Parents and learners cannon fodder in the Education battle

Tom Stokes, MPP

DA KZN Spokesperson on Education

SADTU’s latest threat of strike action, aimed at forcing the resignation of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, shows just how little regard the teacher union has for the impact this step will have on learners and how little it fears any backlash from parents.

Teacher unions as we know them are not serving the national needs and parents and learners are mere cannon fodder in the constant tension between Sadtu and education officials.

Unions such as Sadtu turn to industrial strike action as a first option because it is easy in the face of timid opponent. They don’t care about learners and care less about parents who have no statutory power to confront them. As a result, teacher unions win on their demands while citizens lose on the delivery of quality teaching.

The real problem lies with the weakness of the parent body in holding teachers accountable and in confronting union action. The current power relationship is simply between teacher union officials and department officials.

The DA believes that a radical power relationship change is needed, one which gives muscle back to parents. The key is empowering School Governing Bodies (SGB’s) and allocating individual schools the teacher salary grant and entrusting SGB’s to pay educators salaries and to hire and fire them under a national regulatory framework.

A power change would still allow teachers the right to strike but instead of facing timid education officials they would have to address angry parents.

There can be no doubt that the unionization of the erstwhile teaching profession has radically improved conditions of service resulting in teachers in South Africa being relatively well paid when measured against other countries, in particular African countries. But too often their actions go beyond the scope of improving conditions of service and extend to destructive politicking.

The DA will submit a position paper on the agenda of the next meeting of the KZN Education portfolio committee to initiate debate around changes to the current teacher union powers. The relevance of a teacher union which does little or nothing to promote teaching excellence and which ignores the legitimate rights of parents and learners must be re-examined.

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