/ 21 April 2005

A fresh look at ‘teacher shortages’

Recent predictions of a shortage of educators are to be reviewed by a newly appointed ministerial committee.

The committee on teacher education was appointed ‘to develop a National Framework for Teacher Education, which aims to develop coherence around existing policies and strategies to sustain a continuing professional development culture among teachers,” says Michael Samuel from the committee. It will provide a fresh analysis of the issue of teacher supply and demand, among other things.

‘We are looking at existing studies and the basis on which projections about teacher demand are made,” says Samuel. ‘There are many factors that should be taken into account, such as the changing learner-teacher ratio and post-provisioning norms; changing learner enrolments; the number of available, unemployed qualified teachers; the output of higher education institutions in terms of their initial teacher education graduates; and teacher attrition.”

Available reports, says Samuel, ‘exaggerate the teacher attrition rates creating the impression of wide-spread discontent”. A variety of reasons account for the attrition, including death, migration and teachers joining the corporate sector.

Samuel also cautions that ‘The [current] studies are often methodologically flawed in importing projections’ models that do not account for the specific contexts of the South African teaching force. In South Africa, teacher attrition is approximately between 5% and 8%. This is low compared to other countries, which have attrition rates of about 20%,” he says.

Death accounts for only 0,5% of teacher attrition. ‘We don’t know what the causes of death are since our database does not capture this. It could be anything from accidents to fatal diseases, including HIV/Aids,” says Samuel. ‘Our methodologies for collecting data to know how many teachers are infected by HIV/Aids need to be more sophisticated, valid and reliable. The proposed research study is aiming to address this issue.”

A recent South African Institute of Race Relations survey states that South Africa will have to produce 30 000 teachers annually for the next 10 to 15 years to avoid a shortage, about 75% more than is currently being produced.