The National Teaching Awards (NTA) have become a significant and memorable event on the calendar of the department of basic education (DBE). They represent the single most gesture through which the DBE expresses its gratitude to educators who displayed passion, commitment and selflessness to the teaching profession.
In one of her past welcoming speeches, basic education Minister, Angie Motshekga, described teachers as the vital cogs in the wheel of transformation. She said in an ideal world, teachers should be accorded universal respect in recognition of the fundamental role they play not only as educators but also as nurturers and agents of change.
“The awards are one of the essential instruments we have employed both to incentivise teachers and to impress among the people, with the people, consciousness of the educators’ role in the production of skills and knowledge,” Motshekga said.
According to the DBE the main objectives of the awards are to:
- Focus public attention on the positive aspects of Basic Education, thereby raising the public image of the teaching profession;
- Recognise and promote excellence in teaching performance;
- Honour dedicated creative and effective teachers and schools;
- Encourage best practice in schools; and
- Afford South Africans the opportunity to publicly say thank you to all outstanding teams or individual teachers in schools.
Pioneered in 2000 by the late Professor Kader Asmal, the awards have also grown markedly given that in the beginning, they used to be held in small and crowded venues drawing crowds of no fewer than 500. But the numbers have grown phenomenally and nowadays the awards attract 1000 and more guests in bigger and prestigious venues.
The awards also generate excitement and healthy competition among teachers and schools prompting them to work hard and produce excellent academic results.
Since their inception, the awards have gone through several innovations and changes to enhance their quality and accommodate more deserving teachers. Winners of some of the big categories also walk away with grand and fabulous prizes such as brand new car attesting to the phenomenal growth in stature of the awards.
In 2016, Motshekga announced that the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award will be known as the Nelson Mandela Lifetime Achievement Award. A new criterion has since been developed to align and reflect the values and attributes of Nelson Mandela.
Perhaps the biggest coup for the organisers of the awards was securing a deal with the national broadcaster to beam the awards live during prime time to millions of SABC2 viewers.
To add gravitas to the events, the country’s heads of state are invited to deliver keynote address to the finalists. Government also uses this platform to highlight its commitment to education as one of its apex priorities.