By Nomonde Mnukwa
Most of us have stories about a teacher or teachers who have had a great influence in our lives. These teachers not only taught us in class but were instrumental in instilling good values and became our mentors and counsellors. Throughout our history, teachers have taken the lead in inspiring generations of students to be the best they can be and have contributed to building an informed society.
The hard work and important role played by teachers should be celebrated throughout the year and not only in October when we commemorate National Teachers’ Month. Currently thousands of learners are busy writing the 2023 National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams, under the watchful eye of teachers, who have helped to prepare them for the final leg of their school career, and who continue to play a crucial part in government’s effort to reverse the legacy of apartheid education we inherited in 1994.
It is no secret that the apartheid government denied both black teachers and learners quality education and provided them with limited resources. Hendrik Verwoerd who was the architect of apartheid wanted black people to be made "hewers of wood and drawers of water" irrespective of their abilities and aspirations. The policies of the apartheid government affected not only learners but the quality of teachers as well.
As government, we are encouraged that we have since 1994 made progress in addressing the educational inequalities we inherited. We have successfully merged the racially separate education departments and ensured that both learners and teachers are provided with necessary resources to adequately prepare for the future.
We are encouraged that over 800 000, mostly full-time pupils in 2023, have registered for the NSC exams. The increase in the number of candidates did not happen by chance but as a result of years of planning and hard work by committed teachers who want nothing but the best for their learners.
Government salutes teachers who continue to go the extra mile and contribute in improving the quality of education in the country. We also wish the Class of 2023 well over the next few weeks and into the future.
Teachers are our greatest assets and as government we will continue to recognise them for their outstanding work. For instance, in October this year, we held the National Teaching Awards in Thaba Tshwane, Pretoria where teachers received awards for their excellence and they represented the diverse nature of schools across the country in a variety of categories.
These included though not limited to, Excellence in Grade R Teaching, Excellence in Primary School Teaching, Excellence in Secondary School Teaching, Excellence in Secondary School Leadership as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Delivering the keynote address at the event, Deputy President Paul Mashatile highlighted the important role teachers play in developing a society. “Educators play a critical role in building the foundations upon which every society exists.” He added: “The task of a teacher is manifold – not only are you imparting knowledge, but you are also shaping characters, instilling values, and crafting the future leaders of our country.”
The awards took place after the release of the country’s ten-year review on the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP is our collective plan to build a prosperous South Africa as envisioned in the Constitution.
The review shows that South Africa has made notable progress in improving access to education and redressing the injustices of apartheid. We have expanded support for Early Childhood Development Centres, provided ICT equipment and connectivity that will prepare learners for the 4th Industrial Revolution and daily meals to over 9 million learners through the National School Nutrition Programme. This has resulted in close to 100 per cent attendance by children until at least the age of 15.
We have also exceeded the NDP target of 190 000 Bachelor level passes set for 2024. In 2021, 256 031 (36,4 per cent) learners obtained a Bachelor level pass. This achievement is thanks to hard working teachers who go above and beyond in their work and give their time without question.
Although the quality of education has improved when compared with other middle-income countries, the review reveals that we need to redouble our efforts in order to compete with the best in the world.
As government, we have given priority to some of the shortcomings highlighted in the review to ensure that we live up to our commitment to improve the lives of people through education. We are moving with speed to provide school infrastructure and ensure appropriate sanitation across the country.
Since 2018, 2 871 schools have been provided with sanitation facilities through the Sanitation Appropriate for Education programme, known as SAFE programme while 15,000 appropriate toilets were also constructed at 1,047 schools through the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative – ASIDI. About 511 schools are at various stages of implementation and DBE plans to provide these with sanitation facilities by end of the 2023/24 financial year.
We appeal to learners to look after infrastructure in their schools and to refrain from destroying, vandalising or burning schools. The destruction of educational infrastructure disadvantages our children and undermines the country’s effort to provide quality education.
We all have the collective responsibility to honour the legacy of teachers who ensure that every child is educated irrespective of background or circumstances.
*Mnukwa is the Acting Director-General of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)