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The new school curriculum and the exam system have both been blamed for the dismal findings of a recent research report into first-year university students. However, the Democratic Alliance's single biggest priority for South African education is to break the strangle-hold of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) over the schooling system.
All the positive initiatives for improving the system will mean nothing unless there is buy-in from teachers. Sadtu represents 67% of all teachers and its approach is to constantly undermine any effort to improve the performance of teachers.
Sadtu marches in the streets and threatens bloodshed about wages and benefits but it does nothing to demand of non-performing teachers that they arrive on time and leave on time and do their jobs.
This approach creates a poisonous ethos which favours apathy, mediocrity and neglect. Leaving aside the former Model C schools, which are a unique part of the broader South African education environment, there are many good teachers in public schools. But they exist not because they are products of this ethos, but because they are exceptions.
The Department of Education must be doing everything that it can to break this power by, for example:
Holding Sadtu responsible for the financial consequences of damaging protests; Demanding a plan from Sadtu to monitor teachers' attendance at school - arriving on time is the most basic requirement for a teacher, but many still do not. Requiring Sadtu to take strong action against teachers who contravene their code of conduct.
This does not mean in any way that the rights of teachers who do their jobs should be undermined. Good teachers work hard, and deserve to be paid much more than they are paid now. But Sadtu should not be allowed to get away with standing up for the rights of teachers who do not do their jobs.