Friday, July 29, 2011

Sadtu's baleful influence

This short letter was published in the Sunday Times on July 24, 2011. I wrote it in response to several examples of people in power demonstrating that when it comes to acting morally, they are prepared to fudge issues at random. Anyway, the national newspaper chose to edit my letter quite severely, so I am including my original below. However, the letter may have spurred ST journalist Chris Barron to grill a senior Education official along similar lines.

My published letter is above. Click on it to read it in larger format. Below is my original, which cited two further instances of moral torpidity.

A reading of the Review section of the Sunday Times last week (July 17) provided a disturbing insight into the moral malaise afflicting this country. Three points stood out:

- In his article on education, the DA's Wilmot James referred to the Education International congress in Cape Town from July 22 to 26. While many of Wilmot's suggestions for resolving the education crisis hit the mark, it did not seem to occur to him that the fact that Sadtu was hosting the gathering during a school term was symptomatic of the very union-induced failure besetting education. Three of the days earmarked for the conference are school days. How many teachers will sacrifice time they should be spending with their pupils to attend this conference? This just a week after their three-week midyear holidays.

- President Jacob Zuma's new (old) spin doctor, Mac Maharaj, confesses to S'thembiso Msomi in an interview that in cases like Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka – who is accused of using R160 000 in public funds to fly family members around the country – Zuma will not fire him because “we don't like to drop a person. And that is a good quality.” In other words, when it comes to the ANC, every cadre is untouchable.

- Business Unity SA executive member Sandile Zungu uses similar logic to justify having chief government spokesman Jimmy Manyi as head of the Black Management Forum. Chris Barron asked him if black business was likely to speak “without fear or favour” against nationalisation when “one of its most influential leaders is the government's chief spokesman”. Zungu said there was “a school of thought which says it enhances that because of access and reach”. Asked if it doesn't “compromise its independence”, he said: “Independence is not enhanced by dissociation, necessarily.” So he's saying it is possible to be critical of government while being its chief spokesman. What dangerous nonsense.

This is a section of an interview which Chris Barron conducted for his So Many Questions column in the Sunday Times of July 24, 2011. He was speaking to the director general of Basic Education, Bobby Soobrayan in the light of the Sadtu conference I referred to, and to two reports which spoke of Sadtu's baleful influence on education. As usual, Barron was brilliant in pinning his subject down. I often wonder how he does these interviews. It is in person or over the phone. What they constitute, however, is an object lesson in how to speak truth to power. Now if only we could see our politicians - including Malema - put under similar pressure on national TV, preferably by someone as informed and fearless as Chris Barron seems to be.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prof Jonathan Jansen on education

I submitted this piece in response to an article in the Sunday Times of July 10. Needless to say, it wasn't published. Instead, the paper led the July 17 letters page with another response to the same article written by someone who regurgitated the very turgid rubbish which got education in this country into the sorry state it is to begin with. Anyway, for what it's worth, here is my response to Prof Jansen's article:

Professor Jonathan Jansen hits the nail on the head with his analysis of what is wrong with education in SA (Fixing a class-based calamity, July 10). However, what he did not mention was the imposition of outcomes-based education soon after the ANC came to power.

In their arrogant rush to remove all structures in place before 1994, the ANC decided to impose a curriculum that many warned would fail. And so it has.

Jansen notes that it is the former Model C schools which “continue to provide the camouflage of an apparently functional education system”, and the reason they do is not entirely financial. What most of them did was apply OBE very reluctantly, at all times ensuring that tried and tested methods – what Jansen calls “routines and rituals” – were retained. Clearly, with Sadtu undermining all attempts at achieving excellence, these rituals have not been allowed to take hold in township schools.

The ANC has repeatedly refused to acknowledge that it needs the expertise and experience of the white people of this country, and as long as it continues to do so it will reap the bitter rewards of such short-sightedness. Meanwhile, the ANC elite send their children to those very schools which still apply the successful methodologies of the apartheid era. How tragically ironic, since it means that the people who vote them into power again and again – the impoverished township masses – will continue to bear the brunt of this new form of class-based apartheid.

Meanwhile, the ANC goes on appointing under-skilled, inexperienced cadres to key positions in local, provincial and national government as part of its race-based affirmative action programme. And so the vicious cycle of failure built on failure will continue.