SADTU Perspective on the Role of Teachers in Protecting the Right to Education


Today, we gather here humbled by the memories of those men and women who gave their lives for our freedom, deeply aware of the great responsibility we carry to realise their dreams.

There are times when we have fallen short, there are times when we have made mistakes, but we remain unwavering in our determination to build a society that is free and equal and at peace.

Our history tells us that when we are united in peace and faith, we can conquer all obstacles and turn our country into a place in which we all feel free, safe and comfortable.

It is in that spirit that we now approach the present moment.

Our country is facing a stark reality.

Our economy has not grown at any meaningful rate for over a decade.

Even as jobs are being created, the rate of unemployment is deepening.

The recovery of our economy has stalled as persistent energy shortages have disrupted businesses and people’s lives.

Several state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are in distress, and our public finances are under severe pressure.

Our people are carrying this burden, confronted by rising living costs, unemployment, unable to escape poverty, unable to realise their potential.

Yet, at the same time, there is another part to our reality.

It is the reality of a youthful population that has more access to education than ever before and which is achieving steadily improving outcomes.

It is the reality of 2.4 million children in Early Childhood Development (ECD) and pre-school.

It is about the 80% of learners who passed matric last year, with an increasing proportion coming from rural and township schools.

Our reality is also that of the 720.000 students who received state funding for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and universities last year.

Policy imperatives

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to free quality education and that elementary education is compulsory. This is in line with Section 29(1) of the South African Constitution which enshrines the right to a basic education and the right to a further education. The right to education is a human right and education is indispensable means of realising other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth. Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best investments States can make. But the importance of education is not just practical. A well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence.

Promoting education as a human right and a public good


Quality education nurtures human talent and creativity, thereby contributing to the personal and professional development of the individual person, as well as to social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental development of society at large. It is within this background that the government must be the guarantors and primary providers of education systems and as such it has the key responsibility for ensuring that free, universally accessible education is well resourced and constantly updated and developed. By raising funds through progressive taxation, it can and must invest a substantial proportion of the state budget in education. Such investment should ensure the balanced development of all education sectors from early childhood education through to higher education and life-long learning. The State in cooperation with teachers Unions, should oversee and regulate the education sector and aim to constantly improve its quality, establishing and implementing a legislative framework that ensures a high-quality service, professional standards, access for all and a representative governance system. In short, the State is responsible for the financing, provision, and regulation of all education institutions.

Improving the quality of education


Every citizen has the right to a quality education. Providing quality education that caters to students’ aptitudes and needs will be a primary challenge for lifelong learning, from early childhood education through to further and higher education. SADTU defines quality education in terms of context and culture. Quality is neither one-dimensional nor straightforward. Quality education is defined by its inputs (including students’ background, teachers’ qualifications, working conditions, class-size and investment in education); by the education process (including teaching, parenting and related processes of learning) and by projected outcomes (including individual, social, cultural, economic and environmental needs). A contextual approach to quality is never deterministic, as it is contingent upon creativity and constant development.

The importance of quality teaching for quality education cannot be underestimated. To this end, teachers at all levels of education must be appropriately trained and qualified. Teachers should continue their professional development upon recruitment through a period of induction into the profession with the support by a mentor and should have access throughout their careers to high quality continuous professional development and learning. These opportunities should be provided by the State at no cost to individual teachers. The teaching and learning environment should be designed in such a way that it supports teachers and education employees in their missions. The State should provide the necessary infrastructure and resources to cater for this environment.

SADTU believes that teachers should maintain high professional standards and should be accountable to society.  Professional standards should be established with the full involvement of the teaching profession. Teachers should feel confident that both their professional standards and their professional development are relevant to their teaching. The State should ensure that schools have a broad and balanced framework curriculum which sets out common rights and responsibilities for all students. The framework should be sufficiently flexible to allow schools to adapt it to the needs of all of their students. Schools themselves should be responsible for adapting the curricular framework to the needs of the relevant societal context.

Promoting equality through inclusive education


It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that all citizens have access to high quality education appropriate to their needs. Supported by the Universal Declaration on Human Right and a series of international, multi-lateral instruments, National policies, SADTU maintains that all barriers to education must be removed in order to make it accessible for all persons, regardless of their gender, background or personal characteristics.  SADTU therefore promotes the concept of equal opportunity and access to all levels of education. No-one should be disadvantaged because of perceived differences, including those based upon gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith, cultural or economic background, or personal characteristics. People with disabilities should be assisted to achieve their maximum potential.

Inclusive education means that all students should be educated together, to the same high standards, in so far as possible in the same education institution, irrespective of their gender, faith, ethnic, cultural or economic background or physical or intellectual capacities. However, SADTU recognises that in order to ensure the best opportunities for some students to develop to their maximum level, separate facilities and services may need to be provided. It is particularly important that a strong relationship exists between specialist and mainstream facilities which enables the sharing of pedagogic knowledge and skills and promotes institutional collaboration. The educational experience of students should instill in them concepts of equality, tolerance and respect for diversity.

SADTU believes that issues relating to gender are a central aspect of inclusive education, as these affect all participants in education. From the earliest stage possible, all forms of gender stereotyping should be challenged and eliminated from education. The State should promote the full participation of girls and women, boys and men in education at all levels. They should also be sensitive to gender issues in relation to achievement, employment, recruitment and governance in education. Education institutions and unions should promote comprehensive gender-­‐mainstreaming strategies.

Preserving the rights of an HIV infected child


Impart sex education to children based on their age and level of maturity. Inform the children about HIV/AIDS. How it spreads and affects an individual, and how can we prevent it from spreading further? Create and enabling environment in the class-room to ensure that infected and affected kids are not stigmatised.

Embracing children with disabilities


Prevent negative stereotypical attitudes about children with disabilities by avoiding negative words, such as disabled, crippled, handicapped. Depict children with disabilities with equal status as those without disabilities. Children with disabilities should interact with non-disabled children in as many ways as possible. Allow children with disabilities to speak for themselves and express their thoughts and feelings. Involve children with and without disabilities in the same projects and encourage their mutual participation. Observe children and identify disabilities. Early detection of disabilities has become part of early-childhood education. The earlier a disability is detected in a child, the more effective the intervention and the less severe the disability. Refer the child whose disability is identified, for developmental screening and early intervention. Adapt the lessons, learning materials and classroom to the needs of children with disabilities. Use means such as large print, seating the child in the front of the class, and making the classroom accessible for the child with a movement disability. Integrate positive ideas about disabilities into classwork, children’s play and other activities. Sensitise parents, families, and caregivers about the special needs of children with disabilities. Speak to parents in meetings as well as on a one-to-one basis.

Privatisation/Commercialisation of education


The social values of education require the State to protect the education sector from the neo-liberal agenda of privatization and commercialisation. This negative agenda includes marketisation and trade in education and intellectual property, the casualisation of employment in the education sector, the application of private-sector management models on education institutions, the privatisation of provision, the usage of Non-Governmental Organizations to develop and implement educational policies and the intrusion of for profit motives or business interest in the governance of education institutions. Noting the global trends towards commercialisation and competition in the education fraternity as it threatens to compromise quality and equity. We strongly believe that services provided in the public interest like education must not be subject to the commercial rules of trade treaties.

Promoting indigenous languages for teaching and learning

There is urgent need for multilingualism in promoting and deepening social cohesion and nation building in South Africa. We advocate the use of indigenous languages as resolved by UNESCO in that denying learners to learn in their mother tongue is denying them access to knowledge and this adds to high failure rate.

Conditions of service

We have expressed disappointment and the displeasure to recent Constitutional Court judgment on wage increase and ongoing salary negotiations. We are extremely concerned that the judgment will have adverse consequences for the future of collective bargaining and the state’s commitment to honour collective agreements. The state should find amicable solution to make conditions of service conducive in that teachers may be able to deliver curriculum to learners to realise their potential.

Climate change education

In South Africa climate change education is poor and this is especially the case among countries most responsible for current levels of greenhouse gases. It is within this backdrop that an urgent action among education and climate stakeholders is needed to integrate the education sector and climate policy and decision making to position the education workforce as climate stakeholder and strengthen the capacity of education systems to engage in climate action.

Gender-based discrimination

Integrate gender sensitisation and human rights education at all levels of education curricula including teacher training. Tackle gender stereotyped expectations in education by providing boy and girl child with equal opportunities to access science, mathematics, technology, sports and all other fields of study. Furthermore, equal access to health (including reproductive health) and sexuality education would need to be provided to both girl and boy child.



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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.