Equal Education welcomes the belated release of the report of the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) appointed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to investigate allegations into the selling of teacher posts by members of teachers’ unions and provincial education department officials (the MTT Jobs-for-Cash report). The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is to be applauded for releasing the report in the face of acute resistance, and avoiding attempts to sanitise the findings of the report.
The meaning of the MTT report
It is worth noting at the outset that the victims of corruption in education are: firstly the learners who in these cases are forced to learn under wrongly appointed, sometimes unqualified teachers, principals and senior officials. Secondly the committed teachers, whose career development is demoralisingly blocked unless they participate in the corrupt system. Lastly, the whistleblowers that draw attention to these corrupt practices. Ultimately this has real dire consequences for teaching and learning in the affected schools.
The report makes clear that the soliciting, giving or receiving of cash bribes are just some of many ways in which teacher appointments can be improperly influenced. This points to the extreme difficulty in finding and prosecuting instances of corruption, as does the frequent lack of documentary evidence, the climate of fear and the pressure to close ranks, which stops witnesses from making sworn statements. Further, even when findings of corruption are made, these are generally against individuals rather than groups, even though the appointments process often requires a number of players to collude. It is thus extremely difficult to root out the networks which engage in corruption.
The MTT has found either clear wrongdoing or reasonable suspicion in 38 of the 81 cases investigated. Given the difficulties outlined above, this is a laudable achievement in itself. EE calls on cases of wrongdoing to be further investigated and, where appropriate, criminal charges and/or DBE disciplinary procedures must be instituted. EE further calls for immediate plans to protect whistleblowers from reprisals.
However, public outrage should not be limited to the individual cases of corruption. The MTT report speaks to systemic failures, at the heart of which lies the appointments process, a weak education department (particularly at district and circuit level), unable to provide sufficient oversight of appointments or training of School Governing Bodies (SGBs), the huge powers and much more limited capacities of School Governing Bodies (SGBs) and the contested role of unions. These issues must be urgently addressed, and should precipitate a full and frank national conversation. While EE supports the findings of the MTT, it cautions against outsourcing a solution to the problems to the opinion of the MTT. The recommendations made must be carefully considered on their individual merits.
Some of the more controversial findings of the MTT relate to the education system as a whole, particularly the role of unions such as the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU). The Report found that SADTU has taken de facto charge of the management and priorities in education in at least six of the nine provinces. However, accusations of the MTT pursuing an anti-SADTU vendetta are unfounded. The Report is equally, if not more critical of the various departments of education. It highlights that unions have taken over only where the department is weak.
While noting that the union practises cadre deployment of its members to office and school positions, at no point did the Report claim that SADTU as an organisation was involved in the sale of posts, notwithstanding the involvement of some of its members acting either individually or in networks. The defensive response of SADTU is disappointing; it is hoped that the appearance of even a few of its members in jobs for cash schemes gives the leadership of SADTU cause for serious reflection about its role in the South African education system. EE calls on SADTU to prove its commitment to accountability by, at the very least, expelling those members found to have played parts in the buying and selling of posts.
Recommendations of the MTT report
The MTT report makes 16 recommendations. These are grouped by theme and discussed below.
Individual cases of corruption (Recommendations 1-3)
EE wholeheartedly supports the recommendations to prosecute individuals implicated in the sale of posts, and take disciplinary action against those who failed to stop this. Decisive prosecution of offenders sends a strong message that corruption will no longer be normalised, and together with protection of whistleblowers, gives more people permission to report cases of corruption and stand against it. To this end, the MTT investigation should facilitate a longer term readiness to investigate and prosecute further cases that arise.
Systemic weakness in the DBE and provincial education departments (Recommendations 4-5)
EE supports the recommendations to regain control of, and restructure, the administration of education. However, the weakness of districts and circuits must be dealt with more fully. The report is unequivocal in stating that corruption occurs in an environment of weak, inefficient authorities who give limited support or oversight to the appointments process or the role of SGBs more broadly. This must be taken up urgently, as any reform to the system of appointments will continue to be vulnerable to predation if the local education authorities are unable to follow correct procedures in substance as well as form, provide meaningful training and guidance to SGBs on interviews, and ensure that union representatives play their appropriate role.
School governing bodies and appointments (Recommendations 6-8)
EE rejects any move to relieve SGBs of their power to interview and appoint senior teachers and principals. This requires some discussion. It is clear that many SGBs are not functional bodies. The devolution of school governance to this local level has given them a dizzying array of roles and responsibilities, including financial management, and teacher appointments. The freedom afforded to SGBs means very different things to a former model C school and a township or rural school with an SGB composed largely of working class parents. However, this should not lead us to abandon school democratisation. At a principled level, the right of parents to have a say in who teaches their children must be protected. Further, there are significant cases where parents, including SGB members, in poor schools have been able to resist corrupt practices at their schools.
It should also be noted that centralising this function is no panacea for irregular appointments. If districts and circuits remain weak, it is unlikely that they will be able to make all the appointments required: this simply increases the bureaucratic burden on them. Further, the lack of oversight and accountability in these bodies means that irregular hiring practice may continue or worsen, particularly given the situation of cadre deployment in the department.
While the current procedure is not perfect, and can evidently be subverted, it has the distinct advantage of including departments of education, unions, and SGBs. In this interplay of different actors, there is potential for greater fairness and correctness than is currently the case. However, in order for this to become a reality, SGBs must be strengthened in order to perform their mandate better. This entails radically improved training and support for them. While it is tempting to respond to a problem with new policy, there are also massive problems in implementation, and the political will required to achieve this.
The issue of unqualified, or underqualified, teachers receiving posts and promotions is problematic. Disqualification of a post level 1 teacher from direct promotion to principal is a reasonable measure. However, this is not a problem which necessitates the removal of powers from SGBs. In fact, even under the current procedure, underqualified teachers can be removed from the appointments process during the sifting and shortlisting of applicants phases. Both of these are already the responsibility of the provincial department of education and not the SGB. In addition to this, testing should be introduced for educators who apply for the post of principal, in order to immediately remove unsuitable candidates. This is particularly urgent as South Africa’s principals are aging, and are lost to the system at a rate of about 1000 per year. If better replacements are chosen it could set those schools on an improved path for some time.
The role of unions (Recommendations 9-13)
The discussion of unions is a fraught one. The Report has already come in for a great deal of criticism regarding its findings on union control of provincial departments. Whatever reforms are made to the recruitment process, unions must remain observers – but no more than observers. Findings of unions, or union members, disrupting interview panels, or intervening to favour their candidate, must be treated with the appropriate seriousness, including by the unions themselves – and stamped out.
The recommendation regarding the creation of a new, separate union for office-based educators is not likely to gain much traction, nor would it be desirable to enforce this separation. Employees must retain the right to join a union of their choice.
A common vision for education (Recommendation 14)
EE supports the call for developing a common vision for education and would relish the opportunity to take part in this conversation. This must include achieving a consensus between the DBE and teacher unions on shared transformational goals in order to move past the current adversarial relationship between department and union. This could include such issues as teacher professionalism, support and accountability, post provisioning norms, and salaries.
Role of the South African Council of Educators (SACE) (Recommendations 15-16)
The MTT Report correctly identifies SACE as badly in need of repair. EE further calls on the Minister to ensure that SACE becomes both a tool for teacher professional development and support, and a real mechanism for teacher accountability. To this end SACE must seriously investigate all cases of disciplinary issues, including the selling of posts.
The DBE’s response
While the DBE is to be lauded for releasing a report which is critical of both itself and powerful players in the education sector, its response to the final Report (attached as an addendum to the Report) is lacking in a few key areas:
- There is little if any response to a key theme running through the MTT Report: the weak and dysfunctional district and circuit level education departments which cannot support, capacitate, or monitor appointments appropriately, for example through providing an adequately trained Resources Person for the interview panel. All the DBE plan contemplates in this regard is a vague promise to follow administrative processes more rigorously.
- The weaknesses of SGBs are to be addressed by developing guidelines for assisting SGBs better, and encouraging them to source competent community members to serve on SGBs and interview panels. This is plainly insufficient to capacitate them: EE therefore calls for increases in the funding and personnel allocated to training of SGBs, which at present comprises little more than a skeleton staff.
- The DBE plans to follow the recommendations of the Report in seeking legislative amendments in order to centralise the appointment of educators from post levels 2 to 4. EE’s resistance to this has been stated above.
- In the interim, the DBE seems to be proposing setting up provincial Review Committees to doublecheck every appointment made by the existing appointment panels. This is an additional layer of bureaucracy, which will struggle to deal with the burden of overseeing an entire province’s appointments. It is expected that the additional oversight and curb to corruption that this provides will be extremely slight.
In our previous statement (when the release of the report was delayed) we made the following demands, which we think are still relevant in taking the above recommendations forward.
Equal Education still demands that:
- The capacity of school governing bodies to identify the best candidates and resist undue influence must be urgently strengthened through rigorous training of parent members, by provincial education departments (and SGB associations).
- The deployment of officials to education departments by teachers’ unions (as reward rather than owing to competence and commitment) must immediately cease.
- All officials of the national and provincial education departments must execute their duties diligently and transparently.
- Provincial education departments must act decisively to wrest control of the process of post provisioning from unions.
- District officials must be placed under greater scrutiny to ensure that they execute their duties efficiently and ethically. District offices are pivotal in supporting schools, and ensuring accountability. The national department’s district monitoring unit is a step in the right direction toward improving the districts’ staff capacity, planning, monitoring and evaluation, curriculum oversight, and human resource management.
- We call on Minister Motshekga and Parliament to institute an urgent review of SACE. SACE in its current form has contributed to the undermining of the teaching profession, operating akin to a (dysfunctional) database.
- Finally, Minister Motshekga and the provincial heads of departments must take the lead in pressing criminal charges. This must not be left to the individual complainants and whistleblowers. The national department must protect the brave men and women who have stood up against the undermining of the profession.
Until the national and provincial education departments are able to regain control of the managing and administering of education, post-apartheid education reform will fail to improve education in many historically disadvantaged schools.
For Comment please contact:
Tshepo Motsepe (EE General Secretary)
071 886 5637
Daniel Sher (EE Researcher)
074 767 8451
Leanne Jansen-Thomas (EE Head of Policy and Training)
079 494 9411