The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) extend its regards to the learners, our children, in the Basic Education ahead of schools reopening and wish them a fruitful academic year.
Young people are the future, and if our future shall be bright, it is by investing in the youth. Education is one of the most important investments for a better future, for individual families, the country and humanity as a whole.
Higher prices on school essentials
SAFTU is however concerned that retail stores tend to inflate prices of uniform and stationery at this period of the year, hoping to multiply their profits at the expense of customers.
Unfortunately, this is disadvantageous to many customers who are working class parents and earn meagre wages. Particularly in the last 2 years, workers’ wages have largely remained stagnant in real terms, whilst food, fuel, transport and municipal service costs have increased significantly.
Media reports have detailed examples of parents complaining about prices and lamenting the combined money they have spent on uniform, lunch packs and transport for their children. Petrol price has increased by more than 42.4% in the past 12 months from R13.76 in December 2020 to R19.30 in January 2022, food inflation hovered above 6% for the whole of 2021, and in November 2021, private transport inflation was at 27.9% whilst public transport general prices were at 8.3%.
SAFTU urges working class parents to remember children of Clover workers. Clover workers have entered their second month without pay as they strike against factory closures, retrenchments and wage cuts. In buying the school lunch packs for their children, SAFTU appeals with parents to #Boycott_Clover_Products i.e., not buy clover products.
Boycotting clover products will be a revolutionary act of class solidarity and perhaps even the most decisive factor, second to factory occupation, in pressurising Clover to accede to the demands of its employees. But at the most elementary level, this (boycott) is a good humanely gesture that we cannot allow children of Clover workers return to school without school uniform, lunch packs, transport fare and electricity to warm their bath water in the morning.
SAFTU further urges all workers to also spare a thought for millions of other workers who have lost their jobs and are trapped in a structural unemployment crisis. Their children will, to the detriment of their self-esteem, be attending school with pink and happy socks.
Challenges in the education system
Interruptions that came with Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 have inconvenienced learners who are already disadvantaged by the faults in the public education system. The problems in schools that on the face value may be associated with Covid-19 pandemic, are at the core, problems of the system ― the neoliberal capitalist system.
For instance, that Covid-19’s social distancing requirements have compelled schools to adjust to a rotational system is a problem of the system and not of Covid-19. In the first place, if there was adequate spending on education, schools would have already adapted to lower Learner-to-Teacher (LET) ratio, of at least 20:1, which is acceptable by international standards, but also proved on practical level to be convenient for a productive classroom environment.
Rather than being (rotational system) an “inconvenience” of the pandemic, as government would have us believe, it would have been an advantage for conducive learning environment. In the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS), expenditure on basic education will be cut by R2.8 billion between 2021/2022 and 2023/2024 financial years, and R3.9 billion budget cut will be imposed on the remuneration of education personnel in the same period.
The unfortunate consequences of these budget cuts is attrition (reduction of the headcount falling mainly on teachers). This is despite Professor Martin Gustafsson predicting that in order to move to an LET of 25:1, we will need extra 100 000 teachers in the system. On the contrary, attrition has already affected about 6 000 posts in KwaZuluNatal Education Department, with about 18 000 teaching posts not filled nationally.
In addition, these budget cuts causes backlog on school infrastructure, lack of Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM), ablution facilities, etc. In fact, there are 17,832 schools with no libraries, 19,840 with no natural science laboratories and 15,584 that have no computer laboratories/centres.
perpetual crisis resulting from the budget cuts and the incompetence of education managers threatens successful completion of academic years on annual basis, which in turn hinders the successful completion of a learning cycle for most learners. Hence, estimates point out that 4 out of every 10 learners who enter schooling, do not complete matric. Minister of Education, National Officials, MECs and Provincial Officials are busy visiting schools to check “state of school readiness.”
In reality, the state of readiness they are referring to is limited to confirming whether stationery has arrived, and if schools (few of those that will get the visit) appear tidied. They are hypocrites running schools to the ground, whilst taking their children to independent schools. The real state of readiness ― that require adequate infrastructure (number of classrooms, libraries, natural science laboratories, ramps for full service schools), availability of LTSM (sufficient number of textbooks for all subjects, desks, chairs and tables, computers, etc) and adequate number of personnel (educators and security) ― is far from being met. And at the rate with which neoliberal austerity is being implemented, schools will never be ready to teach our children with patience, excellence and competence, the results of which should be quality education.
SAFTU calls for more spending on education and other social services so that 70% of the population that rely on public services can receive quality services from education to health, from social development to policing and correction services. Extrapolating from Professor Martin Gustafsson’s preliminary calculations, SAFTU demands government to lower the Learner-to-Teacher ratio from 33:1 to 20:1, and hire 200 000 more teachers. This will lift the load off teachers, allowing them to have less stressful teaching environment, more interaction with their learners and feedback driven teaching, as opposed to the current situation where they race to finish curriculum coverage at the expense of quality learning.