A flawed funding model results in poor schools reducing the number of subjects they offer and enduring larger class sizes than richer schools.
More than 21 000 vacant teacher posts will not be filled next year, a Mail & Guardian analysis of recent declarations from provinces specifying the number of teachers they can afford to employ in 2013 suggests. These figures mean that many poorer schools have to limit the range of subjects they offer their pupils and endure larger class sizes than richer schools, unions say.
In August, the basic education department told Parliament that 62% of schools had vacant teaching posts and the national vacancy rate was 7%. But provinces subsequently revealed how many teachers they would employ next year and it became clear many vacancies would not be filled.
Union leaders told the M&G the funding model used to determine posts was inadequate because it considered the numbers of pupils and not the subject needs of specific schools. The model had compelled some schools in townships and rural areas to phase out certain subjects, said Mbuyiseni Mathonsi, KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu).
The Eastern Cape education department announced last month it would cut nearly 4 000 posts next year, but most provinces will leave their numbers largely unchanged. The M&G's analysis of provinces' declarations for 2013 shows the following:
- Eastern Cape: 60 820 posts; 5 107 vacancies;
- Mpumalanga: 32 637 posts; 3 738 vacancies;
- Limpopo: 55 672 posts; 3 197 vacancies;
- Gauteng: 56 054 posts; 2 335 vacancies;
- Western Cape: 31 091 posts; 2 298 vacancies;
- KwaZulu-Natal: 90 057 posts; 2 936 vacancies;
- Northern Cape: 8 132 posts; 628 vacancies;
- North West: 24 541 posts; 1 076 vacancies; and
- Free State: 21 944 posts; 736 vacancies.
"We need a progressive [post-provisioning] model," Mathonsi said. "The current model does not allow us to diversify our curriculum. That's why [subjects] in rural areas and townships are reduced each year, to the extent that some schools no longer offer subjects such as accounting."
Basic education department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi declined to comment.
Sadtu contested the Western Cape posts when the province declared them in August. The 154 new jobs "won't have any effect on the class size, but what it does is maintain the inequalities" between public schools and former model C schools, said Sadtu provincial secretary Jonovan Rustin.
Township schools and schools in rural areas without enough teachers are disadvantaged because, unlike former model C schools, they are not able to employ more teachers using funds from their school governing body coffers.
Sadtu in KwaZulu-Natal would march over the unchanged posts next month, Mathonsi said.
The province's education department spokesperson, Muntu Lukhozi, said the posts were "enough to cater for all schools", but conceded there was a "shortage of appropriately qualified teachers to fill those posts".
Temporary and unqualified teachers would be fired in December, "giving way for new graduates to take their rightful place in the classroom when schools reopen," Lukhozi said.
Some provincial departments blame the decline in pupil numbers for the stagnancy in the teaching posts. The Mpumalanga education department is expecting 3 528 fewer pupils next year.
A report earlier this year by the South African Institute of Race Relations showed that the number of public schools declined from 26 789 to 24 451 between 2000 and 2010. The number of independent schools grew from 971 to 1 399 in the same period.
The teacher-pupil ratio in public schools was 1:30, almost double the 1:16 ratio in independent schools, the institute found. But Mathonsi said the ratio in many township and rural area schools was far greater – as high as 1:60 in some cases.
Daniel Ngwenya, the North West department's deputy human resource manager, said the migration from villages to urban areas accounted for the sparse supply of teachers in schools with declining numbers.
The government will employ more than 535 000 teachers in 2013. Its target is to produce more than 40 000 new teachers by 2014. – Additional reporting by Victoria John