Who wants to be a teacher?

The low status of teaching has caused student enrolments to plummet.

THE status of teaching is at its lowest point in years. Redeployment and the confusion around Curriculum 2005 have done little to attract potential teachers.

Instead, many suitable teaching candidates have been lured away by the private sector.

Further tarnishing the image of teaching have been reports of widespread corruption, absenteeism and substance abuse. In addition, the conditions in many schools, with shortages of basic amenities and resources, as well as problems of poor leadership, have made many schools undesirable and sometimes dangerous places. Perceptions that teachers are poorly paid and overworked persist. So who wants to be a teacher?

There are currently 115 000 students enrolled in 82 teacher training institutions in South Africa. This is down from a figure of 200 000 six years ago, when there was an oversupply of teachers, according to Duncan Hindle, chief director of human resources planning at the Department of Education. However, the current enrolment needs to be read against an increasing student population, as well as the unknown impact of HIV/Aids on teachers.

Quotas have been enforced as part of rationalisation plans. Yet where no quotas exist, such as at universities and technikons, enrolment has also plummeted. The numbers of training institutions has also diminished, but for different reasons. Of the 150 learning centres that existed in 1994, 82 survive, though this number will eventually be whittled down to about 30. The Department of Education considers it vital that all teachers graduate with a degree, obtained from higher education institutions that are centrally managed. Of the remaining 50 colleges of education, 27 have been earmarked for incorporation into universities and technikons.

At present, it is estimated that 80 000 of our roughly 400 000 teachers are professionally underqualified. Quality assurance is a major motive for the rationalisation plans. Janet Condy of the Cape Town College of Education, which looks set to become incorporated into the Cape Technikon next year, says that bursaries are vital in order to get black teachers into the field. “We have only one full-time black male student at present. There are no bursaries. In addition, many black graduates cannot find posts because the governing bodies of most black schools cannot afford to sponsor governing body posts.”

It is difficult to get an even picture when looking at supply and demand in the teaching profession. The most obvious distortion has to do with the oversupply of primary and geography teachers and the undersupply of maths and science teachers, as well as language teachers in rural areas. The department is seriously considering direct financial incentives to remedy this situation. Botswana employs a “scarce skills” policy, allowing higher pay for science teachers. This has reportedly drawn the ire of non-science teachers.

The problem is compounded by the fact that not many matriculants are coming through with maths and science, and those who do are quickly snapped up by companies. These graduates are essential for the success of our outcomes-based curriculum, modelled on the workplace, which is increasingly high tech and knowledge dependant.

Martin Hall, Rector of the Johannesburg College of Education, has predicted that there is a shortage of roughly 700 maths and science teachers in Gauteng, and that the severity of this situation can be “extrapolated to other provinces.”

The enormous reluctance of teachers to work in rural schools is part of the government’s motivation to review its salary and grading system. At this stage, it seems likely that those who have worked in rural schools will be preferred for promotion posts. Hindle maintains that “only now are we turning the corner on the oversupply of teachers.” Hindle states that “the teachers are there. There is a vast pool of qualified teachers looking for employment, many of whom are recently qualified. We haven’t been recruiting because of the rationalisation agreement.”

Hindle and other department officials are quick to point out that “there are 15 000 unemployed teachers in the Nortthern Province.” Perhaps the lessons of redeployment have been lost on them. Teachers with families are reluctant to uproot themselves.

The best teachers are typically promoted, and lost to the classroom. A new study aims to find ways to reverse this. Of the 115 000 currently enrolled in teacher training, 95 000 are involved in in-service training. The department has prioritised in-service training and the reskilling of teachers.

At Cape Town College of Education, 90% of those enrolled in part-time Inset courses are black Africans. The fact that such a large proportion of all those studying teaching are enrolled in Inset courses is one small source of light in an otherwise gloomy picture.

Trainee teachers talk ...

MOST of the students doing this course never planned to be here,” says Rob Sieborger, a teacher trainer.

Yvonne Bebi admits that teaching “was a last resort.” Bebi says “it was because of my age. The private sector will only look at you if you’re 25 to 30. But I enjoy it, because I love sharing knowledge.” Some students, like Wendy Liddle, have always wanted to teach. Like her co-student, Margeret Swanson, they believe they can “make a difference.”

Working with children is a popular motivation for becoming a teacher. Sumeia Elsenki, from Libya, and Kym Hall, are motivated by their love for children. Hall says “there are so many exciting things to do with them, so many ways to expose them to the world.” At the Cape Town College of Education, which trains mainly for primary school, this motivation is even more in evidence. Nadia Khan, studying pre-primary, says that “you need to love working with children. If you’re not a dedicated person you should get out of teaching.”

Anthony Smith and Grant De Sousa seem motivated by the learning process itself. De Sousa says that “it’s all about that feeling you get when the learner gets it right,” or, as Smith says, “seeing the light go on.”

Another popular motivation to take up teaching is the opportunity to travel. Janet Condy, a lecturer at the Cape Town College of Education, says that “80% will go overseas.”

Sieborger says that many of his students have had a teacher in the past who has been a source of inspiration. Gabriel Pule from Botswana says “I was influenced by my own teachers. They were good role models.” His classmate, Chawada Dioka, got into teaching because of a bursary.

Whatever the state of the profession, it seems the reasons for becoming a teacher are the same as ever. Except for the bursaries. The lack of students receiving financial assistance was plain to see.

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, September 7, 2000.

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