By Political Bureau
DA LEADER Helen Zille says it's time for "militant intervention" in education – but not by unions.
The Western Cape premier, who is heading for a showdown with the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) over plans to introduce performance contracts for principals in the province, wants to tackle declining literacy and numeracy rates "head-on".
While spending on education was important, it wasn't enough, Zille said in her weekly online newsletter, South Africa Today.
She said prioritising quality teaching – "even if it means interventions that do not find favour with powerful interest groups – must be non-negotiable".
Excellence in teaching in South Africa was rarely recognised, with many good teachers driven out of an "overly bureaucratised and administratively burdensome" system.
"Weak teachers, on the other hand, do not get the support they need and are not held to account when they don't produce results.
"They are protected by powerful unions, such as Sadtu, who care more about shielding incompetent cadres than the quality of our children's education," Zille claimed.
She questioned the union's readiness to take to the streets in protest when its members' interests were threatened, and its silence on the declining matric pass rate.
"Despite a broad consensus on the importance of a good education, we are a long way off from ensuring that all our children get one. In fact, all indicators show that our education system is in decline," Zille said. Yet most people responding to social surveys cited unemployment and crime as top priorities, with education lagging behind, if mentioned at all.
"Many people obviously do not make the connection that, if our education system was better, unemployment would be lower and fewer people would turn to crime."
Zille said that in the Western Cape – with "arguably" the best education system in the country – the signs were "worrying".
Between 2004 and 2008, 86 percent of primary schools recorded a pass rate of less than 40 percent for numeracy in Grade 6. The overall Grade 12 pass rate of 85 percent in 2004 had declined to 78 percent in 2008.
The province's new strategic plan requires that all principals sign performance contracts which will be measured against targets for teachers and pupils.
But the response from Sadtu had been "belligerent", said Zille. "They say they will oppose any plan to change the conditions of service for teachers. I hope they will see sense and put the interests of our children first. Militancy should be directed at ensuring our education system works, not protecting underperforming schools and teachers."
- This article was originally published on page 11 of The Star on December 05, 2009