Keynote Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the National General Council of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)

Emperors Palace, Kempton Park, Gauteng, 04 October 2022

Programme Director,

President of SADTU, Cde Magope Maphila,

General Secretary of SADTU, Cde Mugwena Maluleke, General Secretary of COSATU, Cde Solly Phetoe, General Secretary of the SACP, Cde Solly Mapaila, All National Office Bearers of SADTU, Minister of Basic Education, Mme Angie Motshekga, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, Delegates, Comrades and friends,

I am honoured to have been invited to this National General Council of SADTU.

Tomorrow, the 5th of October, we will mark World Teachers’ Day, when we reflect on and celebrate the important role played by teachers throughout the world in advancing human progress.

Teachers are responsible for the development of our country’s most valuable resource – our children.

More than any mineral or natural asset, more than any product or industry, the children of this country will shape our future and determine our fortunes.

That places a great responsibility on teachers to educate and prepare our children well.

It also places a great responsibility on the rest of society to support, respect and celebrate our teachers.

This NGC takes place at an important time for our country, for our education system and for the teaching profession.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has severely tested the capacity of the state and the resilience of our people, it has also required us to craft new ways of doing things and has opened up new pathways to progress.

The economic and social impact of the pandemic has been devastating, significantly worsening the country’s employment crisis.

To address the challenge of youth unemployment while the economy recovers, we established the Presidential Employment Stimulus to provide work and livelihood opportunities mainly to the unemployed.

This initiative has now reached more than a million participants.

More than 60 per cent of these participants are women and more than 80 per cent are young people.

Alongside the creation of these opportunities, the Presidential Employment Stimulus has also been making a difference in several areas of development.

One of the most significant areas of impact has been in our schools.

In the largest programme supported by the stimulus, over 600,000 young people have been placed as school assistants in over 22,000 schools.

The reports we have received from school management, teachers and other stakeholders have said that these school assistants have made a positive contribution to the learning environment in schools.

Not only have these young people been capacitated, empowered and given meaningful work experience, but many of them have also discovered a passion for teaching and aim to study further.

We appreciate SADTU’s continued support for this programme and would appreciate the union’s views on how to improve the reach and impact of this initiative.

The education sector is facing a number of challenges.

Incidents of violence, abuse and bullying in our schools are a grave concern.

Incidents of racism are greatly distressing and show that there is still resistance among some people to the gains that this democratic order has achieved.

We are concerned about the apparent increase in incidents of violence against teachers and learners, often perpetrated by criminals who come into schools.

We need to work together, across society, to ensure that our schools are safe.

This means that SGBs, CPFs, communities, local businesses, unions and the police need to work together to ensure that every single school in the country is a place where educators and learners feel secure and safe.

As we work to ensure that schools are suitable places for learning, we need to equip them for the challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As we undertake far-reaching reforms to our telecommunications industry and increase our investment in infrastructure, we need to ensure that schools and other educational facilities are the first beneficiaries of ICT infrastructure.

We call on the private sector to work with us to invest in the upgrading, modernisation and expansion of our school infrastructure to benefit all learners, particularly in under-served areas.

In a world that is becoming increasingly digital, SADTU has a significant role to play in ensuring that its members are ready for new technology and new subjects as part of our shared effort to get our learners ready for this new world.

Teachers need to educate learners about the benefits and risks associated with emerging media and technology.

We understand that the Teacher Union Collaboration that is responsible for equipping our teachers with the skills and capabilities to implement coding and robotics in schools is being well received by teachers.

We commend SADTU for the role it is playing in the training of 32,000 of our teachers in this regard.

As the basic education sector, we need to work collaboratively with the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation to advance the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our education system.

Our higher education institutions can do much more to prepare educators to teach the new subjects offered as part of the three-stream model.

The education sector is critical to our country’s economic growth and we have to ensure that our educators are fully equipped with the skills and tools that they need.

Another significant development is the move of the early childhood development function from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education.

This means that the educational development of the child should now be a continuous process from their earliest years to when they are ready and equipped to leave school.

If we are to improve reading and numeracy outcomes in later years, we need to invest more in children’s formative years.

As a revolutionary union, SADTU must lead in ensuring that our education system transforms the economy and improves the social conditions of our learners.

That is where the three-stream model adds great value.

While our education system must produce doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers and teachers, it must also produce carpenters, welders, boilermakers, mechanics and plumbers.

It must produce IT specialists, coders, programmers and technicians.

It must produce entrepreneurs and innovators.

These are the skills any growing economy needs.

They are the skills that support industrialisation.

We call on SADTU to help raise awareness about the opportunities provided by vocational training.

We must encourage our learners acquiring these skills to pursue paths of entrepreneurship and self-employment.

Our focus should be on creating opportunities for young people to be absorbed into the labour market.

As we prepare to mark World Teachers’ Day, I once again express our nation’s gratitude to the members of SADTU and all educators for their courage and commitment in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers took it upon themselves to ensure that learning went ahead even under the most difficult of circumstances.

And teachers have been working hard, alongside school management, department officials, parents and learners, to make up for the lost time.

Let us use this occasion to appreciate and celebrate the dedicated teaching force that we have in this country.

We commend the vital contribution teachers make to our future by nurturing and shaping the minds of the young.

Throughout this difficult period, our teachers have become symbols of resilience and have remained loyal to their calling – to educate the leaders of tomorrow.

We remember and pay tribute to all the teachers who succumbed to COVID-19.

In their honour, we must do everything possible to guarantee the safety of teachers and ensure that the teaching and learning environment remains conducive at all times.

In their honour, we must celebrate the excellence and dedication of those teachers who spare absolutely nothing of themselves in the effort to build a new society underpinned by a better life for all.

In acknowledging and celebrating these outstanding patriots who have the responsibility to shape our collective future, we are encouraging them to continue and to never become weary.

We look to the teachers of this country to help develop a citizenry that will be able to both grapple with the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We look to the educators to empower learners with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to take informed decisions that promote environmental sustainability, economic development and a just society.

More than any other sector, it is teachers who are the midwives for a new breed of patriotic citizens who are conscious of their duty to their country and fellow citizens; a new generation that will refuse to engage in crime, corruption and gender-based violence.

As with all the teachers of our country, the members of SADTU carry a great and noble responsibility.

It is a responsibility that you continue to perform with pride, dignity and diligence.

I wish you a successful and productive National General Council.

I thank you.