Speech of Professor James Keevy, Joint Education Trust CEO, during the UNIZULU, 7 May Graduation Ceremonies (second session).

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Speech of Professor James Keevy, Joint Education Trust CEO, during the UNIZULU, 7 May Graduation Ceremonies (second session).

Speech of Professor James Keevy, Joint Education Trust CEO, during the UNIZULU, 7 May Graduation Ceremonies (second session).


James Keevy, JET Education Services UniZulu, 7 May 20181


Chancellor – Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo

Chair of Council Ms Nomarashiya Caluza

Council Members

Vice-Chancellor Prof Xoliswa Mtose

UNIZULU Management (EXCO and MANCO)

Academic and Support Staff

President of Convocation and Alumni

Representatives from Mkhwanazi Traditional Authority

Chiefs of the Local Traditional Authorities/Ondabezitha

Mayors of District/Local Municipalities (if present)

Special Guests

Business partners Donors



1 This text draws on a presentation prepared by Jane Hofmeyr for the meeting of the International Teacher Task Force that took place in Ghana in 2017. Several aspects are further extracted from current JET research (see Paterson, Boka and Keevy 2017; Taylor and Shindler 2016; Ehren, Baxter, Paterson and Marera 2018) and implementation work with key actors in the South African education and training system, including DBE, DHET, SACE, teacher unions (specifically SADTU) and many others. Even so the views expressed in this text are my own and I take responsibility for any omissions. I certainly would like to encourage a debate on many of the points raised and will welcome such comments: james@jet.org.za


And most importantly, all the new teachers that will be qualifying today

Today is an important day for you – this goes without saying. It is an even more important juncture for South Africa. We need teachers, but not just any teachers. We need well qualified and professional teachers that are able to break the vicious cycle our country is caught in.

The damage caused by apartheid education policies have cut deep, so deep that after 24 years of democracy we still find ourselves stuck in a situation in which the vast majority of our children are under performing.

International studies, such as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) (PIRLS 2016), shows us that we are scraping the bottom of the barrel, with many countries easily outperforming South Africa. Another measure that demonstrates this alarming situation are the results of the Annual National Assessments (ANA); 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 9 Mathematics results which were mostly in the single digit percentages.

In April I was privileged to visit teachers’ colleges in Jamaica and also the School of Education at the University of the West Indies. I found young and committed teachers being trained in well organised and disciplined institutions, working in schools that are efficient and conducive to learning, even if far less resourced that many of our schools and teacher training institutions. Trainee teachers wear uniforms – yes, uniforms. They exit school at Grade 11 to complete a four-year B.Ed, very similar to our B.Ed here in South Africa, and often end up attending teacher colleges in the same communities they grew up in; and just as often, they end up going back to the same schools in which they were taught as teachers. I am not saying we need to do the same, but there is something that Jamaica is doing right, notably at the level of early childhood development, and we need to to take this seriously. Let me get back to Jamaica again a bit later, but for now, let’s talk about South Africa.

Ngakho-ke yini okudingeka siyenze?
[So what do we need to do?]

Is there a silver bullet that we can apply that will fix this problem once and for all?

Unfortunately the problem is complicated, but hopefully not intractable. This problem is however manifesting on our watch – I want to emphasise that this is our watch, together with your lecturers, the leadership of Unizulu, the more than 400,000 teachers we have in South Africa, and many researchers and education officials. Our progress has been painfully slow. Generations of children are getting locked into a vicious cycle of low quality or no early childhood education, low quality primary schooling, low quality high schooling, dropping out, becoming unemployed. The lucky few are able to access TVET Colleges and the even luckier few, universities. Next to this group, we find the privileged class (which, by the way, is less and less classified by race) that receive good ECD, good primary schooling, good secondary schooling, are able to access programmes of their choice at TVET Colleges and universities, and are highly employable (Spaull 2015). Their children benefit, in turn, from the virtuous cycle, while the children of the disadvantaged remain locked into a vicious cycle.

The challenge we face is multidimensional and requires a sophisticated approach. Some elements we know about and can address. And this is what I would like to discuss with you 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.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The Department of Basic Education, together with the Department of Higher Education and Training, currently under the leadership of Ministers Motshekga and Pandor, are making a real difference. One of the tools they use was agreed to in 2010 – the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa – and it sets out key priorities for teacher education up to 2025. Building on the Strategic Framework, there are three interrelated key concepts I would like to bring to your attention today. Each has a bearing on you as a teacher committed to the transformation of our education system. Each, in my view, when viewed on its own and in relation to the other concepts, provides a very important lever to improve the quality of education in South Africa.

This is not an straightforward discussion, and will challenge you as a person, a citizen, and as a teacher. These three key concepts are VALUES, ACCOUNTABILITY and PROFESSIONALISM. They are interrelated, yet also distinct. Using the metaphor that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, I would like to argue that the interrelationality between VALUES, ACCOUNTABILITY and PROFESSIONALISM provides us with a critical conceptual framework through which we can make a real difference to the education system in South Africa. In fact, I would argue that we are already implicitly working in all three areas, but we have not explicitly benefited from an understanding of their interrelationality.

Let’s look at the first of these concepts, namely VALUES.

My first question to you all, graduandi, parents, siblings and lecturers, is to ask you to think about your own VALUES. Linking VALUES to our spiritual convictions may be easier to do, but what about more cross-cutting VALUES that can be directly linked to being a good and efficient teacher?

Since early 2016 JET has been exploring the link between employability and work-based VALUES in South Africa. The research builds on a VALUES-based intervention in the Kenyan schooling system, and has also involved a range of roleplayers in South Africa, as well as in the United States. The ultimate aim of the research is to impact on the policy decision to introduce work-based VALUES as part of students’ work exposure programmes in order to improve the South African TVET system, , which, in turn, can potentially improve youth employability; but there is also a direct link to teaching. Research, such as by Torrance and Ford (2017), show us that teaching is a VALUES-BASED PROCESS in which teachers draw on bodies of knowledge, professional skills and qualities.

VALUES are artefacts of a cultural process that immerses the individual. VALUES matter, and I would add, the VALUES of our teachers matter even more, because they inform motivations and intentions; hence they shape human action in almost any behavioural setting (Paterson 2017). VALUES are also an essential component of a professional culture (Evans 2011). In turn, professional culture is the foundation for professional commitment.

South Africa is a society in the process of deepening post-apartheid democracy and combating historically high levels of unemployment in the wake of the great recession. Several value-based issues are current in public debates in South Africa: democratic VALUES; VALUES of social cohesion; VALUES of ACCOUNTABILITY; and work VALUES (e.g. employers observe deficiencies in work VALUES among young first time job entrants). South Africa’s TVET Colleges are predominantly attended by marginalised Black African youth who have dropped out of school, do not qualify to enter higher education and are at high risk of unemployment. Importantly, as recognised by the OECD, the challenge in South Africa is greater than other emerging economies with over three million young people disengaged from education and work. Failure to integrate these youth into the labour market

poses a significant threat to social cohesion in the country.

VALUES matter because they inform motivations and intentions, and hence they do shape behaviour. Worker behaviour is ultimately the most important input into workplace efficiency, enterprise productivity and competitiveness. VALUES are an important predictor of human behaviour. Employers therefore pay close attention to the workplace VALUES that prospective and current employees express. All other things being equal, the congruence between VALUES expressed by a workseeker and the firm are an important factor affecting employer’s judgements/assessment as to the employability of workseekers.

JET’s approach in its study on work related VALUES (Paterson, Boka and Keevy 2017) acknowledges that VALUES acquisition is part of the process of individual identity formation. It recognises a need to distinguish between shared or common VALUES such as honesty and VALUES such as ACCOUNTABILITY which seem to be particularly highly prized by employers. Given this level of complexity, the existence of a significant causal link between value transmission and employability may be difficult to demonstrate. However, in our view, it would be worthwhile to explore which VALUES teacher graduates have acquired and the extent to which the presence of these VALUES contributes to their employability and PROFESSIONALISM.

Some of the work-based VALUES we are investigating include:

  • Respect
  • Grit
  • Integrity
  • Reliability
  • Self-improvement

Yimaphi kulawa amaxabiso abalulekile kuwe njengomfundisi omusha? [Which of these VALUES are important to you as a new teacher? ]

This leads me to a brief discussion on the second concept I would like to leave with you, namely ACCOUNTABILITY.

Darling-Hammond (1989) makes an important distinction between two types of ACCOUNTABILITY:

  • Bureaucratic ACCOUNTABILITY: This focuses on uniformity and standardisation of instruction and on holding teachers accountable for compliance through policies and regulations, systems, inspections, , and involves government regulating teachers’ conduct.
  • Professional ACCOUNTABILITY: This focuses on meeting the individual needs of our children, holding teachers accountable for acting in the best interests of the children, and requiring teachers to have specialised knowledge and uphold professional standards of practice – in this scenario, the profession is the custodian of these standards and ensures

The two forms of ACCOUNTABILITY are both needed and are complementary to each other. A problem arises when the one, usually bureaucratic ACCOUNTABILITY, dominates at the expense of the other, usually professional ACCOUNTABILITY.

Research clearly shows that lack of ACCOUNTABILITY in an education system becomes a binding constraint on improving the quality of education (RESEP 2016; Ehren 2017). Research also shows

that the teaching corps comprises two types of teachers – those who “won’t do” and those who “can’t do” (Elmore 2004; CDE 2017). The first type are clearly a problem, but it is the second type that is of interest in South Africa especially. The “can’t do” teachers are in this situation largely due to inadequate training and professional development. In South Africa, this applies largely to cohorts of Black teachers trained during apartheid, following inferior certificate programmes, with little or no focus on pedagogy and weak subject content. While all teachers must be held accountable for meeting basic job requirements, professional conduct and compliance with regulations, the “can’t do” teachers must be supported and professionally developed to improve their teaching.

ACCOUNTABILITY, be it bureaucratic or professional and applicable to “won’t do” and “can’t do” teachers, lies at the heart of PROFESSIONALISM (Darling-Hammond 1989). ACCOUNTABILITY is required for quality service – to learners, the public and fellow professionals. While our “can’t do” teachers certainly have some leeway to grow in 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, but that has become entrenched in some cases, and more so, has become an excuse to teach badly without being accountable.

Lokhu akwamukelekile
[This is no longer acceptable.]

Having introduced you to VALUES which matter because they inform motivations and intentions, I moved to ACCOUNTABILITY that matters because it is required for teaching of an acceptable quality. I now move to the last link in this chain, namely PROFESSIONALISM.

As you would have noted, PROFESSIONALISM is firmly linked to both VALUES and ACCOUNTABILITY.

PROFESSIONALISM is more than a performative function – how teachers teach and what they do (Beck 2009). It includes attitudinal aspects – how teachers think and what attitudes and VALUES they hold. According to Evans (2011), 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 (Evans 2011).

Let’s build on this a bit more. Professions, such as lawyers, doctors and accountants, but also teachers, share a few common features (Darling-Hammond 2014). First, they share a moral commitment on the part of their members to the welfare of those they serve. Secondly, the members share a common body of theoretical and empirical knowledge and skills. This second feature is particularly weakly developed for the teaching profession, which in many instances does not yet have a shared knowledge base. This is particularly true in South Africa, where different debates and dominant theories compete with each other at the expense of a commonly agreed approach which has been allowed to grow and develop over years.

Thirdly, professions are able to define, communicate and enforce standards of professional practice for their members.

This last feature of teaching as a profession is an important lever for change that is currently being championed by South African Council for Educators (SACE). As a mature profession, teaching should control the standards for accreditation, licensing and certification of its members to uphold the quality of the profession. The notion of “once registered, always registered” as a teacher is obsolete and should be corrected. But the challenge has been that we have not been able to address

PROFESSIONALISM without a set of agreed professional teaching standards.

SACE is the body officially tasked with upholding the quality of the teaching profession. In terms of legislation (Act 31 of 2000), SACE is mandated to set, maintain and protect ethical and professional standards for educators, and amongst other matters, advise the Minister on the following:

  • the minimum requirements for entry to all the levels of the profession;
  • the standards for programmes of pre-service and in-service educator education;
  • the requirements for promotion within the education system; and
  • educator

In accordance with its mandate, in late 2016 SACE set up a Standards Development Working Group of representatives of all key stakeholders: education departments; statutory bodies; teacher unions and associations; independent schools; education faculties of HEIs; educators; and researchers to develop professional standards for educators. The result is 10 proposed professional teaching standards that outline what is expected of educators in terms of professional teaching practices and ethical conduct. The proposed standards describe in broad terms what an educator must know and be able to do to provide quality learning opportunities for all learners. Educators must possess the knowledge, skills and attributes required for professional practice and conduct and apply them appropriately toward student learning. The standards comprise the minimum of what is expected of all pre-service and in-service teachers across all phases, subject specialisations, job descriptions and institutions. However, while the standards are designed to be relevant to all educators irrespective of their length of service, they are to be interpreted in relation to the context, role and career stage of each individual educator.

Some examples of the standards include:

  • Teaching is based on an ethical commitment to the learning and wellbeing of all
  • Teachers are committed to ensuring that learners are given the support they need for equitable access to learning
  • Teaching requires that well-managed and safe learning environments are created and
  • Teaching is fundamentally connected to teachers’ understanding of the subject/s they
  • Teachers understand that language plays an important role in teaching and
  • Teachers understand how their subjects are taught and learnt

The professional teaching standards act as a beacon or lighthouse (Rusnyak and Kimathi 2018) for the rest of the system, including initial teacher education, continuing professional development, induction, appraisals and promotion in what is referred to as the “cycle of schooling” (Taylor 2017).

Now we have come full circle in this discussion. We have noted that VALUES influence accountability. PROFESSIONALISM and ACCOUNTABILITY improve teaching quality. VALUES are an essential component of a professional culture and commitment. VALUES and ACCOUNTABILITY lie at the heart of PROFESSIONALISM, with professional teaching standards as an important tool through which VALUES, PROFESSIONALISM and ACCOUNTABILITY can be defined and upheld.

As newly qualified teachers I would like to leave you with some questions then:

  • What are your core values as a teacher?
  • How will you interact with “can’t do” and “won’t do” teachers as you encounter them in the

schools you teach?

  • Will you be accountable and also hold your peers accountable?

And lastly, a challenge to you to interact with the DBE, SACE, teacher unions and other roleplayers as the professional teaching standards will be consulted on and rolled out in the next 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.

Teachers in Jamaica are well trained and set an important example for us in South Africa. The saying often used in Jamaica is “we are likkle, but we are tallawah”, loosely translated to mean “we are small, but we punch well above our weight”.

May your teaching career be a lifelong journey as a teacher with strong VALUES, a teacher that is ACCOUNTABLE, and a teacher that is acts PROFESSIONALLy at all times. Help us to break the vicious cycle today, not in the next 25 years.

Be an example to those that will follow in your footsteps.

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