higher education XXX.   Picture: THINKSTOCK

DECLARING education an essential service would be in conflict with the constitution and international best practice, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said Tuesday.

The union’s comments followed remarks by African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who said Tuesday education as an essential service was something the ANC "feels strongly about", and that even if education was not legally declared an essential service, it should be treated as such.

"Education … is something that we should not gamble with, because it is about the future of our children," Mr Mantashe said after the party’s first national executive committee meeting Tuesday.

But Sadtu deputy general secretary Nkosana Dolopi said Tuesday that such a move would not be in line with the constitution.

Mr Dolopi said improving the education system through preventing strikes would be best served by ensuring that the root causes of the strikes — often related to education quality — were addressed, rather than legal prevention of strikes.

Mr Dolopi said problems facing SA’s education system included delivery of teaching and learning materials, delays of payment to schools and teachers by the government, poor conditions of service, and overcrowding.

He dismissed that Sadtu strikes severely prejudiced pupils, saying that after strikes, the union formulated recovery plans, which often included extra classes.

Labour analyst Ivan Israelstam said Tuesday that in order to treat teaching as an essential service, the state would have to prove that severe damage was caused by striking, and that teachers strikes did not just delay, but removed, the constitutional right to education.