Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Unions use learners as weapons

I've often been uneasy about Prof Jonathan Jansen's devastating attacks on our teachers. Whilst I affirm his view that an excellent education is the key to our liberation, I felt that his critique on the work ethic of teachers, especially unionised, black teachers were a bit unfair. [Of course, I come from the old school where teachers don't strike and where they either walked or drove around with bicycles] Jansen's view is that unions, (and I would qualify, SADTU) runs our schools.... to the ground. It seems to me, from what I've read of Jansen, that he argues that the children in our townships are the last of these teacher's concerns. Jansen is clear: the reason for our dismal Grade 12 results in black township schools are the teachers and unions.

Recently, we returned in a daze, from a glorious Soccerworld Cup. Schools were closed for 6 weeks. Many of us wondered about our Grade 12s, but also our Grade 11s because their results are critical for applications. Within one week after the school started, the teachers abandoned these students for meetings over a salary dispute. We hear from the unions that this is the 'strike season' and this is going to be a big one; the biggest teacher strike that we have seen, we are told. How can this be? Perhaps, I have to read Prof Jansen again. Its evident: the unions clearly don't flinch at putting our children's future at risk, moreso, in their view, its the education of our children, that are the cannonfodder to win their struggle. Let me put it more clearly: they use the education, in particular, of the poor and black children, as weapons in their struggle. [Teachers in most of the more affluent schools, decided not to strike; it's the teachers in the poorer areas, in the black areas, that go on strike] COSATU also affirms this by stating, 'the impact of a public service strike was unlike any other strike, because it affected everyone, especially the poor and most vulnerable, who were sorely dependant on government services for their daily survival'

Let me concede: I would be first in the battle lines to fight for higher salaries amongst teachers. Why? As indicated earlier, education is critical and therefore our teachers are perhaps one of the most important roleplayers in building a educated, free person, but also a strong nation. They are the ones that hold the key to information, to skills, indeed to power, as the mold the young lives. Yet, today in South Africa, it's the cricketers, the soccercoaches and rugbyplayers, who are paid obscene amoounts of money, to entertain us. Its the gangsters and stripclubowners in silky Italian suits, who capture the imagination of the media, as they cash in on assasinations, drug and humantrafficing. They are all over the printed and new media. In the meantime, our teachers are being treated with contempt by the current government's ministry of Education; they have to stand last in the line. It remains this reality that breeds anger amongst teachers, who are qualified for their calling, yet offered peanuts in return.

My concern here is however that I cannot, I cannot ever, support the usage of education or more specifically the future of our learners, i.e. our children, as a weapon, in their quest for higher salaries. Let explain: unions in the metal industry or in mining, can down tools and by such industrial action, hurt the profits of the bosses; they can close down the plant. The question is: who will be hurt in the strike where children are deprived of an opportunity to free themselves? Will it be the administrator or functionary at the Department of Education? Of course not. Their children already are in the better schools in the suburbs or studying overseas. How can unions justify the callous disregard for the future of our children, in particular the black, poor children? There has to be another way of making their demands heard. There has to be another, more pointed way of addressing the real enemy, i.e. the current government or the current policies which evidently collude with protecting the interest of the already rich and powerful. As teachers walk out of classrooms and leave black learners in the dark, they betray their calling, they betray the black child, whose key to life to power, is education. These teachers betray the trust that we as parents bestow upon them and they don't deserve the respect we afford them by virtue of their calling. They don't deserve to be taken as serious, as I suggested earlier.

Perhaps this post will offend some. I know it will offend friends and family. I am however convinced more and more, with Prof Jansen and others, that these actions of unions are indeed running our education to the ground. Moreso, they are destroying the future of our children. I think, this is criminal.
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