Your country needs you

Students of today must become the educators of tomorrow if the teaching profession is to thrive again, writes Edwin Naidu

Thousands of vacancies! Hard-working individuals, with a friendly personality and a passion for teaching, urgently required. Excellent working hours and generous leave benefits, plus the opportunity to work with and shape the intellectuals of tomorrow. Teaching is not just a job - it is a way of life.
And how South Africa desperately needs matriculants planning to enrol at university next year to consider studying to become educators.

The World War II slogan on posters in which the army general says “Your Country Needs You” could not be more appropriate in South Africa now.

South Africa needs a massive influx of educators. For probably the first time in the country’s history, the shortage has reached critical proportions, with the number of educators in the profession dropping below 350 000, according to the Education Labour Relations Council.

Rationalisation, low morale within the profession and the exodus of educators abroad have led to a drop in the number of teachers in the country. Thousands of good teachers were lost to the profession in the R1-billion rationalisation programme under former education boss Sibusiso Bengu. As many as 5 000 local educators are believed to be teaching at schools in the United Kingdom, where the teacher shortage has seen several British recruitment agencies and schools scouting for staff in South Africa.

In a speech before Parliament to support World Teachers’ Day on October 5, Minister of Education Kader Asmal urged students to study to become teachers.

He said teachers have no need to fear retrenchments and further instability in respect of appointments following the termination of the agreement on rationalisation and redeployment.

Asmal said this has signalled a new era of teacher recruitment, and the open vacancy lists being published by provincial education departments are creating exciting opportunities for new recruits to enter the profession. “This is a call to build on these opportunities and encourage the best and the brightest students to take up teaching. It is a call to students thinking of a career to consider teaching. It is a call to parents to remind their children of the nobility of the profession. But most of all it is a call to teachers to hold your heads high, that all may see the example you set, the virtues you espouse and practise, and the commanding place you hold in society.”

Speaking at a function in Mafikeng to commemorate Teachers’ Day, Thami Mseleku, director-general of the national Department of Education, said the Teachers’ Day theme placed emphasis on qualifications, which he added, were important in the context of life-long learning.

He said teachers must be encouraged to ensure that they have the minimum requirements for appointment. “The opportunities for them to upgrade are enormous, especially with the introduction of the national professional diploma in education as a special upgrading qualification, and these opportunities must be grasped,” he said.

“But of course we must not assume that the qualified teacher is automatically a good teacher. The same applies where the qualification was received long ago. Updating ourselves should be part of our job, and part of the role model we project.”

Mseleku, a former teacher, said that in observing World Teachers’ Day, educators in the country had joined over 100 countries around the world whose people would all spare a special thought for the teacher - the teacher whom they know and trust.

Teaching, Mseleku said, was a demanding job and too often a thankless task.

“Fortunately, for many outstanding men and women, it is also a God-given task, and any obstacles are surmounted to accomplish the task. Their view would be that education is much too valuable to be subjected to the vagaries of circumstance; learners cannot be held ransom to problems and factors beyond their control. This must be the view of any honest educator, especially those who wish that the education budget were not held accountable to fiscal policy constraints. These teachers are the representatives of stability, order and continuity, and do not flinch in the face of adversity.

“They know that they carry our heritage and our future on their shoulders.”

In a message from the president of the World Confederation of Teachers Louis van Neneden, the head of the National Association of Professions Teachers of South Africa EM Biyela said: “Teachers today are more than ever indispensable”.

On the one hand this message stresses the essential role of teachers, and on the other, it is a request for greater appreciation and commitment from countries, governments, communities, parents and learners towards teachers.

To be able to fulfil their fundamental role in quality learning, teachers should realise the importance of professionalism, Van Neneden added.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union celebrated World Teachers’ Day and also hosted a cultural festival in KwaZulu-Natal. The union said South Africa has about 70 000 under- and unqualified teachers which needed urgent attention.

Chosen jointly by Education International and Unesco, the slogan for World Teachers’ Day was “Qualified Teachers for Quality Education”.

In the information age, the most valuable commodity is knowledge. “A teacher’s professional skill is the catalyst for the learning process. It is impossible to create a quality education without dedicated and skilled professionals. Despite the vital role of teachers, 70% of the world’s teachers live at or below the threshold of poverty! Their conditions of service in many countries can be described as intolerable,” the teachers’ union said.

Indeed the educator’s lot, not only in South Africa but globally is extremely challenging. Hands up, those who want to become a teacher!

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, November 2001.