Expensively trained, nowhere to teach

New graduates trained as teachers at huge state expense could be lost to public education if the Western Cape education department does not find them teaching posts by Monday.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, recipients of the state’s prestigious Funza Lushaka bursary scheme who graduated from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in December described their frustration at the provincial department’s inability to place them.

Tamarin Carlson, newly qualified to teach English, said she was “puzzled by the department’s inefficiency and confused that it can throw away an investment”.

She received about R100 000 in Funza Lushaka bursary money for her studies at UCT and said that all the department could tell her was that, on February 28, its contract with her to place her in a classroom would lapse if she was not appointed.

“What about the fact that teachers are needed in the country?” Carlson said.

“Does that not count when they let so many of us just slip away?”

The government’s nationwide Funza Lushaka bursary scheme stipulates that if a provincial education department does not find a place for a recipient within 60 days of graduation, the newly qualified teacher’s obligation to teach in a public school falls away.

Former education minister Naledi Pandor established the scheme in 2007 to boost the supply of teachers in national priority areas such as maths, science and languages.

The bursaries are at the high end of those administered by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, covering full tuition, accommodation, meals, books and learning materials and providing an additional living allowance.

From 2007 to last year, the state spent R470-million to fund 28 200 Funza Lushaka bursaries.
Mary Faragher, also newly qualified to teach English, said she was a Funza Lushaka bursar for one year and received R50 000. As the scheme requires, she did not apply to any private schools or for any posts funded by school governing bodies (SGBs).

But five weeks after the schools reopened, she had no feedback from the Western Cape department and found an SGB post herself.

“Many people who were in my [UCT] class are yet to be placed and some have taken up SGB posts,” she said.

“We want to work in public schools and make a difference, but we can’t. The problem is the department’s inefficiency,” Faragher said.

Graduate Michaela Higgins said she could not wait for the department and had already taken an SGB post.

“I was advised by my lecturer to take up posts if they were offered because in her experience many students were not placed and, after two months of waiting, had to look for employment themselves.”

A still unemployed graduate who did not want to be named said she received a text message from the department last week instructing her to send her ID number.

“I am still waiting to hear from it. I haven’t taken posts anywhere because the requirement is to work in a public school at least for a year,” she said.

Since the bursary scheme began four years ago, the Western Cape department has placed only 34% of recipients, said departmental spokesperson Paddy Attwell. But across all provinces, between 75% and 90% of graduates have been placed since 2007, said national basic education department spokesperson Granville Whittle. The Western Cape is in a “unique situation”, he said, because the number of students opting to teach there exceeds demand.

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".  
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