Sep 13

Strikes & Education The Implications for Emotional Intelligence

Dr Swartz has been involved in education in South Africa for forty years, as a teacher, senior lecturer in education, teacher trainer and researcher in the field of Cognitive Science – the study of human intelligence and the enhancement of learning. He has trained the staff of over 200 schools throughout the country in practical ways of implementing whole brain teaching methods in the classroom as a means of facilitating learning.

Dr. J.J. SWARTZ: Leaders in Learning
  On 10 August 2010, the threats by public servants affiliated to COSATU, that they would strike unless their demands for pay increases were met, materialized. Some schools closed immediately and eight days later, after wage negotiations had broken down, most SADTU-aligned teachers and many who belong to NAPTOSA were in full strike mode. While it is clear that a large number of teachers did not favour a strike, the orchestrated efforts of strikers to intimidate those schools who chose to remain open, resulted in an almost complete school shut-down. Intimidation by busloads of aggressive teachers included death threats, threats that schools would be burnt down and that children would be harmed. Inevitably, dedicated principals were forced to comply to ensure the safety of their learners.

Despite police being summoned at the time of these intimidatory tactics (which are illegal), they stood by passively. The education system in South Africa is already rated one of the poorest in the world; OBE apparently has failed and will be phased out; our matriculation results are cause for grave concern; much time has already been lost in 2010 owing to an extended June/July vacation that Government imposed to accommodate the World Cup tournament (a clear indication of their priorities), and now the teacher unions have declared that the strike action will be “indefinite” (i.e. until their demands are met).

In fact, it is fair to say that education in South Africa has ground to a halt. South Africans generally, and especially concerned parents and pupils, should not lose sight of a double irony in this situation. On the one hand , we have a Government that has a history of making many promises on which they have repeatedly failed to deliver. While Government is in the enviable position of awarding itself wage increases in line with or in excess of the inflation rate, this generosity apparently does not extend to the public sector. The media is littered daily with reports of corruption in Government where officials enrich themselves through kickbacks, nepotism or fraud. (This, no doubt, explains the ANC’s latest attempts to restrict press freedom.)

The argument of trade unions is that if Government can spend billions on building soccer stadiums for the World Cup and on developing infrastructure to impress the rest of the world, why can it not find money to recompense employees in the teaching and health sectors? At the time of the World Cup, security was beefed up at great expense, primarily to protect tourists , yet crime continues in this country on an unprecedented scale.  For the ANC, it is apparent that charity does not begin at home. In addition, a similar strike occurred three years ago that lasted several weeks and caused irreparable damage to learners, yet nothing has been learned from this experience. On the other hand , the irony is equally profound when one considers the quality of teaching and teachers in this country.

Visit schools in townships and in rural areas on any given day and you will inevitably witness the following: hordes of students roaming the streets during the school day, empty classrooms while pupils appear to enjoy lengthy breaks, a high rate of teacher absenteeism which principals (if they happen to be at school that day) cannot or do not care to explain. (It is a well-known fact that payday for such teachers is shopping day.) If a member of the teacher’s extended family dies, this is considered sufficient reason for an extended absence, even if the funeral date is known.  Medical certificates to explain absenteeism in such schools are seldom forthcoming. There is little or no control and, as a result, teachers are a law unto themselves, protected by labour laws that make it virtually impossible to fire them.

Of course, if SADTU calls a meeting at short notice, that justifies teacher absenteeism from school. And this says nothing about the quality of teaching when such teachers are in the classrooms. The irony is that it is these very teachers (or a large majority of them) who demand wage increases, embark on strikes and then intimidate dedicated teachers to close their schools.  It is a fact that many township schools are losing large numbers of pupils because parents know the truth and prefer sending their children to ex-model C schools, despite the higher fees, as they want a good quality education for them. I personally have visited scores of schools in these areas to witness and confirm these facts at first hand and it is a situation that can only be described as tragic, especially when there are so many children who are desperate for a good education, but are trapped in a system which Government largely ignores.

I am amused by the same answer I get when I repeatedly ask such teachers, who have children of their own, if their children attend schools where they teach. They cannot hide their amusement at this question, saying they would never let their own children attend these schools. A further irony is that the vast majority of these teachers, aligned as they are to COSATU – an ANC alliance partner – overwhelmingly support the very government that they malign so vociferously, thereby ensuring its re-election. Clearly, given the implied threat of withdrawing support from the ANC, trade unions are holding a gun to the head of the Government and are virtually assured of getting their way. And so the country, and especially the pupils, continues to suffer.

A closer examination of the various departments of education (provincial and national) reveals an even sorrier state of affairs. Ask any principal who has regular dealings with the DOE about his or her frustration and the words “incompetence” and “indifference” inevitably surface. Explore the qualifications and experience of E.D. officials in high positions and you inevitably come to the conclusion that affirmative action is the deciding factor in promotions. (Of course, generalizations are odious and it is not suggested that these factors apply in all cases, but there is sufficient cause for grave concern.)

An inescapable conclusion is that Government, teacher unions, and large numbers of education officials and teachers are guilty of behaviour that is neither ethical nor professional. The inevitable question is: What is the nature and quality of the thinking that has led to this crisis and particularly to the current teacher strikes? How can and should this problem be addressed? One of the purposes of sound, critical thinking (which implies the objective analysis of facts and the use of logical reasoning) is to solve problems. No problem (especially one as complex as the current education crisis) can be solved before it is properly defined in terms of its causes . The clear reasoning is that if the cause has been correctly identified and efforts are made to eliminate it, the problem will be solved.

However, it would be an incorrect definition to say that the problem with strikes is that they disrupt education or that pupils suffer, as those are symptoms or results of the problems, not causes . It is apparent from a closer examination of the strike problem that several possible causes can be identified that define the problem more clearly. • The problem is that labour unions believe that strikes are the only – or the most effective –  way of resolving their grievances.

• The problem is that unions strike whenever they don’t get what they want (and strikes thus become a habit).
• The problem is that Government only accedes to workers’ demands when it is forced to.
• The problem is that labour laws give workers the right to strike and exert their power.

With the exception of the last definition, the others are all based on the thinking and attitudes of the people concerned (strikers and Government), and it is this crucial aspect of the problem that I wish to address.

When the consequences of the strikes are objectively assessed (patients dying in unattended hospitals, non-striking staff assaulted and threatened, matriculants’ examinations disrupted and their future jeopardized), one cannot but be amazed that so-called “professional” people could act in this way. It is truly incredible that health care workers and teachers could say (as they have):
“Let the patients die – it’s the Government that’s killing them”, and “Yes, we know the matriculants may fail, but we have to think of ourselves first”.

Even worse, in a sense, is the fact that workers who disagree with this insanity should have their lives threatened for failing to comply. It would be fair to conclude that all critical thinking or logical reasoning has been suspended and that educated, normally reasonable people who usually command respect have been transformed into inhumane monsters who are obsessed solely with self-interest. Even more incredible is that they are unable to grasp this perspective or judge their own behaviour, but repeatedly attempt to justify their irrational attitudes and actions.

While there is undoubted sympathy for the strikers and their cause, they have become blind to the fact that their extreme actions have weakened their cause and that they have switched their role of victims for that of villains . How has this situation come about? Is it merely that these “professionals” are showing their true colours?  Of course, the “mass mentality” factor is partly to blame. The intelligence or thinking level of an angry crowd is proportionately reduced by the increase in the size of the crowd. Speak to individual doctors and teachers and you will find little evidence of such irrational attitudes. Nevertheless, while they condemn such excesses, they fail to see that they are contributing to them.

In addition, there are the less than pure motives of trade union leaders who instigate such actions and refuse to yield, so that they can claim afterwards that they were fighting for the workers (thereby justifying their positions and salaries).  However, when all factors have been considered, it becomes apparent that the essential cause of the problem is emotional – the inability to control negative emotions or to exercise “emotional intelligence” (EQ).

What has happened, as in so many cases before this, is that an “emotional hijacking” has occurred, which results in the suspension of clear reasoning and the inhibition of humane qualities such as consideration, compassion and empathy. It is an established neurological fact that extreme and sustained negative emotions reduce the energy levels of the brain and significantly inhibit thinking ability. Strikers claim (with justification) that they have repeatedly appealed to Government to address the wage issue, without success, and, as a result, feelings of bitterness, resentment, hatred, vengefulness, and anger have escalated to fury and rage.

Under the sustained pressure of such negative emotions, rational thinking is all but impossible. How does this analysis of the true cause of the problem help to resolve it?
Thinking ability is closely linked to intelligence, which takes many forms. It would be fair to say that our type or level of intelligence is not a choice and this may, in part, explain the divers thinking and behaviour patterns of individuals (and why large groups of people support and others oppose the current strike action). But if, as proposed, emotions form the basis of the problem, it is worth remembering that emotions, to a far greater extent, and in contrast to thinking ability, are largely a choice . In effect, therefore, it is pointless to argue the logic that informs the case for or against strikes (and, more particularly, the unethical behaviour of many strikers), when the root cause of the problem is not logic, or the lack of it, but uncontrolled emotions. And this is a problem that can be addressed. In both oral and written proposals to the National Department of Education, Ministers of Education, and, more recently, to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Basic Education,

I have repeatedly pleaded for the introduction of emotional intelligence to school curricula, not as a separate subject, but as a policy to be implemented in all schools along the lines of a code of conduct, supported by practical interventions that require the conscious contributions of the whole school: management, educators, learners and even parents. I explained my rationale for this proposal in terms of four specific and attainable outcomes, namely: • EQ would enhance the learning ability and academic achievements of learners (by instilling in them confidence, motivation, enthusiasm and a high self-image).

[important]• EQ would counter the innumerable instances of anti-social behaviour, bullying and general ill-discipline of learners.
• EQ would foster in learners an awareness of spiritual and moral values and ethical behaviour.(It is far less likely that a child who is taught to focus on and develop feelings of patience, tolerance, self-esteem, compassion and empathy for others would be inclined to unethical conduct.)
• EQ would reduce the stress levels of educators, instil in them a positive attitude to their calling, and empower them to cope with the many challenges they face at school (and generally in life). It is no good appealing for emotional control when a crisis (such as we are currently experiencing) occurs.
Developing EQ in a gradual process. People have to become aware of the nature of their emotions, understand their causes, acknowledge the futility of feelings such as fear and anger, and be guided to control and replace such emotions, especially in their dealings with and attitudes towards others. As things stand, there is clear evidence that we are churning out generations of learners who are likely to follow the examples of emotionally unintelligent adults, and who will use these precedents to justify their behaviour.[/important]

Putting it plainly: emotional intelligence is within the reach of every individual. It can be taught, and therefore learned. The key is to instil in everyone an awareness of the powerful role emotions play in defining who you really are – in effect, a raising of levels of consciousness that will counter irrational and conditioned patterns of thinking and behaviour and facilitate self-control. There is a very close correlation between positive emotions, clear and logical thinking, moral values, ethical behaviour and faith in God. Being able to remain calm in a crisis, to consider issues from opposite points of view, to maintain consideration for others in your behaviour and not to allow circumstances to pervert your sense of morality are the rewards of emotional control, which enable you to tap into your inner, spiritual strengths. The converse of this principle is graphically being illustrated by both Government and the majority of the strikers. Is this the model we are presenting to our youth?

Is this the way we want future generations to behave?

Dr. Swartz has submitted comprehensive proposals to the National Department of Basic Education for revising the current education policy in the light of the perceived failure of OBE. He was recently invited to address the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education on these proposals, which include ways of enhancing the English proficiency of non-mother tongue learners, comprehensive learning skills for students (a major deficiency in current curricula), and the introduction of emotional intelligence (EQ) to schools. He has a doctorate in education and is currently Chairman of the Emotional Intelligence Forum of KZN.

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1 comment


    dEAR Dr, i am a South African workinh in Saudi and is busy doiing a research study on studentnurses and managers experience of strikes at a nursing college.I struggle with the literature and compilling the findings of my study.Can you please assist.THANX.LYNETTE

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