a past time lecturing responsibility at one of the universities of technology.  The majority of students at this institution come from a seriously impoverished background, and most of them are the potential first 'degree' achievers in the family.  So, the pathway of these students is totally 'unknown' to them, and therefore they have no sense of what the destination looks like, other than some security that they will get a job.  Despite them being so close to the 'end point', I constantly experiencing my students being offered a job as replacement or temporary teachers.  These students are to the brink of hopefully being graduated as fully qualified teachers, but NO ... the schools who are so dysfunctional and weakly managed are constantly experiencing mobility in their staff (also through absenteeism and extended 'sick leave'), and therefore the need to find 'any teacher' to fill the gap.

My brief experience of this situation is indicating that most of these students (3/4 teachers) never end up qualifying as teachers from these institutions.  At best, they get carried for years at temporary teachers in the system until they are seen as 'long enough in the system to be treated as acceptable teachers', like in the case of the Eastern Cape (see an earlier blog that focused on this issue).  In my case, these students are from Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu Natal.

There are two issues related to the experience above, namely (i) the lack of a supply and demand of teachers strategy in the country, and (ii) the need for SACE (South African Council for Educators) to stop this abuse of desperate and poor students (unqualified teachers).  Regarding the first issue, we have been raising this for the past 20 years, but no success in terms of the responses from the planning of education.  All the policies that have been released since 1994, have not responded to the real need of systems planning and dignifying those in the system.  Currently, the 'supply and demand' crisis is managed by no-one, and at best it is tackled by individual schools and institutions.  In particular, the top schools are now managing their own supply under the term, "we are growing our own timber".  Dangerous it might be, especially in a country that is seeking a more integrated approach to staff compliments, it will never materialise.  But how can we blame these individual schools if the 'planners' are not doing their job from a systems perspective?

I therefore turn my attention to the second issue, which is the need for SACE to stop this abusive practice within and especially our rural and poorly performing schools.  Although these schools see it as 'assisting the students with a job' and 'them filling a gap that is existing in their school', the real loser in this act is the families of these students who carried them for more than 75% of their studies, and now loosing out on benefiting from someone who could be paid a full teacher salary.  Also, the loser is the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), since this student does not turn out to be a qualified person soon (hoping that after numerous years of part-time 4th year students, they eventually graduate).  Also, the teacher profession, is missing out on the opportunity to have a qualified teacher in the system, if we are just patient enough to allow this student to finish his/her qualifications after one year.  Finally, the biggest loser is the learner corps of our country, since they are now taught by a teacher who is not fully qualified, and will be vulnerable for the rest of his/her life as part-time and/or unqualified teachers because they will be at the mercy of 'those who are prepared to employ them'.

SACE, although this happened now to my 4th year student at the beginning of this year, the amount of students who end up in this 'hole' after they have gone doing their 'practice teaching' during the third quarter of every year is enormous.  I therefore urge you to do something about this practice - safe our final year students from not finishing their studies, when they are offered a part-time job during and after their practice teaching, and therefore a total shift in their priority from 'finishing their final year studies with success' to 'doing the best possible job as a part-time unqualified teacher' in schools who actually only care about 'fixing up their problem' by having a teaching in the class of every learner, rather than leaving these students to finish their studies.

As the professional council of teachers, you need to protect our student-teacher and the profession from this practice.  Your Act is powerful enough to be used to stop this practice.  I trust that you will take this issue seriously, and will tackle it with the attention and focus it deserves.

Sunday 29 January 2012

What kind of Learner is in your head when you do your Planning?

A few days ago, I joined a group of District Management Team (DMT) members, on a walk up the Silvermines mountain range in Cape Town.  This group of people is a highly motivated and committed team in education, based on my engagement with education officials across the country.  What was so remarkable, is the sense that they allowed my in a deliberate way, to influence their thinking and understanding about education, their district, and their work in particular.  The brief was to 'take them to a higher level' in order to ensure greater success for their learners.  I am pleased to say that they must be the only DMT in the country who decided to make 100% success for their learners as their target (goal).  There will therefore be no deliberate planning for some to fail, even if is only 12%, as expressed when they started out the hike.

More specifically, during a conversation with the head of curriculum planning, my question to him was: What kind of learners and/or schools are you planning for?  Meaning, when you do your planning - What kind of learner is in your head when you do your planning?  At first, he responded that "all learners and/or schools are taking into account when he does his planning.  Well, that is actually not true, otherwise one will have to have at least four different kinds of planning - One for Chaotic schools (they have a COMMITMENT problem), another for Dysfunctional schools (they have an adhering to RULES and REGULATIONS problem), and another for Under-performing schools (they have a PEOPLE RELATIONS problem), and finally one for High Performing schools (they have SYSTEMS problems).  If you don't have four separate planning tools, you will end up 'choosing unconsciously' one of these.  Because PLANNING (the way you will do or implement things) only follows DECISION MAKING (what is important and how will you allocate your resources), which in turn will follow THINKING.  So, the question was never, 'What is your planning?, but rather 'What was your thinking?

Although this engagement took place with an education district official, it is equally important for all teachers as to the 'child in their head', since it sets the tone for what they will expect and what they will accept in your classroom.  If you HOPE that all your learners who walk through your door are 'top performers', then you will have very little tolerance and/or patience for those performing below a 'top performer'.  The REALITY is that not all our learners are 'top performers' when they enter our classroom.  But, we have to opportunity, every day, of every week, of every month, of every quarter and of every year, to move them along the pathway towards greatness, and therefore our job is to add value to their lives while being in our presence.
In most of our schools, the 'chaos child' will enter our classroom.  And this is not a reflection of the child's ability, but rather the situation which they were born into, and often is still living in.  It is our privilege, as teachers, to 're-arrange' their live puzzle, since all the piece are there - they just need re-arrangement and good role models (good examples), and caring teachers.  Caring about what they can become, and not judging them based on what they are.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Democracy as a 'one-way' interpretation

As I was watching the news tonight, at the bottom they were scrolling some of the other news of the day.  To my surprise, one of these were the following: KZN teachers will go on strike to demand the reimbursement of money deducted during 2010 strike (the heading might not be 100% correct, but it certainly represents the sentiment in total).

Well, lets give some history to this matter.  Firstly, all workers, including teachers, have a right to strike as a last resort, in order to 'force the hand of the employers' to come to some settlement on matters pertaining to their conditions of service.  This right is enshrined in the Constitution of this country, as well as in the Labour Relations Act.  So, teachers have the right to strike BUT, that same right goes with a responsibility that the employer has the right to withhold payment for the duration of the strike, since no service has been rendered.  This second part of this previous sentence gives or creates the balance between the right of the teachers (employees) and the right of the provincial departments of education (employers), since they are the 'pay masters' and not the national education department.

The pattern in South Africa is - teachers will go on strike, some negotiations will go on to end the strike, and when teachers are back at school the department will inform them of the necessary clause that gives them the right to deduct their pay for no service rendered during the striking days.  Teachers will get upset that they will loose money, and will threaten to go on strike again, if the provincial department dares to deduct their salaries.  Most of the provincial departments will be influenced by this threat, and will then find some LOGISTICAL reasons why it is impossible to process this deduction.  Those provincial departments who have some sort of control systems will go ahead with the deductions, and will then be blamed that the 'EMPLOYER', which will be in this case the National Education Department, for not implementing the regulations in a consistent way.  From a legal point of view, this is an absolute correct approach from teacher representatives.  They are not arguing that the deductions are unlawful, but rather will focus on the 'flawed process' on the side of the employer.

How long will we see this uneven implementation of the right to strike, and the right not to be paid when services were not rendered.  And remember - when we talk about the "non rendering of service", it is in real terms that our teachers are not teaching of students for that period.  So the ones who are suffering are the children, not the adults.  Therefore, if the balance is not restored, then the right to strike is not a SACRIFICE (taking up a principle position, no matter what the personal material/financial implication), but rather a tool to force the hand of the opposition at any given time.  The 'employer of teachers', whether it is the National Education Department, or the collective of the nine Provincial Education Departments, must get their act together in order to restore the balance of power, otherwise the 'Elephant in the room' will continue with its current action pattern.

Friday 30 December 2011

27.5 Hours per week, one of the key numbers for Principals

We have very few definitive numbers in education, especially in the schooling system in South Africa.  For example, if I register my child (say in grade 6) in your school, and ask you as the principal of the school, How many hours of teaching and learning can I expect my child to receive from your school?, what would be your response (lets quickly do the calculation???)  It is extremely frustrating when you engage in a conversation with educators, officials and others, and the conversation is based on everyone's opinion about something that 'could and/or should be'.  EVERYONE'S OPION IS AS IMPORTANT AND SPECIAL AND VALID AS EVERYONE ELSE'S OPINION.  How can one management, which is about monitoring and evaluation, anything in education when there is no precise, specific, highly contested, unclear indicators in education?

Scratching through a myriad of education things, and for this conversation, I want to focus on the 27.5 hours per week (23 hours for grade R-2 and 25 hours for grade 3) teaching and learning time that is promised legislatively to all learners from grade 4 - 12 learners - and yes I know about the additional 30 minutes, but that opinion for another blog.  This PROMISE is specific, clear, with no REINTERPRETATION needed if learners are not given these hours - it will need serious investigation as to the cause of it, and what needs to be done to correct this INJUSTICE.  This is how serious we need to take every class and learner within our education system, who is given a DEAL less than the mentioned hours.  Almost like the way we will react when someone is given us less petrol, etc. when we pay for the mentioned.  If we bought say R500 worth of petrol, and the petrol attendant only throw in half of the petrol, but still take (or even expect) the full amount of R500.  Or if someone is showing us only half of the movie, therefore not getting the FULL picture of the entire story (How valuable would half of the story be?).  What and How would we react when people do this to us?  Even the mildest people will be unhappy and clearly express their unhappiness about the situation.  Well, what should I do if it happens to me?  Certainly not sitting back and doing NOTHING!

In a strategic session with a circuit team, I advised the circuit manager that possibly her first quarter of every year should focus on principals accounting to her, EVERY WEEK, on the 27.5 hours of teaching and learning time, and to what extend they HONOURED that commitment to the learners.  If not, they will have to explain what happened especially if the hours are less, and how they will make up these hours.  It is not good enough to discover this problem after June holiday.  This must be verified every week.

From the position of the principals, and for them to be able to account for this number, they will have to put together some systems to ensure that they KNOW, by the end of the week, what they are accounting on.  The number of 27.5 hours (1 650 minutes) is made up of and even 5.5 hours per day (330 minutes), or an uneven distribution of hours over the week that will make up 27.5 hours.  So, the head of departments and/or senior teachers must take responsibility and guidance to ensure that teachers honour every minute promised to the learners - Yes, every minute.  We, as teachers, can't make a big deal when they underpay us on our salary bill, but we are okay with not honouring every minute to which that salary is connected to.  Otherwise, the number are not adding up!

Improving our education system, and in particular the learner achievement and success in South Africa, is not located in TEACHER DEVELOPMENT, or CHANGING THE CURRICULUM, or ADDING ANOTHER 30 MINUTES FOR GUIDANCE, or any other.  Lets ensure that all teacher are teaching their FULL hours of 27.5 hours per week (and here I am not talking about being at school for those hours), of the 34 teaching and learning weeks per year, and we will see miracles. 

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Knowing your Numbers

In a recent conversation with one of the leading district directors in the country, our focus centred on the importance of 'knowing the numbers' you are working with.  Any job or work will have a certain amount of numbers which will be crucial for the successful performance of that work.  This could be the time you start working, and the time you stop working.  The amount of hours, days, weeks and months you have to work during a particular year, etc.

The convenience of 'numbers' is that they are quantities which we have very similar or exact meaning to when look at them.  Obviously we are excluding those individuals who would want to dispute almost everything in the system, and wanting to having a different or alternative meaning and/or perception.  Like, is 5 minutes past the starting time still ON TIME, or should it be regarded as BEING LATE, etc.  We are not talking about this last group of people.

Numbers, or quantities have the potential to build up clarity, to ensure adherence to the same, to work toward a common goal. While 'opinions' or what is regarded as the qualitative things in education, which could have various and varied interpretations and perceptions.  It is far better to sort out the 'personal perceptions and opinions' in qualitative interpretations when we have build up some relationship and/or reputation of agreeing on quantitative issues.

I therefore would like to argue that it is important that different people at different levels of the education system should know their numbers.  For example, if I am a principal, I should know at least the following:

  • how many learners (girls and boys) do I have in my school?;
  • how many of them are part of a child headed family, and whether they are the head?;
  • what are their dreams, aspirations and expectations (each one of my learners)?;
  • what do they want to do, after they leave school, in order for me to assist them to be ready when they leave my school?;
  • how many learners in my school go to bed hungry, and how often, so that I don't solve that problem but rather know and influence it?;
  • how many hours of teaching and learning will be offered to each and every learning in my school, during this particular academic year?;
  • in order to achieve the hours of teaching and learning for year, how do I manage the process in order to ensure that every period, day, week, month and semester contribute to the total number of hours I promise (as it is legislated in law to be 27.5 hours for secondary school learners per week) them?;
  • Etc.
These are just a few of the 'knowing your numbers' exercises I do with principals when assisting them in turning around their schools.  It is important to first get your numbers (quantity) right, before you move to the quality of teaching and learning.  In South Africa, we have just adopted this strategy 'the other way around' - focusing on quality before cementing quantity!  We often fail our learners in the 'small stuff'!

I would therefore like to invite you to share with me your numbers (  The aim is to put together a comprehensive 'dashboard' for everyone in the chain of education delivery (from the highest official in the system to our teachers in the classroom), as a yardstick to measure our effectiveness in delivering the best, by knowing what is going on.

Sunday 13 November 2011

What does it mean 'to be Ready'? or What is Readiness?

So few weeks ago I was invited to talk about the Matric examination, as well as the readiness of the education system.  I call it SYSTEM READINESS since most of our conversations will focus on 'whether the learners are ready', or 'whether the departments are read'.  During the conversation, I was asked about this readiness, and despite me responding to this 'readiness' question (see video included), I later reflected on my response, and realised that READINESS is like a coin - it will have two sides.

For example, when we asked 'whether the learners are ready', then indirectly we need to know, or asked 'whether the teachers have prepared the learners properly to be ready'.  Likewise, if we ask 'whether the education departments are ready', then we need to know, or ask 'whether those who distributed the framework of examination readiness been distributed by the subject advisors for teachers to be sufficiently prepared when walking into the classroom in preparation of learners for this matric examination'.

I therefore can continue to ask all these interrelated questions of readiness - in essence it is all about whether the education system is managed and is working AS A SYSTEM.  Before we wait in anticipation for the Matric Results to be announced - do we know whether the different components/ roleplayers in the education system played their part in FULL?  Are there any of our learners who are now sitting for the examination, whose teachers have not covered ALL the work they were supposed to do?  The question is: Have all our teachers completed their syllabus? Not just the Matric teacher, but the earlier grade teachers?  Are we sending our learners into an examination (battle), while we are not sure whether they were given everything needed to be successful (given just half or even less ammunition to survive in the battle)?  Do we have the system to verify, not just based on 'hear say', but independent verification?

If we, as a country, can't answer these questions in an emphatic way (with absolute certainty), then the results of the learners are actually not THEIR RESULTS, but rather OUR EDUCATION SYSTEMS' RESULTS, whether those results are good or bad.  Because, often dysfunctional results and schools are the consequence of dysfunctional mechanisms!

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Why do we have our current Pupil-Teacher ratio?

It is with sadness that I listen to the dispute in the Eastern Cape between the Minister of Basic Education and those who are representing the 'temporary teachers' whose contracts have not been renewed.  This issue has developed so far, that there is already a court pronouncement compelling the Department of Education to re-instate these teachers into their initial posts.  For me, it is raising the question: Is this all about the jobs of the temporary teachers, as a means of getting a salary, or is this in aid of proper education to the learners of these schools?  Well, let me try and unpack this issue:

If it was in aid of quality education for the learners, then the data is not supporting this argument.  Currently the Eastern Cape province is one of the worst performing education system in the country.  The increase in teachers in the province from 66 361 (with 2,13 million learners = 32.1 pupil-teacher ration) in 2000, to 66 626 (with 2.00 million learners = 30.1 pupil-teacher ratio), has not yield any improvement in learner success.   The real dispute is about the 765 teacher (they have now 65 861 teachers in the system) who were not re-employed in 2011, since 2010.  We have to take into account the drop in learners over the period of just more than 130 000, which should have resulted in a decrease in teachers of just over 3 400 teachers during the same period.  But, lets forget about the numbers, and go back to the original point in 1994 - What was the agreement on the pupil-teacher ratio then, and why is this so different, and at what cost?

Due to our unequal distribution of resources during the apartheid era, it was impossible for the Democratic Government in 1994 to continue with the differential pupil-teacher ratios (18 in White schools, 24 in Indian schools, 28 in Coloured schools and 50 in African schools).  The agreement in 1994 was a pupil-teacher ratio of 35 in secondary schools and 38 in primary schools.  This decision was made based on the amount of learners that had to be accommodated in our school system, and the amount of teachers available to teach them - sounds absolutely logic.  So, why has this ratio being sliding down consistently, with no real benefits to the learners?  This question is crucial, since a continuation of this trend without real benefits to the learners and society, the only benefit will be that we are employing more adults in the system, and our increased budget during parliamentary announcements are just 'eaten up' by the additional adults in the system - no benefits are accruing to the learners or communities.

If we look at this graph, we can clearly see a steady increase in the employment of educators in the system, which is now standing at 420 608 in 2011.  So, how is it possible that our employment rate can increase so consistently, while we have an attrition rate of between 5-6% (about 18 000 teacher), and a production rate of at best 10 000 teachers?  We don't produce enough teachers to replace the those who leave the system, so where do the additional teacher at an average of 5 500 come from whom we are employing?  A portion of this could be explained by the influx of teacher from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe, but it is not the full story.

I would like to make two deductions from the above-mentioned data: Firstly, this Eastern Cape phenomena of constantly employing more teachers, or not allowing the decrease in teachers when the amount of learners is dropping, is not limited to that province alone.  It is just that they were 'running out of money' (this phrase could be technically wrong!) in the Eastern Cape, unlike other provinces, and therefore having no option but to stop this process of employing more teachers than what they can afford/pay.  Secondly, that this constant employment of teachers while we are not producing enough, can only be made up of unqualified teachers.  And I can guarantee you that these teachers will only land up in schools serving the poorest or the poor, often called the voiceless people.  These adults we are employing earn their salaries, be it under-qualified salaries, at the expense of inferior education to the learners in these schools.  The previous year's teacher allocation numbers are used to ensure that 'new' adults get a job (due to the natural attrition of other teachers), without the hope of quality education to our learners.  If this is the case, I can only say - shame on us!

I went to China at the end of least year, and visited the best secondary school in the country.  It was in a rural area, that had 6 000 learners (1 500 per grade), and had a pupil-teacher ratio of between 50-60.  Yes, the facilities were great, since people tend to invest in success, and therefore donations and gifts will stream to this school.  The learners in this school know that they are expected to be the leaders of tomorrow, and they live up to it.  We were escorted by grade 10 (not grade 12) learners, speaking English fluently.

So, my point is that this reduction in pupil-teacher ratio has to be looked at seriously, because the continuation of it will suffocate our education system.  Lets do something about it before it dies.