Teacher crisis hobbles Eastern Cape

Good Shepherd, a public primary school in Grahamstown, is a poignant reflection of how teacher shortages in the Eastern Cape’s public schools impede proper learning.

The no-fee school won a court order in the Grahamstown High Court in November compelling the provincial education department to supply it immediately with a maths teacher, but it is yet to do it.

“The department is ignoring the court order,” said Brin Brody, a lawyer representing the school. “Officials continue to ignore my letters.
We have to go back to court.”

The absence of a maths teacher is one of the shortcomings that stand in the way of adequate teaching and learning in a school already facing a shortage of teachers.

The Eastern Cape department’s spokesperson, Loyiso Pulumani, told the Mail & Guardian this week that Good Shepherd already had its full complement of teachers and it would need to sacrifice another teacher for a maths teacher to be assigned to the school.

“It needs to reprioritise and determine which teacher moves,” said Pulumani. “This may not necessarily suit the school’s needs, but it is a model that is being followed.”

In the meantime, the private St Andrews College in Grahamstown has secured the voluntary services of a 19-year-old gap-year student from England to teach grade seven maths.

Good Shepherd hasn’t filled void
Good Shepherd has not had its temporary teacher—who teaches two subjects in each grade, from four to seven—reappointed. But given the school’s teacher deficiency, she stayed on when temporary teachers left their posts. “She has been here most of the term teaching without any reimbursement. She is now threatening to leave and I can’t blame her,” said acting principal Cecile Mager.

In the Eastern Cape, less than half of the 4 200 temporary teachers axed because of diminished funds across the province last December have been reappointed, more than a month after a deal to reinstate them was reached between the department and unions.

Each year, the provincial education department sets out the number of teachers posts the department funds annually. This is known as post-provisioning and, according to the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, the department budgets for fewer teachers than there are in the system.

Zukiswa Kota, an education researcher at Rhodes University’s Public Service Accountability Monitor, linked Good Shepherd’s inadequacies to problems caused by the department’s failure to implement its post-provisioning plan effectively. This has resulted in a failure to distribute teachers properly, resulting in numerous schools battling with teacher shortages while others have an oversupply.

MEC identifies problem
Provincial education minister Mandla Makupula identified “delays in the full implementation of post-provisioning” for teachers as one of the medium- to long-term problems when delivering his policy and budget speech on Thursday last week.

Post-provisioning problems are also to blame for dwindling pupil numbers in many schools in rural areas, said Pulumani. Low enrolment has resulted in 294 schools shutting down and a further 500 out of more than 5 500 across the province are earmarked for closure. Good Shepherd does “reflect teacher shortage problems and problems caused by poor post-provisioning to some extent, but there are schools [even in Grahamstown] that are in a much worse position”, Kota said. She cited as an example of inefficiency the seven schools in Graaff-Reinet that have dropped either maths and physical science, or both, this year, because of a shortage of teachers.

The Eastern Cape achieved a 58.1% matric pass rate in 2011 and was setting up some potential matriculants for failure, Kota said.

“That should never happen in a system that is already performing so dismally.”

Out of desperation that her daughter was not getting a proper education in the school, a parent alerted the M&G to what she maintained was a deepening culture of absenteeism among Good Shepherd teachers.

The parent, who asked not be named, said she feared her grade seven child might not be accepted in her preferred secondary school next year because she may have to write an aptitude test. “My concern is that she’s not learning anything at the school. Teachers just sit around doing nothing. What will she be tested on at the end of the year?”

Mager denied that absenteeism was high among teachers.

Bongani Nkosi

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