Bursaries for teachers

The department of education has launched a R700 million-bursary scheme initiative to make teaching a competitive and attractive profession.

Called Fundza Lushaka FL (teach the nation), the programme over a three year period aims to lure ‘best minds”, preferably young people, to train as teachers and plug the gaps in the profession left by those who have joined the private sector and those lost to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Indications are that the country could face a collapse of the education system in the next few years if more people do not join the ranks of teachers. A lack of qualified teachers in key subjects such as mathematics, science and technology makes the need for more teachers even more urgent.

The seriousness of the teacher shortage in South Africa was further underlined during the recent conference of commonwealth ministers of education in Cape Town, where it was stated that Africa alone would need five million new teachers if it were to achieve universal primary school education in 2015.

Palesa Tyobeka, Deputy Director General of General Education and Training, whose office drives the initiative, said: ‘We would like the bursary to attract not only the best minds, but also individuals who are truly committed to the teaching profession and who can help turn the education system around and reaffirm its status as a noble profession.”

Tyobeka said that in the 2007/08 financial year the department would receive R120million, which should enable them to pay for 3 000 students at various levels of study. She said the allocation is intended to improve the quality of education in schools by:

  • increasing the number of people who make teaching their first choice of career by making it attractive through full-cost bursaries and a strong possibility of a guaranteed teaching post;
  • increasing the number of teachers, particularly in scarce skills areas where there is an inadequate number of qualified and competent teachers; and
  • attracting back into the profession the ‘best minds” by marketing the profession and reaffirming its position as one of the more critical professions to guarantee growth and development in South Africa.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS) CEO Alan Taylor said he is optimistic this capital injection will see more people joining the teaching profession.

He said the cost would average R40 000 a teacher, adding that NFSAS would ring-fence, from its coffers, R63million for the same purposes.

The other important feature that makes the bursary even more attractive is that it allows people outside of teaching with post-graduate qualifications to enter the teaching profession. The only requirement will be undergoing a year of training for a post-graduate certificate in education. Individuals who qualify will also be allowed to ‘migrate out” of NFSAS and be awarded an FL bursary, said Tyobeka.

When asked about conditions attached to the FL bursary, Tyobeka said: ‘The conditions are that students be prepared to pay us back in kind by becoming teachers in our public schools for a specified period of time. The period will depend on the number of years the students have been funded.” This differs from NFSAS, where the financial assistance is linked to a repayment agreement.

The areas of study prioritised for the FL bursary are:

  • Grade R to 9: Foundation phase, African languages, English, mathematics, science and technology.
  • Grade 8 to 12: African Languages, English, mathematics, mathematical literacy, agricultural sciences, life science, physical science, agriculture, civil, electrical, mechanical, information and computer applications technology and engineering graphics and design.
Key players in the education sector have welcomed the bursary scheme.

The President of the South African Students’ Congress, David Maimela, said it is a timely initiative as research shows a decline in teacher supply. The department of education must ensure it improves service conditions and benefits that accrue to teachers. Maimela said the teacher decline is a direct result of the closure of teacher training colleges. ‘We hope this will help us recover from that policy decision, and that the teaching profession would regain its prestige.”

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union’s Khanyisile Mhlongo was cautiously upbeat about the initiative. She said that although they still need to familiarise themselves with the details of the scheme, they ‘nonetheless highly welcome whatever initiative revives the teaching profession and trains more teachers”.

She was, however, unhappy about the timing of the advertisement of the bursary, saying it [the advertisement] came out almost simultaneously with the release of matric results and would therefore affect the 2007 intake.

Mhlongo also said the most needy students in rural areas would miss the deadline as most have no access to newspapers. She called for a campaign that uses local radio stations, churches, school notice boards and billboards to reach more people.

‘As much as we applaud the initiative, we would like to see a dynamic advocacy campaign done in time to enable learners, parents and higher education institutions to be better prepared for such an intake,” said Mhlongo.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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