Al Jazeera Blogs


Africa

S Africa to make teaching 'essential service'

Ruling party ANC wants to make teaching an "essential service", making it illegal for teachers to go on strike.
Last modified: 6 Feb 2013 10:59
Many underpaid South African teachers say striking is the only language the government understands [EPA]

I am at the University of Cape Town, on the upper campus, waiting to interview a member of staff here. It's a beautiful campus, old buildings, green lawns and the view of Cape Town in the background. It's absolutely breathtaking.

At a bus stop near me students make a lot of noise. They are so loud I can't help but listen to what they are saying.

It's orientation week, so a time for partying and making new friends for the first year students. Most first years will likely be turning 19-years-old this year - kids born in 1994 when Apartheid ended.

Given what this country has been through, it's quite inspiring watching the students who seemingly have their whole lives ahead of them.

It's a group of blacks, whites and Asians - what South Africans love to call the rainbow nation.

But the education sector is in crisis here. Poor pass rates in some state schools and teacher strikes make it harder to get more children into top universities, especially black children from poor families.

Essential service

That's why South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) wants to make teaching an essential service - similar to nurses and doctors for example.

That will, among other things, make it illegal for teachers to go on strike.

As expected some teachers' unions are angry about the proposed move. They say they have the right to go on strike for higher wages and better working conditions.

In fact, they threaten to take to the street if their profession is made an essential service. That would mean more disruptions in schools.

ANC officials say learners have a right to education. It says it is trying to deal with the education crisis here where many children don't finish high school and pass rates are disturbingly low in poor schools.

Teachers say they want to teach, but can't when they are struggling to feed their families, don't have adequate resources to teach effectively and are disillusioned.

Some in the rural areas teach under trees because there are no classrooms.

Many South Africans say striking is the only language the government understands. When miners and farm workers downed tools, they got a pay increase.

It's the way things are done here. Striking seems to be the only weapon teachers can use to try and get a salary increase.

There could be a crisis in the education sector if this debate isn't settled quickly and amicably.

Ultimately it will be the students who suffer if their teachers stay away from classrooms in protest.

Follow Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa on Twitter: @harumutasa