Let me thank the organizers of the conference for extending a invitation to me to
address their members on the topic “Quality Education: Quo Vadis”. For those
who don’t know me, let me give a brief introduction of myself. I am currently
working at the University of Pretoria (Faculty of Education: Department of
Education Management and Policy Studies), and is also doing some consultancy
work for the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance (Sections
21 Company of the Gauteng Department of Education). Previously, I was the
Academic Manager of the Executive Leadership Programme at the University of
Witswatersrand for one year. And before that, I was the Director at the South
African Council for Educators. And before that, I was the professional
development leader of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union at a
national level, as well as service the Western Cape Province of the union.
Before that, I was a teacher, Head of Department and then Principal of a
secondary school in Bonteheuwel in Cape Town. I was born in a rural town
called Worcester (about 110 km outside Cape Town), where I finished both my
primary and secondary school years.
I give you this background in order to place what I intend to say within context.
The salient points that I attempted to share with you under the title “who am I”
• I was a classroom teacher, HOD and principal of a secondary school – so,
I know what is going on at school level;
• I taught at a ‘township” school for more than 15 years – so, I know what is
going on in disadvantaged schools and communities;
• I was born in Worcester, and also schooled there – so, I know what rural
live is all about;
• I was the professional development officer at a provincial and national
level – so, I know what the professional needs are of teachers;
• I was a senior member of SADTU for more than ten years – so, I know
what unionism is all about;
• I was the director of SACE for more than seven years – so, I know the
ethical and professional development needs of the profession;
• I was a part-time lecturer at UWC, and full-time at Wits and now the
University of Pretoria – so, I know the theoretical and practical demands of
the education system.
Based on the above, I would like you to consider seriously the issues I will raise
during my input. In particular, the focus is going to be on ‘teachers’, the only
audience I have in front of me. And therefore I intend to challenge our
convenient interpretations and perceptions of the topic at hand, namely Quality
Education – Quo Vadis (Where too.
2. Quality Education
If you go onto the Internet and ‘Google’ the words ‘quality education’ in South
Africa, you will find these words in almost every speech of people talking about
education, from national to provincial parliaments, and from Ministers to MECs of
Education, and from Presidents of teachers unions and Deans and lecturers of
2.1 How relevant is the QE debate
My first questions is – How relevant is the debate on Quality Education in a
country that has the following track record:
• From a total of 1,2 million learners who join schooling in Grade 1 every
year, about 0.55 million learners (about 45%) end up writing the Matric
• Of those who write the Matric examination, only 66% of them pass the
• Of those who pass the examination, only 1/3 of them leave schooling with
a certificate worthy of presentation to others or having a certificate that
gives them ‘entry’ to further learning or work opportunity.
• If we take all the mentioned calculations above, the success-rate of our
education system is only at best, 10% (success to only 1 learner out of
every 10 learners starting in Grade 1). Lets do the maths – only 45% of all
learners starting in Grade 1 end up writing examination. Therefore, our
66% pass rate is actually only 30% (45% of 66%). Furthermore, our
success rate (the percentage of learners starting in Grade 1, who ends up
being successful) is only 10%, since 2/3 of those passing Matric are
leaving with a ‘school leaving’ certificate.
I want to argue that maybe we need to look at the prior steps before we get to
Quality Education, and therefore putting quality education as the ultimate that we
need to strive for. So, if that is what we are striving for, where are we now? I
would like to argue that there are three types of schools in the country (Gallie
• High functioning schools (about 20% of our schools, of which about 5%
• Low functioning schools (about 50% of our schools); and
• Dysfunctional schools (about 30% of our schools).
Figure 1: Three Levels of School Functionality
Looking at figure 1 above, only low- and high-functioning schools operate from a
certain amount of basic principles and/or agreements to which all adhere. These
include issues like (i) what time the school will start and finish, (ii) when
documents need to be submitted, (iii) that personal appointments need to be
schedules after school hours or during week-ends, (iv) the procedure to be
followed when a teacher is unable to be at school on a particular day, etc.
At dysfunctional schools, these agreements are non-existent. Even when the
school is going to close, is ‘up for grabs’ every day, at dysfunctional schools.
The importance of ‘time-on-task’ is not valued with these schools. They will
change, interrupt and/or shorten the day at short notice, blaming it on one or the
other issue or event that is now more important than the education of the
learners. Both teachers and learners at these schools learn through experience,
not to be optimistic about attending the schools for the entire day, and therefore
late ‘mentally’ prepare them for an interruption or for some chaotic even to occur.
They get ‘saturated’ in this chaos and disruption and will miss it during times
when they have to be ‘orderly’, like examination time or when someone for
outside come to visit them.
2.2 Three steps approach to QE
Dysfunctional schools are therefore not ready to ‘strive towards quality
education’. In fact, they ‘enjoy’ this chaos where ‘anything goes’, ‘no-one is
better than anyone else’, ‘ where don’t stress ourselves’ since there are such a
lot of things we can ‘take out of our bag’ why things are the way they are (these
will be discussed later under the heading – ten debilitating untruths among
teachers in dysfunctional schools).
Figure 2: Three steps approach to Quality Education
Dysfunctional Low Step 2 High Step 3 Excellen
schools Step 1 functioning functioning t
schools schools schools
Basic Basic Quality
Right to Education Education
Quality for Equality Quality for Competitiveness
Based on the above (figure 2), I would like to argue that, in order to us to ‘fix up’
our education system, we first need to know ‘Where we Are’, in order for us to
know where we need to go (the Alice in Wonderland story).
• Dysfunctional schools must strive to become functional (low). Within
these schools, we need to focus on the debate of the ‘basic rights to
education’ for all learners, since 90% of the challenges have to do with the
adults and not the children (Step 1);
• Low functioning schools must strive to become high functioning schools.
Among these schools, we need to focus on the debate for basic
education, and to strengthen and/or go beyond the basics (Step 2);
• High functioning schools must strive to become excellent schools. They
must focus on the debate of quality education in order for our learners to
compete with any other learner.
The Quality Education debate, which is focusing on the learner achievement
scores in schools, is therefore only applicable and useful to high functioning
schools and maybe a portion of the low functioning schools, but is totally
irrelevant to dysfunctional schools where our energy is currently needed. The
debate on dysfunctional and low-functioning schools is more an equality debate.
We will often find the arguments advanced by those in dysfunctional schools to
be ‘societal, cultural, political and economic’ issues rather than educational
(teaching and learning) issues.
I therefore argue that Quality Education could be focussed on in two different
• Quality as a method/mechanism to advance Competitiveness of our learners,
• Quality as a tool to advance Equality within schools where learners are not
getting what the education system is promising them.
Based on these, the biggest mistake we can make is to believe that only the one
is necessary. This takes us back to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, very common
within our policy processes and debates. For some schools, the one approach
will be relevant and appropriate, while the other approach more relevant and
appealing to the other schools.
2.3 Quality and Equality
Quality and equality are not identical concepts, although they are interrelated
within my argument. Quality is about levels and standards: equality about power
and resources. A tension exists between the two, especially in dysfunctional
schools, that is based on values and ideology. Through the exercise of
discretion – based on values and judgements – different stakeholders in the
system can influence quality and equality outcomes in favour of different groups
in the system.
Posing the question Quality for whom? highlights the tension between quality
and equality, and can result in radically different answers. At a time of financial
constraints on public spending in education, the question of quality for whom
becomes even more important.
• Is the objective of quality to further raise the standards of the high
achievers in order to achieve limited economic imperatives?
• Is it to raise the standards of low achievers and move SA up the economic
• Is it to raise the standards and opportunities of particular groups of
children, girls, rural and disadvantaged, physically challenged?
• Fundamentally, is quality rooted on assumptions about universal
standards, or on the rights of particular groups, and/or the transformation
of our country?
I would like to argue that the notion of quality should also embrace a concept of
equal opportunities which is focussed not just on outcomes but on processes –
how learners experience and participate in the education system. Fundamental
to this argument is the declaration that the organisation and delivery of education
services is more than the creation of a product for consumption at the end.
2.4 Creating a bridge between quality and equality
I would like to argue that quality strategies can succeed in meeting the needs of
learners only if they take into account the diverse views and perspectives of a
range of groups. Stewart and Walsh (1990) grappled with the link between
quality and equality and suggested 3 essential elements for a framework for
• Whether the core service fits the purpose for which it was designed (3
steps approach to QE);
• The physical surroundings (context) in which the service is delivered,
• The service relationship between those who provide and those who
receive the service (shared vision or plan).
The following framework is a useful one for examining the inter-relationship
between quality and equality.
Figure 3. Quality and Equality: An inter-related network
Core Service Service relationship Service
Does the service What is the What are the
meet the relationship between physical and
requirements of those providing and social conditions
those for whom it those receiving the within which the
is provided? service? service is
Do those who Do those providing the Are the services
provide the service service understand the accessible to all
know who the needs of those and how are the
receivers will be? receiving the service? people
use the service?
3. Thinking beyond the obvious
This final section is aimed at challenging ourselves as teachers to go beyond the
obvious reasons why it is difficult, or sometimes impossible to ensure that all our
learners are successful. We can do it – I know so because I am a living example
of that possibility, and so are the majority of you in this audience. The majority of
you come from poverty or challenging circumstances, but you are an example of
the success that such an opportunity can create. The trick is now, to ensure that
we multiply our success ten, hundred or thousand fold within our learners.
To achieve this, I would like to argue for two approaches to be adopted:
3.1 Quality teachers to Equity schools
Schools where learners are subjected to socio-economic conditions that are not
favourable for learning, have to start thinking about getting quality teachers to
their schools. What I mean by ‘quality teachers’ is, those teachers who are not
looking at the challenging conditions as a deficit, but rather as a motivator and an
inspiration to work harder and smarter. We have to move from the premise that
the intelligent capacity of the learners can’t be determined by the economic
status of the learners/parents/communities. Yes, we acknowledge that it is not
‘easy’ for these learners to focus on their education while there are other issues
very (even more) pressing than their learning success. But, we have to approach
this challenge with the mental strength that is needed to overcome it. We, as
teachers, are often the only ‘greater of opportunity’ between the socio-economic
conditions of the learners, and their ability to be successful and therefore finding
a way out of the cycle of poverty. It is about being determined to ‘save’ one
learner at a time.
We have to assist our learners to be achievers at three levels in their lives,
namely (i) socio-economic and political achievement, (ii) personal achievement,
and (iii) academic achievement. Our learners can’t be short of any of these three
achievements. Therefore, our efforts need to be tripled, and therefore can’t be
equal to that of those teachers dealing with one or two of the three challenges.
Our efforts need to equal the challenges, and not what others are doing.
Finally, let me raise some controversial issue, on which I am currently doing a
research project. Based on initial data, I am calling it ‘untruths’ within our
3.2 Ten debilitating untruths or misperceptions among teachers in South
African dysfunctional (and low functioning) schools
In a recent book written by Prof Jonathan Jansen, called Knowledge in the Blood,
he narrates to us the experiences of ‘white Afrikaners’ at the University of
Pretoria. In particular, he gives us a rich, and in depth view of some of the
racism behaviour of students who were never part of the Apartheid era (period)
but having a strong sense of that era as if they were living during that era.
Likewise, I would like to argue that we also have some ‘false memories’ which we
find diffcult to distinguish from actual memories.
3.2.1 Democratic decision making in schools create a conducive school tone or
3.2.2 Parent involvement is crucial;
3.2.3 An Outcomes based approach is resource intensive;
3.2.4 Resources (computers and libraries) will make all the difference;
3.2.5 The department is not supporting teachers and therefore they are de-
3.2.6 Lack of learning is caused by the ill-discipline of learners;
3.2.7 Our classrooms are overcrowded (smaller class sizes);
3.2.8 It is difficult to achieve learner success in poverty stricken communities;
3.2.9 Learners are not at the level they should be when they get to our school
(no pre-school or nursery training; can’t read and write when they get to
secondary school); and
3.2.10 Teacher development will solve most of our performance problems
(teacher’s lack of subject content knowledge, etc.).
Often these untruths are covered within four arguments by dysfunctional schools,
namely (i) Resources, (ii) Outcomes, (iii) Accountability and (iv) Choice
My focus in this presentation was to reflect on what we, as teacherss, can do to
turn around the challenges we face in education. With this, I am not saying that
other stakeholders or constituencies are innocent, and teachers need to take all
the blame. Not at all!! But what I know is that the changes in education, and
particularly the success of our learners, will only happen through a collective
effort on the part of teachers (the contributions of others are periphery). We can
turn it around, we can make a difference, but it has to start from each individual
within this room. Each of us saying that ‘I can make a difference’, ‘I will make a
difference’ because ‘I want to make a difference’. Not because anyone else is
forcing or compelling me. We do have that window of opportunity to turn it
around ourselves. And it starts with what I call the ‘8 School Readiness
Components’ (SRC) in our schools – Sorting out our (i) Attendance (both
teachers and learners), (ii) Know and Understand our Teachers, (iii) Know and
Understand our Learners, (iv) Do proper Annual Planning in order to implement
those plans (not just for the department), (v) Have workable Timetabling that
utilises the best teachers for a particular situation, (vi) Have proper Quarterly
Teaching Schedules which are keeping us accountable every day of the school
year, (vii) Have an accountable Organogram based on skills and capacity, not
favouritism, and (viii) Ensure that we have, the first day of the school year all our
Teaching and Learning Support Material.
The detail of these 8 SRC and the 10 untruths will be a debate for another
I thank you!