SA faces teacher-shortage crisis

One crucial step that the country needs to take immediately to improve the situation is to boost entries into the profession.

A study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) reveals that by 2008, South Africa will be short of 15 090 educators, unless something is done to correct the situation.

The current learner-to-educator ratios are 40:1 for primary and 35:1 for secondary schools.

To achieve a learner-to-educator ratio of 35:1, which is still considered high, for both primary and secondary schools, this figure more than doubles, with a projected shortfall of about 34 000 educators.

The study also found that it “probably will not be possible” to meet the recruitment needs of new educators from new graduates for the period ahead, nor could the shortfall be met by the pool of educators from the community who have teaching qualifications but who are not working, or seeking work, as educators.

According to the HSRC, the national attrition rate was 5,9 percent in 2002-03, the major reasons including resignation, death and retirement. In an effort to address the shortage, particularly of mathematics and science teachers, Education Department spokesman Tommy Makhode told Business Day newspaper that it was working to improve remuneration in the profession.

The department signed an agreement last month with the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie, and the National Teachers’ Union, on the introduction of performance awards and the “accelerated salary progression for educators”.

“Through these agreements, we hope to address the retention of teachers and to attract new ones,” said Makhode.

The department has allocated R63 million for teacher training this year.

Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) education spokesman George Boinamo said the shortage of suitably qualified teachers and the continuing exodus of teachers from the profession constitutes a “national crisis”.

Makhode denied this, saying: “The DA is being alarmist. There is no crisis of teacher supply.”

However, Education Labour Relations Council spokesman Lesiba Leshoka said the council was concerned about a potential teacher shortage, which is why it brought the Education Department and various educator unions together.

The head of the Naptosa, Dave Balt, says: “There is definitely going to be a shortage sooner rather than later.” He believes the existing pupil-teacher ratio is totally inappropriate, and that while the steps taken by the department are “not adequate”, they are “certainly in the right direction”.

Sadtu spokesman John Lewis said the shortages would be most intense in the poorer schools and rural areas, as the wealthier schools will be able to retain staff and hire new staff. The bigger issue, however, Lewis says, is that there is a general “large-scale demoralisation” among teachers.

“To turn something around like this is going to take time. The Department of Education and universities have a big responsibility to convince matriculants that there are worthwhile jobs available in teaching. The poor image of the profession will have to change.”

Stephen Lowry, the rector of St Stithian’s College, was also concerned about the risk of a future shortage of teachers.

“A lot of people say that the quality of education is dependent on salaries, but most teachers join the profession because it is a vocation. Quality is dependent on the nature of the relationship between pupils and teachers, but salary is a major issue. The profession is pushing teachers out of the middle class into the working class because packages are not keeping pace with the cost of a middle-class lifestyle,” he said.

South Africa is also losing newly qualified teachers to more lucrative contracts overseas.

“”Society needs to value teachers. Look at the spending power of a teacher’s salary in London compared to SA. It is hugely significant in terms of what society is saying about this profession, and who it can attract and keep,” said Lowry.

Professor Francis Faller, the deputy head of the school of education at Wits University, said the likely future shortage was not only in mathematics and science, but in personnel qualified to teach mother-tongue languages.

July 2006
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