/ 21 September 2011

South Africa desperate for skilled teachers

According to a report released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) on Wednesday, South Africa is in dire need of good, skilled teachers.

“South Africa’s education system is underperforming, especially in terms of maths and science results. When compared to many other developing countries, our expenditure on education is not matched by the results, and research shows decisively that good teaching is vital for better results,” Ann Bernstein, the founding director of CDE, told journalists.

Read the report

The report paints a bleak picture of teaching in government schools, illustrating severe issues in the education, experience and management of “education professionals”.

Findings show that South Africa needs to increase its output of trained teachers by 15 000 annually to meet the requirement of 25 000 new teachers per year, the report says.

Research dating back to 2005 demonstrates that 16 581 mathematics teachers were present in the Eastern Cape but only 7 090 were teaching the subject.

But 5 032 were teaching mathematics who were not qualified to do so.

Uninterested and underpaid
Of those who are pursuing a career in the classroom, only two-thirds spend 46% of their time actively teaching and of those hardly any teach on a Friday.

Additionally, the education system must also contend with the fact that over 25% of newly qualified teachers immediately pursue other professions, or emigrate.

“This is a systematic problem. If we don’t act now we are condemning a generation of children to poor education standards,” Bernstein said.

CDE’s research identifies the poor societal perceptions of teaching to be another major stumbling block to attracting quality skills to the sector.

“We need to make teaching a more attractive profession with better incentives for good performance. Teaching is not respected enough in South Africa and society needs to change its views and attribute greater status to teachers,” Bernstein said.

Along with the notion of rewarding teachers who perform well, the report also calls for measures to be taken against those who fail to fulfill their duties.

“There is nothing worse than a teacher operating in trying circumstances in a badly managed school where nothing happens to those that shirk their responsibilities,” Bernstein said.

Private sector involvement
Besides bettering the quality of teacher training at public institutions, the report further suggests that private institutions be included in improving education training.

“The issue is not only whether public tertiary institutions will be able to train more teachers, but whether they will be able to train them well. The challenge of providing good teachers to meet South Africa’s current and future needs will not be resolved simply by bringing political will to bear on public institutions,” the report reads.

The department of basic education was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but other stakeholders in the sector largely agreed with the report’s findings when posed questions by the Mail & Guardian.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), the largest teachers’ union, said teacher’s salaries, along with training and development, needed to be addressed immediately.

“The starting salary in the teaching profession is low compared to other professions, even though the teachers have completed a four-year degree. This prevents people joining the profession. Teacher development and training is also key to improving the current situation,” said Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) education spokesperson Dr Wilmot James echoed this sentiment.

“The DA welcomes the report, particularly that special performance-related incentives should be provided to the better teachers; [and] that the training of teachers — especially in mathematics and science — should be ramped up as an emergency through accelerated training at public institutions,” he said.

But James also said attitudes towards teaching should change within the sector.

“In the past teaching was seen as a vocation and not a job. There has been a decline in the way teachers are viewed and the overall ethos of the profession has also waned. This will only be improved if teachers rise to the occasion,” he said.