Teach our children well? If only our teachers could

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If a privately owned company was owed R122-million by its own staff I have no doubt that its shareholders would kick up a huge fuss and would send the entire board of directors and the executive management team packing.

How could they possibly explain such behaviour to the shareholders in any plausible fashion – and what excuse could be used to justify such a chronic situation?

“We didn’t realise it was so much money. . . “ or  “The accounts department sent the invoices but they were never paid. . .”. Such excuses probably get spat out as quickly as the bee that’s flown into someone’s open mouth.

Yet this is precisely what has happened within the Gauteng Provincial Government and, worse still, of the R122-million outstanding to the province, R71,1-million has to be written off because it’s just no longer recoverable.  The people who owe the money have died, left the service, are unemployed or untraceable.

The acting finance MEC for the province, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza confirmed that the figures were correct and said that because of the staff debt, some service delivery projects for province could simply not be undertaken, let alone completed.

Mayathula-Khoza’s spokesman, John Sukazi said that in the 2012/13 financial year, staff debt recoveries reached R42-million. Yet it’s still owed R122-million.  Just how much money is the Gauteng Province lending to its people?

I’d like to be able to pop along to the finance department and borrow a fat wad of cash myself.  Then when I’ve got it, I’d quit my job go to another province and set myself up in a new business applying for tenders on government projects.

Mayathula-Khoza apparently told the Democratic Alliance’s spokesman Mike Moriarty that the debt arose largely from bursaries that were granted to staff over the years.  But no-one can actually be sure that this was the case.

I’d think that everyone in South Africa welcomes any initiative that is aimed at further education and training whether it is for the older folk around or if it is for the school leavers who are battling to find jobs because a simple matric certificate is not enough to get you into a decent career.

Certainly, too, state support through education and training grants are part of the natural investment that is needed in the future of this country and its people.  But there must be some sort of certainty that if money is lent to an employee – whether for a bursary, a housing loan or a personal crisis – this money must be adequately secured so there is some guarantee it will be repaid in time.

Otherwise it must be treated as a grant and given away.

I accept that it’s pretty tough to get a decent education in South Africa in most public schools today. Some of them – like Wynberg Boys, Pretoria Boys, King Edward or Durban Boys – are still top schools, providing quality education.  But there are hundreds if not thousands more that are shockingly bad.

So who could blame any public sector employee for wanting to take advantage of a government bursary scheme so his or her child – or for that matter, for themselves – could get better training?

But the moral responsibility to repay borrowed money – for whatever purpose it was needed – remains intact.  Borrow it and you must pay it back.

The next oddity regarding South Africa’s education system that arose in the last week or two was that Cyril Ramaphosa – billionaire and ANC deputy president – called for competency tests for all teachers working for the government.

Then, in virtually the same breath, he qualifies his statement with an almost inane comment:  “We blame teachers but it’s not the teacher’s fault.  Their competency in teaching bad because these teachers were poisoned by the apartheid system.”

Why is it inane?

The teachers were employed by ANC ‘comrades’ based on their competence and qualification. If these teachers were not competent, why were they employed? A teacher is either competent (and deserves the job) or is incompetent (and deserves to be sacked).  No if’s, no but’s and no maybe’s.

There is surely a set of standard criteria applied during the selection process when a graduate applies for a job as a teacher? Surely, too, as the curriculum changes and grows, so these teachers undergo professional development courses to make sure they understand the subject and are equipped to teach it.

So there are now a few things that really bother me:

  • Public servants are borrowing money ostensibly for bursaries for their children – although this is never truly tested – so they can get a better education and then the parents are not repaying it and nobody’s actually bothered.
  • Thousands of the teachers who are teaching our children are patently incompetent and there is no ongoing competency testing once they have a job.  The selection criterion seems to be based on something farcical like if you look like a teacher, you’ll get the job.

I think that everyone in South Africa agrees the level of education must improve and that the poor standards of education are deeply worrying.  Most people also share the notion that if you borrow money you have a legal and moral responsibility to repay it.

But then we have government officials, union leaders and even politicians leaping to the defence of those that borrowed money or those that do an appallingly bad job by saying it’s not their fault.

And that’s the real problem because, in my book anyway the reality is:

  • If you borrow anything – money, a library book or a cup of mealie meal – give it back;
  • If you are not qualified to do a job, give it up and do something else.

Just remember, that thousands of young, inquisitive and intelligent children are losing out on a proper education every year. And, importantly, its the South African system that is creating these generations of uneducated school children who are, in many ways, even worse position than their parents. And that’s the real travesty.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.