National planning commission chairperson Trevor Manuel recently released the much-anticipated national development plan aimed principally at tackling the structural economic problems of high unemployment and pervasive poverty. This is not our first attempt at formulating strategies to deal with these challenges. Many other growth strategies have been published since 1994 with similar fanfare. The latest attempt is indeed a fresh and inspiring restatement of what is already known!
The question we need to ask, and seriously reflect on, is why is it that the intended outcomes in all these plans have proven so elusive?
In my view there is a fundamental principle that must be strictly followed and respected in any exercise of strategy crafting: a brilliant strategy has no value if you cannot deliver. In essence, a realistic strategy must be executable.
There are three fundamental and key conditions that must be met for any strategy to be successfully implemented:
* There must be a very clear and comprehensive identification and understanding of the challenges and the environment in which they exist. South African developmental challenges have been analysed to death. The national planning commission (NPC) plan brings a simple but logical approach to the narrative. Its approach is therefore exciting and inspiring.
* The organisation must have the capacity and capability to implement the strategy. The prevailing evidence and opinion is that most state institutions and organisations lack visionary and effective leadership and corruption is rife. The state delivery machinery will therefore need to be transformed radically at all spheres of government to meet the new challenge.
* There must be a clear understanding of constraints that may hinder effective strategy execution and an appropriate strategy and plan must be in place to eliminate constraints or mitigate their effect.
These simple criteria will always provide a reliable yardstick for measuring the potential success of any strategy. Identifying and dealing with constraints has always proven very problematic. The real challenge is whether leadership is honest enough to face reality and make the right choices.
To illustrate the point, let us review the evolution of our education strategy and policy choices.
The outcomes-based education strategy was adopted in spite of overwhelming evidence that: 1) It was the wrong approach given our legacy and the challenges we face. 2) Our education system and the parental support it required was totally inadequate to provide the support necessary to enable us to achieve the anticipated outcomes. These positions were not motivated by an uninformed resistance to change. They were the considered opinions of experienced education planners and specialists who warned us, based on sound and credible research, not to follow this approach. Yet we chose to ignore this advice and pressed ahead.
Education has always been placed right at the top of our development priorities. The NPC’s new plan has also allocated the top slot to education. If the above development criteria were honestly applied, it would not have been possible to adopt the choices we made.
There are important lessons to be learnt as we are now being invited to participate in yet another exercise in developing our strategic vision for 2030. The critical test will be whether there will be sufficient political leadership to deal with the constraints that have hobbled our development progress in the past.
One of the short-term measures recommended by the NPC for advancing access to quality education and teaching is the need to decisively exclude the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) from interfering with the appointment of principals and teachers immediately. Sadtu has predictably denied that it has a corrosive influence in the normal running of public schools in predominantly poor areas. There is evidence to substantiate this accusation. Given the influence of Sadtu within the alliance, I hope the NPC plan will not just be a fuzzy dream.
Sadtu is, and has been, a serious constraint in achieving access to quality education. Unless we are determined to deal decisively with this constraint, attaining the anticipated outcomes will be impossible.