Address of the COSATU General Secretary to the COSATU Education and Skills Conference, 3 July 2012, Benoni
Education and Training is Embedded in Class Relations
Harry Gwala taught us that education is not class neutral and neither is the process of formulating ideas from which the necessity for education derives.
The institutions that shape, develop and maintain our consciousness such as culture, religion, politics, law or education are reflections of the world created by human activity and thus serve as the theoretical edifice that maintains and perpetuates the economic base that prevails in society.
The superstructure is the most contested terrain in class society, but often remains in the clutches of the ruling class because, as Marx put it, "the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force".
The ideas of propertied classes permeate all society because of the material resources the ruling class is able to deploy to this effect, whilst the ideas of the subjugated classes barely find resonance even with their owners. Ruling classes control what is considered ‘common sense’.
Contrary to what we are led to believe, the dominant ideas in society are not neutral. They are primarily the views of classes and strata who cannot afford to advance them as representing their own interests and thus they pass them off as ‘neutral’. They do not intend to serve the common good but are meant to be widely accepted as if they were for the common good. What exposes the true origin of these ideas is when they change according to the interests of the dominant class in society.
Simply put, education and knowledge is embedded in class relations. Under capitalism education reflects, reinforces and replicates the values and practices of capital which is based on stratification and accumulation by one class at the expense of all society. In capitalist society, education serves as an instrument to train labourers for the capitalist class.
The relevance of one’s education is often measured in relation to one’s productive capacity as members of an army of workers in the employ of the capitalist class. Thus as a survivalist tactic society participates in bourgeois education, both to have access to the capitalist market as workers but also to use it as a springboard to fight capitalism. Unfortunately, in South Africa, education not only had a class connotation but that of race.
It is in this context that in 2009 we conducted a comprehensive review of the education and training landscape.
From 2009: 3 years down the line
Three years have passed since this comprehensive assessment. We took core resolutions to advance a working class front in the education and training landscape. We argued that People’s Education for People’s Power is an essential prerequisite to help lead us to a new, equitable society that challenges the legacy of apartheid and the dominant capitalist ideology in favour of more egalitarian education, training and skills provision that will strengthen transformation and assert the needs of society rather than private interests.
The struggles for education and training have a rich history in our country. They were not separate from the struggles for a democratic society and the end of the racist and exploitative colonialism of a special type and the apartheid system. Education and training issues in the community, schools, factories and workplaces were all linked.
For example, in order to understand their roles better, workers had to be better educated and trained, not only to perform better at the workplace but also to understand their broader role as citizens, to participate in society, in trade unions, to understand and analyse economic questions and to understand production processes better.
Education and training was also considered critical to advance the ideas and practices of workers’ control in the workplace, in their organisations and beyond.
Many important and fundamental principles grew out of these struggles against the apartheid state and its education and training system.
These principles informed the strategies, policies, programmes and practices of the organisations of the liberation movement as a whole. Some of the key principles were:
• The need for an integrated education and training system.
• The relationship between student, community and worker struggles for education and training and that all of these struggles were a part of the struggle for a democratic and just society.
• A democratic society could not be achieved without a democratic education and training system.
These principles continue to be of paramount importance today, and they are not static. They may and should be developed further to deepen the way that we address the emerging challenges that we face.
The struggle for transformation of education and training is far from over.
What has changed?
As a movement, particularly the federation, we have fought hard to reverse formal apartheid in the education arena. But the movement has been unable to drive the policy process to ensure that we hegemonise our ideas in shaping the new dispensation in the education sector.
On our side, we must also frankly acknowledge, that while spaces have been created and doors have been opened for the working class and the movement, we have not succeeded to walk through them. The education and training system is one of those critical doors we opened, and then did not walk through.
COSATU has banged very loudly on the doors; the doors were opened and we allowed the spoils to be usurped by capital and as a result our education system is in crisis.
This goes back to the point that we are making in the run-up to the 11th National Congress of COSATU, that there must be a mindset change within the federation if we are to succeed to drive the new phase of struggle.
Without a mindset change we just continue to repeat everything we said three years ago and adopt the same resolutions and move on with our business as usual approach. We are urging that COSATU at every level must rediscover its very purpose of existence if we are to make a real impact not only in this critical area of work but in the transformation struggle in general.
Already there is a growing cynicism amongst many that we are just summits, conferences, workshops, glossy documents, beautiful paraphernalia, flights and fancy hotels where we waste time repeating ourselves and doing nothing about what we committed to.
The links between education and the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment
This conference must break with the past talk shops! We must appreciate that Rome is burning and inaction in the face of the crisis we face is actually counter revolutionary.
Whilst we play and make no difference, our challenges are multiplying themselves. For example unemployment among Africans was estimated to be 38% in 1995 and it stood at 45% in 2005. Overall, the unemployment rate in the South African economy was 31% in 1995 and increased to 39% in 2005. As of 2009, the rate of participation of Africans in the labour force was 52% and for whites it was 68%.
Because of the continued structures of domination and exclusion, it will not be wrong to conclude that most Africans do not participate in the labour force because they are the least absorbed in employment. Among Africans of working age (between 15-64 years), only 36% are absorbed into employment whilst on the other hand, 65% of whites of working age are absorbed into employment. Among emerging markets, South Africa has the lowest labour force participation rate.
Poverty incidence remains high with one study showing that 57% of individuals in South Africa were living below the income poverty line in 2001.
Redistribution of income has worsened against the working class. The top 10% of the rich accounted for 33 times the income earned by the bottom 10% in 2000. In 2008 the top 20 directors of JSE-listed companies, the overwhelming majority of whom are still white males, earned an average of R59 million per annum each, whilst in 2009 the average earnings of an employee in the South African economy was R34 000. Income inequality is still racialised, and has deepened within racial groups.
The means of production remain concentrated in white capitalist hands: Estimates of black ownership of JSE-listed companies range between 1.6%and 4.6%. Almost all the top 20 paid directors in JSE listed companies are white males.
The crisis in education persists and the quality of education is declining: The poor’s children remain trapped in inferior education with wholly inadequate infrastructure. Indeed according to OECD research, “70% of (matriculation) exam passes are accounted for by just 11% of schools, the former white, coloured, and Asian schools”.
What is of major concern is that 12-year olds in South Africa perform three times less than 11-year olds in Russia when it comes to reading and 16-year olds in South Africa perform three times less than 14-year olds in Cyprus when it comes to mathematics. However, white learners perform in line with the international average in both science and mathematics, which is twice the score of African learners.
Furthermore it is estimated only 3% of the children who enter the schooling system eventually complete with higher grade mathematics, 15% of grade 3 learners pass both numeracy and literacy, 70% of our schools do not have libraries and 60% do not have laboratories, 60% of children are pushed out of the schooling system before they reach grade 12.
Lastly, 55% of educators would leave the profession if they had an opportunity to do so. This is symptomatic of an ineffective and dysfunctional education system. With this state of affairs we will just reproduce both racial and class inequalities over and over again. Apartheid will never end and our people will never experience a real freedom.
Our responsibility as a revolutionary and transformative union can’t be limited to just lamenting this state of affairs. We are not the philosophers that Karl Marx spoke about who only analyse. Ours as revolutionaries is not only to ask a question – what is to be done - but to roll up our sleeves and do something.
COSATU has signed two agreements with government and business that are of critical importance – The Basic Education Accord and Skills Accord. These are circulated in every meeting we have, yet we just won’t do what we undertook to do. We need a mindset change before we establish that we have become an irrelevant force to society.
Challenges of poverty, with various studies highlighting the facts that:
· 14 million children are considered poor while nearly 11 million live in dire poverty;
· By 2010 an estimated 16% of children will be orphans;
· 3000 children aged 15 or younger die each year from trauma/violence related causes.
· 9 million South African children grow up without the love and support of their fathers.
Increased commodification of education and skills development further compound the problem. Access to quality education and training is denied to the majority of the working class.
We have already a two-tier education system. That is why this education conference must endorse the growing calls that the public sector leaders and workers, together with the leadership of trade unions and civil society, must use public services such as education, healthcare, security, etc.
Some critical questions we must ask:
• In our headlong rush to become globally competitive and more productive are we not in danger of forgetting to put in place the building blocks of our future, such as the development and linking of skills and its infrastructure to meaningful social purposes?
• Can we ignore the evidence of history which points to the fact that education and training follows growth, and not the other way round?
• Can the markets deliver, with governments merely playing a regulatory role in the education and skills sector without the state being reduced to a cash cow?
• Can vocational education and skills training play a meaningful role in resolving economic crisis, or are we seeking to blame lack of skills as a substitute for the glaring lack of jobs?
• Is it helpful to allow businesses to use training as a fig leaf to fire protected workers and replace them with subsidized and more vulnerable ones?
What’s needed are growth and development strategies that put forward a set of policy interventions to address the long-term structural problems of unemployment.
Lets us again ask a question where is the COSATU struggle to ensure that we not just mouth these demands but we can together with the Alliance and other peoples organs take them forward?
This conference must develop a programme that the congress can implement. Let us repeat what we said to the COSATU KZN provincial congress yesterday – a divided organisation at war with itself can never lead its members to confront these challenges. Unity and a mindset change is what we need.
The ANC has effected a number of very important policies, strategies and practices in education and training.
• Increased access to primary and secondary schooling, with the participation of girls being the highest in the world.
• Pupil-to-teacher ratios have improved from 43:1 in 1996 to 32:1 in 2006.
• The mass literacy campaign is now covering more than 500,000 of our people who could not read and write.
• In higher education, since 1994, 140,000 students have benefited from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)
• The establishment of Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) to drive skills development in all sectors of the economy.
• The formulation of relevant skills accords
• Worker education is for the first time part of the national skills discourse
These represent real gains and express the ideas of the democratic movement as a whole in its struggle against the apartheid system.
In the COSATU Audit of the ANC Elections Manifesto, State of the Nation speech, and Budget against the Polokwane Conference Resolutions, it’s pointed out that only some of the Manifesto’s commitments on Education are incorporated in the last Budget speech, while some are not mentioned, or are simply left out.
I have already asked the head of the COSATU Policy Unit, as we prepare for both the COSATU and ANC Congresses, to do an assessment of all the progressive resolutions and manifesto commitments we have made in order to ensure that COSATU and the Mangaung avoids sounding like a broken record – repeating things already said without ensuring their implementation.
Below are some of the problems and solutions we tease out about the basic education system.
• Basic education policies: Translating the massive and well-meaning educational policies developed so far into actual practice or meaningful change in teaching and learning in schools.
• Curriculum: There is a need to review the curriculum and assessment method currently being used. Re-curriculation should be embarked upon to create a two-stream system where learners are allowed flexibility based on evaluation to follow either an academic, or a vocational field.
• School leadership and management: Schools require effective leaders and managers if they are to provide the best education for their learners, leaders with an ability to develop policies and strategies that will solve problems in their specific situations and locations.
• Teacher development: Driven by teachers and adequately funded, taking into account the environment teachers are working under including socio-economic conditions of learners and resources allocated.
• Consider learner-family background and socioeconomic status: Poverty undermines education. It is a shocking indictment that the majority of our children live under conditions of protracted poverty. They face a plethora of social problems, including hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS and violence - particularly those children who live in rural areas and urban townships. It is important to understand the learner family background as it directly links to the performance of the learner
• Parental involvement in the activities of the school: When parents are involved in the activities of the school, children’s performance academically and otherwise improves. When schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school, but also throughout life. We must start a campaign of reorientating schools to resources for community development so that parents and adults can become learners too.
• Public mobilisation: Public participation and mobilisation to develop education needs, active and community-accountable governing bodies, learner organisation and development, engaged faith based organisations, and traditional leaders, and critically parents and teachers’ union alliances.
• Resources: It has been proven that when schools have functional libraries that are properly stocked and managed by a fulltime librarian, and also laboratories, computer centres, storage facilities, adequate sanitary provision, play areas, sports facilities, a school hall, a staff room, a kitchen, an administrative centre, water and electricity, the academic development of learners is enhanced immeasurably.
• Teacher deployment and retention in rural areas: We need an incentive scheme to promote a balanced distribution of skilled teachers among rural and urban areas, and between developed and under-developed communities; this is long overdue.
• The Quality, Learning and Teaching Campaign: Needs our full support.
• Professionalisation of deployed cadres and government bureaucracy: We need a different calibre of cadre in the public service and an active campaign for a change of mindset. We need a change of attitude of both administrators and educators.
• School infrastructure: There is a need to strengthen the capacity of the Public Works department to deal with the backlog of infrastructural development in the education sector. As mentioned above we still have 400 mud schools in our country. These problems cannot be addressed through outsourcing and tenders which needlessly drain away resources from the state through tenderpreneurship and corruption, and are based not on service delivery but ‘get rich quick’ profit-making.
In 2009 we stated that the South African public higher education has been restructured to eradicate the racial divisions and duplications created under apartheid, and to cut costs and improve efficiency across the sector. The number of public institutions has been slashed from 36 to 23, through mergers and incorporations.
These mergers have aimed to enhance equity not only by creating three institutional types but also in terms of race and gender, resulting in a more representative reflection of South Africa’s race mix where Africans comprise 42% and whites 45% of students in non-merged universities, whereas in merged universities their numbers are 59% and 22%.
Despite these changes the Programme for Higher Education Transformation characterises the state of apartheid higher education as follows:
· There is an inequitable distribution of access and opportunity for students and staff along lines of race, gender, class and geography.
· There is a chronic mismatch between the output of higher education and the needs of a modernizing democratic economy leading to shortages of highly trained graduates in fields such as science, engineering, technology and commerce - largely as a result of discriminatory practices that limit
· Lack of influence of institutions in broader society thus leaving us without a critical civil society, tolerance to different ideas and the lack of common citizenship.
· Too many parts of the system observe teaching and research policies which favour academic insulation
· The governance of higher education at a system-level is characterized by fragmentation, lack of stakeholder participation, inefficiency and ineffectiveness, with too little co-ordination, few common goals and negligible systemic planning.
· For the few students from working-class communities who make it to tertiary education life is often a constant struggle; the financial aid scheme is woefully inadequate, many are financially excluded and only 50% complete their degrees and diplomas.
Polokwane resolutions on higher education clearly stated that there should be “progressive introduction of free education for the poor until undergraduate level.” While the ANC government has declared 60% by 2009 for no fee schools in realizing this progressive free education, tertiary education remains inaccessible and expensive.
• The defence of higher education as a public good.
• Racialised access opportunities and enrolments.
• Race, class and gender skewed success rates.
• Increase throughput rates in Universities.
• Enhance the effectiveness of FET colleges.
• Review the Funding higher education.
• Increase the capacity of The National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
• Ensure equity, development and unionization of staff.
Further, we need to mount a campaign among public-sector unions to focus on recruitment of staff employed at universities, both academic and ancillary, and to ensure that as part of these recruitment processes new recruits understand these challenges and struggle we are waging for a genuine transformation in the higher education sector.
Spaces must be created to building close worker-student relationships, as we must be central in facilitating links between workers and progressive student formations.
The recent dismissal of 17 workers at the University of the Witwatersrand and the support of the progressive student movement there, demonstrated the incredible possibilities for forging and building alliances across issues.
Skills development has not moved as fast as it should, primarily because of the lack of integration with new transformative people-centred national economic development objectives. It has also become bureaucratized over the last ten years.
The investment in skills development has also been very minimal, currently at 1% of the payroll compared to about 7-10 % of comparable country trading partners. This is a direct result of Gear’s principle of fiscal restraint on social spending.
The new emphasis on learnerships, and mostly at lower levels of the NQF bands, has also discouraged high artisan output levels that were experienced in the late 80s and 90s.
There is also the unavailability of job opportunities for those who have completed such programmes.
Furthermore all Setas have submitted their Seta Sector Skills Plans areas of scarce and critical skills. The definitions used to describe these scarce and critical skills are drawn from the Framework for Identifying and Monitoring Scarce and Critical Skills, developed by the Department of Labour.
The total number of scarce and critical skills listed by the sectors in the 2008 Master Scarce Skills list published by the Department of Labour is 514,121.
This can be translated into immediate occupations that can and should be immediately created. This is a profound contradiction for a country experiencing high levels of unemployment and low economic growth levels across all the sectors of the economy.
• Unfavourable legislation which makes workers dependent on the will of employers in order to access training
• Management control of the content of skills development programs at the expense of workers
• The continued use of skills development to advantage white workers over their black counterparts
• Lack of use of grants as an instrument to enhance skills development rather than as a way to avoid costs
• Continued replacement of young workers and the strong presence of cheap labour
• Inactivity of unions at the most senior level to drive skills revolution
Worker education, with a specific focus on trade union education
Given the context provided this far, workers' education is not a luxury, but a necessity for our class, not only for asserting ourselves as a class, but for building an empowered class capable of contesting the hegemony of the capitalist onslaught and neo-liberal ideology. And while contesting, we must assert the kind of future we envisage and the establishment of building blocks to get there! We have to move beyond rhetoric.
We must contribute to creating the conditions that will strengthen the class consciousness of workers, and provide opportunities for them to build a vision of a socialist society, free of oppression and exploitation.
In so doing we must not fall into the trap of reproducing, even unknowingly, the way that bourgeois education undermines class consciousness, and contradicts socialist values of collective endeavour, solidarity and internationalism.
Workers’ education must result in education for critical thinking and consciousness-raising. By ‘critical’ we do not mean being negative, but rather being able to focus on the key, or central issues, the issues that can make a real difference. Education of this type must provide opportunities to develop alternatives to what currently exists.
We must emphasise that we are not describing workers’ education as a form of ‘political’ education only, but also that it should strengthen organisation.
We want to build the skills of shop stewards, women leadership, staff, etc, to be effective representatives for the movement, to understand the political context, to engage with Marxist/Leninist theory, but also to be able to deal with practical issues impacting workers in their day to day lives, e.g. Health and Safety, etc.
• Building and sustaining a mass education programme.
• Providing consistent and continuous political education.
• Engaging workers’ education in the national skills discourse.
• The ongoing accreditation debate.
• Building internal democracy, accountability and workers empowerment, and especially women’s empowerment.
• Working with Ditsela, other Labour Service Organisations and ‘Friends’ of COSATU.
• Funding workers education.
• Ensuring Federation and affiliate programmes address these challenges!
We continue to need a collective effort. We must engage directly, and on a daily basis, with the developments in education and training if we are to participate effectively in the processes of shaping the transformation agenda.
Defending and building an effective education and training system is not simply the responsibility of those involved directly in education. This is a critical social responsibility, and all of us must make an effort to ensure that our education system is preparing our children, and indeed all levels of all ages, for a democratic, just and equitable society.
As COSATU we must acknowledge that up until now our strategies have been fragmented, uncoordinated and to be brutally frank, not very clear; at huge costs to workers and the poor!
Reversing this is the challenge we all confront as we move towards the COSATU 11th National Congress later this year!
Hi Norman, thanks so much for this posting. I'll read it carefully before I comment. But a question I have is this: COSATU represents the teachers as union members, but COSATU correctly also acknowledges the problems that exist within education. Would the teachers consider waiving their Constitutional right to strike for a period - maybe 5 years as an example - in the national interest, in order to get the schools right? Once things are in order they can then exercise their right again.
Hi Norman, once again I agree with Sylvia.
I would also like to ask what work is being done by the Cosatu to work with the Teachers, Principals, Governing bodies and department with a view to improving things. It is time for unions to start working with their members to improve things instead of picketing and emonstrating - be proactive for a change.
I have attached something I published previously for your considerations Norman
Thanks Cde Norman, indeed the situation as painted above is very dire. It is the duty of people like yourselves to keep raising such awareness. The challenge, though, is that such discussions are no longer regarded as useful and relevant at grassroots level because of more pressing issues of survival. Now, any movememnt that intends to create that awareness is welcomed, including the Trade Union Movemement. With regard to Basic Education I would suggest the following:
This overcentralisation of powers is not doing us any good. The provincial offices should be responsible for policy, research, monitoring and evaluation. Those responsible for production must be given all the powers to make the difference required.