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Sunday Times STLive By Sunday Times Editorial , 2012-04-08

Education's key leaders

THE importance of what a good school principal does cannot be overemphasised.

Principals hold the future of our children - and our country - in their hands.

They are responsible for creating safe and caring environments in which learning can take place, and for ensuring that teachers and pupils maintain discipline, arrive on time and spend school hours teaching and learning. Good principals work with teachers to make sure that pupils achieve academic excellence, develop as human beings and grow into responsible and useful members of society.

In other words, principals are leaders who have the power to shape future generations.

When they do not do their jobs, they condemn children - most often children whose parents are already trapped in poverty - to a servile, precarious life because they do not have the skills or ability to make their way in the world.

Too many principals in state schools are unable to perform their duties because they are beholden to their union, not to the children who rely on their leadership.

This week, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education, Senzo Mchunu, said some school principals were like "jellyfish" because "they had no backbone". His views were endorsed by his premier, Zweli Mkhize, who took a swipe at the SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) and blasted principals who consult their union before complying with departmental instructions. We endorse their views.

This is not to say that the crisis in education has come about only through Sadtu's intransigence. Working conditions and poor pay mean teachers have real grievances.

But the union has been only too happy to sacrifice generations of children when it is in their expedient interests to do so. And they have got away with it because politicians have been unwilling to stare them down, knowing the voting block the union brings.

Principals must be able to stand up to teachers who have no interest in their jobs. And when they do, they need to know they can rely on the department and their political heads to support them. The alternative is to make our children pay the price for adults who won't get out of the sandpit.