Teaching Graduands Told of Profession’s Rules to Live By

In order to break the vicious cycle that South Africa finds itself caught in, it does not need just any teachers, but those that are well qualified and professional and thus able to assist the country in breaking the chains it currently finds itself shackled in.

This was the sentiment of Dr James Keevy, Chief Executive Officer at JET Education Services, during the UNIZULU Faculty of Education’s graduation ceremony yesterday (Tuesday, 8 May 2018). Dr Keevy is a policy researcher who works in the education and training sector. He has conducted and overseen various initiatives related to national, regional and international qualifications frameworks in Africa and also further afield.

Delivering his address as a guest speaker, Dr Keevy; who was addressing soon to be graduating teachers, said the damage caused by apartheid education policies have “cut so deep” that 24 years post democracy, South Africa still finds itself stuck in a situation in which the vast majority of its children are underperforming. “International studies such as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS 2016) show us that we are scrapping the bottom of the barrel with many countries easily outperforming South Africa. Another measure that demonstrates this alarming situation are the Annual National Assessment (ANA) results. While the ANAs were not uncontested in their own right, learner performance in these tests revealed that we have serious problems in reading and Mathematics. This shows most acutely when one looks at the Grade nine Mathematics results which were mostly in the single digit percentages,” said Dr Keevy.

Turning his focus on possible solutions for this challenge, Dr Keevy said while a silver bullet does not exist due to the complexity of the problem, a sophisticated approach is needed. “And this is what I would like to discuss this with you (graduands) today. I also want to challenge you as newly qualified teachers since you have a key role to play in the execution of such a strategy,” he said.

Building on the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa- an agreed to tool between the departments of Basic Education and Higher Education and Training- which sets out key priorities for teacher education up to 2025, Dr Keevy spoke on three key concepts which he said have a crucial bearing on teachers who aught be committed to the transformation of the country’s education system and agenda.

“Each (one of the three concepts) in my opinion when viewed on its own and in relation to the other concepts provides a very important level to improve the quality of education in South Africa. ‘Values’ is the first of these concepts. Research shows us that teaching is a values based process in which teachers draw on bodies of knowledge, professional skills and qualities. Values matter and I would add that the values of our teachers matter more because they inform motivations and intentions; hence they shape human action in almost any behavioural setting,” he said.

Accountability- which Dr Keevy said lies in the heart of professionalism- was named as the second concept. He said accountability, be it bureaucratic or professional, is required for quality service to learners, members of the public as well as fellow professionals. “While our ‘can’t do’ teachers certainly have some leeway to grow their accountability, ‘won’t do’ teachers simply do not have a place in our education system. We need to work with our teacher unions to actively address the problem that was in part caused by our need for forms of militancy during the apartheid years that has become entrenched in some cased and more so, an excuse to teach badly without being accountable. Lokhu akwamukelekile (this is no longer acceptable),” said Dr Keevy.

Linked to values and accountability, so said Dr Keevy, is professionalism which he emphasised is more than a performative function. “Professionalism includes attitudinal aspects- how teachers think and what attitudes and values they hold. Professionalism consists of intellectual, behavioural and attitudinal components. In short, professionalism is seen as the identification and expression of what is required and expected of members of the teaching profession,” he said.

Dr Keevy challenged the newly qualified teachers to do some introspection and ask themselves what their core values are; how they would interact with fellow “can’t do” and “won’t do” colleagues as well as whether they would be accountable and hold their peers accountable once in the workforce.

“Lastly, I challenge you to interact with the Basic Education Department, SACE, teacher unions and other role players as the professional teaching standards will be consulted on and rolled out in the few years. These standards are more than what they seem. They represent the interface between values, accountability and professionalism and should be engaged with meaningfully. May your teaching career be a lifelong journey with strong values, accountability and professionalism at all times. Help us break the cycle today and not in the next 25 years,” said Dr Keevy.

– Sinegugu Ndlovu

Pictured: Dr James Keevy during his address on the graduation stage.