DEBATE raged yesterday in the Eastern Cape over a proposal by the ANC to have education categorised as an essential service.

Some education interest groups welcomed it, while others said rigorous debate was required first.

Education portfolio committee chairman Mzoleli Mrara, an ANC MPL, said the proposal had been discussed at the ANC policy conference in Mangaung in December last year and it was agreed further engagements were needed.

“My opinion is there must be measures to find solutions but having education declared an essential service, like health, when there is no immediate danger cannot be correct.

“This cannot be a solution to stabilise education in the province and country.”

Mrara said labour issues should be resolved in open discussions and the ANC, working with education stakeholders, should focus on rectifying the:

Fragmented education system, characterised by divisions along racial lines with former Model C schools still dominated by “whites only” governing bodies and managers;

Skewed curriculum with junior and senior primary schools offering curriculums that were not aligned; and

Human resource disparities such as poorly equipped teachers in predominately black schools characterised by huge backlogs, compared with their former Model C counterparts.

“These are the things, not strike action, we should be preoccupied with. They destabilise the system.

“We need to discuss these fundamentals and we must not be scared to venture into discussions and face difficult questions.

“Such arrogance creates animosity and we cannot afford to have another Marikana,” Mrara said.

A COPE MPL, Angela Woodhall, the party’s education spokeswoman, said it was time to improve the teaching profession.

“The unions need to take on board a commitment to education that will ensure the talents of our young people are developed enabling them to flourish. We want schools where teachers and pupils alike look forward to attending. That is a worthy cause.”

DA MPL Edmund van Vuuren said the move was long overdue.

“It’s about children whose lives are put in danger when teachers are not in class. Children have been attacked, raped and robbed without supervision from teachers who are protesting.”

Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) acting co-director Jay Kruuse said: “Education won’t meet the requirements of being an ‘essential service’ [sections 71 to 75 of the Labour Relations Act apply].

“The ANC cannot take such a decision – it’s really a legal question decided upon by applying the facts to the statute. What the ANC’s decision reveals is yet another violation of scholars’ rights which has its origins in the tripartite alliance.

“Instead of dealing with the demands of striking teachers in accordance with the law, politicians often compromise themselves and the quality of teaching by making decisions driven by what is politically expedient.”

East London education expert Dr Ken Alston said: “Children have become victims of action by the unions.

“The Constitution is clear the best interests of the child are paramount in every matter concerning the child.

“Teacher strikes, absenteeism, teaching short hours are all issues which work against the child’s best interests.

“This is not about a union’s best interests or its members, but about the best interests of children.”

Independent expert Graeme Bloch said: “I hope teachers are listening: even the ANC is getting gatvol.

“While the actual solution will probably not fly, teachers need to ask their unions to get with the programme, and strikes can no longer be anything but a last option.” —