Speech by Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC President to the Congress of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)

25 September 2019, NASREC, Johannesburg

Comrade Magope Maphila, SADTU President and all National Office Bearers of SADTU
Comrade Zingiswa Losi, President of COSATU
Comrade Blade Nzimande, General Secretary of the SACP
All leaders of the Alliance formations present
Comrades and friends
adies and Gentlemen

It was an honour to receive this invitation to address you today and to say thank you to educators, who mould and shape our future generations.

I stand before you today to deliver this message about a country on the brink of hope and possibility. A country that stands at a crossroads and where every one of us will be asked to make choices to build the South Africa we want.

Comrades,

Building on the 2019 Manifesto of the governing party, the African National Congress, we announced during the June 2019 SONA that this government will be focusing on 7 priorities:

  • Economic transformation and job creation
  • Education, skills and health
  • Consolidating the social wage through reliable and quality basic services
  • Spatial integration, human settlements and local government
  • Social cohesion and safe communities
  • A capable, ethical and developmental state
  • A better Africa and world

All our efforts across all the spheres of government are directed towards achieving these overarching goals.

Within these overarching goals, we have decided to focus on five fundamental objectives for the next ten years:

  1. No person in South Africa will go hungry
  2. Our economy will grow at a much faster rate than our population
  3. Two million more young people will be in employment
  4. Our schools will have better educational outcomes and every ten year old will be able to read for meaning.
  5. Violent crime will be halved

We ask all sectors of society to partner with us and work together to achieve these goals which have the potential to radically transform our country.

Comrades,

All of us agree that education and access to quality education is fundamental for the growth and long-term success of this country.

Educators such as yourself have the tremendously important task of shaping the minds of impressionable young people and preparing them to make positive contributions to this world.

As Isithwalandwe/ Seaparankoe comrade Nelson Mandela said:

‘ Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’

Accepting the transformative power of education; let us all pledge here to commit ourselves to ensuring that the children and young people of South Africa receive the best education possible.

Having recognised that early childhood development (ECD) is a critical phase of a person’s development and acknowledging the importance of receiving foundational support for literacy and numeracy, government has transferred the responsibility for ECD to the Department of Basic Education. Government has also announced a second compulsory year of early learning before school.

This means that we are investing more in children’s formative years to ensure better literacy and numeracy outcomes in later years.

SADTU must become more active in the ECD field and work with government to develop the programmes that will ensure all children have access to quality learning from a young age.

Comrades, we all know that education can open the door to a better quality of life and future prosperity for years to come. In pursuit of creating a better life for all future generations, I announced that one of our goals, over the next ten years, is that all children must be able to read for meaning by the age of ten.

This goal is being taken forward by many initiatives, such as the Department of Basic Education’s “Primary School Reading Improvement Programme” which brings together range of support interventions to improve the quality of teaching of Home Language literacy as well as English as a First Additional Language. 

This programme will expand the assessment tools for teachers to ensure that they can offer support tailored according to the needs of individual learners.

Comrade Angie Motshekga has announced that government will adopt a National Reading Plan for Primary Schools and we urge comrades from SADTU to be involved at every stage of developing this plan.

In this room are some of the comrades with the most practical knowledge of how to promote reading, what factors inhibit reading and comprehension and what must be done to address such inhibitors. We can only learn from your knowledge and your involvement will enrich the Plan and its supporting strategies.

Comrades, our world is changing. The 4th Industrial Revolution is changing every aspect of our lives. South African children must be prepared for these technological advances.

We have already begun to structure our school curricula in a manner that takes into account that many of today’s jobs will either not exist or not exist in their current form in the next two decades. We have begun to teach our learners in a manner that prepares them for the changing world of work.

SADTU has an important role to play in an increasingly digitalised world. Not only must you comrades prepare yourselves for new technologies and new subjects but you must also prepare our young people for this new world. New technologies can have both positive and negative effects on young people and educators must be at the forefront of teaching children about both the possibilities and dangers of new technologies and media platforms.

In recognising that not all learners will attend universities, we have introduced technical occupational training in our curriculum, in addition to academic and technical vocational training.

Youth unemployment is one of our most significant challenges in this country and we have announced a range of initiatives to address it. One of these initiatives is a programme that is offered by some of our TVET colleges whereby, in collaboration with industries in the area, these colleges offer courses that develop the skills required by those industries. This gives graduates of these colleges a greater chance of finding jobs upon attaining their qualifications.

We need to massify such initiatives and I am extremely encouraged by the plan to “ establish National Schools of Specialisation or Focus Schools incrementally throughout the country in the medium- to long-term, to offer the new and other skills-based subjects, which include amongst others Aviation, Maritime, Engineering, Hospitality and Tourism, Arts as well as Mathematics and Science”  as announced by the minister of Basic Education in July 2019.

These specialised or focus schools will largely align with the special economic zones, already existing or announced, across the country and will thus respond to the skills needs of those special economic zones.

Comrades,

Educators are aware that too large a cohort of learners drop out of school before completing matric. SADTU itself estimates the dropout rate to be more than 40%, which is way too high. These drop outs are attributed to a number of socio-economic factors such as child-headed household and the need for young people to work and support their families.

Working together with trade unions, we have developed the national integrated assessment framework for grades 3, 6 and 9, which aims to identify and address challenges from an early age.

This system will empower teachers to introduce the necessary support and diversion programmes as soon as the need is identified and thereby reduce drop out rates.

We have spoken extensively about the scourge of gender based violence in our communities. A sad reality is that such heinous crimes also occur at schools and other places of learning.

Educators are often the best placed to notice where learners are victims or at risk and we urge you to speak out. This culture of silence empowers and enables perpetrators.

At the same time, we need a shift in society’s mindset to a culture that rejects patriarchy and recognises how gender stereotypes harm both boys and girls. Teachers, who have consistent contact with young people, are vital to changing mindsets and empowering young people to deal with harmful social relations.

However, too many teachers are overburdened and under-resourced. There is a duty on government to ensure that teachers are equipped and supported to play this role in our society.

Government strives to improve teaching conditions and school safety through increasing school infrastructure and ensuring that schools have proper fencing, burglar alarms and functioning relationships with local police and other services.

Minister Motshekga will give further details on how we can empower teachers and learners  through the Department of Basic Education’s awareness, prevention and support programmes on, e.g. gender based violence, sexual abuse, bullying and other forms of violence and intimidation.

Government is also aiming to improve the psychosocial support programmes that are available to educators and learners in our school system.

There are too many reports of sexual relationships between educators and learners. This abhorrent behaviour must be decisively addressed and the law must be allowed to take its course.

More worrying is the instances where teachers sexually assault learners. As with all cases of sexual assault, these crimes must be fully prosecuted and perpetrators must be subjected to  the full extent of the law.

For us to reach our goals and give effect to our priorities, we require a capable and developmental state.

We require public servants who are diligent and serve the people with honesty and integrity.

The overwhelming majority of SADTU-members are public servants, who work in a large number of public schools and hold the future of our country in their hands.

Government commits to continue supporting these most crucial public servants through improving the quality of teaching and improving the conditions under which they work.

We must all work harder to recruit more young people to the teaching profession. Attaining our goals means that we must have quality teachers in specific subjects, in all phases and in all geographic areas. Government provides support through the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme and we are looking into ways in which this programme can be expanded and streamlined.

One important area that we must pay deliberate attention to is ensuring that teachers are not over-concentrated in affluent or urban areas to the neglect of disadvantaged and/ or rural areas. All schools in all areas must have an adequate number of qualified teachers. Teacher unions must make work with government to make sure this happens.

We are also working on equipping teachers with the required skills to teach new technologies and foundational learning. Government cannot do this by ourselves and call on comrades in organised labour to support these endeavours.

The increased focus on new technologies and foundational learning will not detract from our drive to improve skills in all the other teaching disciplines. There must be skilled educators in all subjects, especially if we are going to succeed with our efforts to e.g. increase access to mother tongue learning and making history a compulsory subject.

Comrades, teachers are fundamental to our ongoing prosperity as a nation and if you are not there to guide young people and equip them to become productive and responsible members of society, we will not succeed.

To be in charge of shaping young minds is an enormous responsibility and I urge educators to  perform their duties with care and dedication.

We need to pay closer attention to how we hold all civil servants to account and this is especially important when it comes to educators. As you are so vital to our future success, we must hold you to high standards.

It is clear that we need a more comprehensive measurement to assess educators and identify where improvement is required. Let us all work together to develop a measurement and accountability mechanism that will enhance standards and outcomes in the education sector.

I thank you for your ongoing contribution to building our nation.

Amandla!