/ 24 April 2024

Education department will hire temps to fill 31 000 teacher vacancies

Rakudubane School 4958 Dv
Although the teacher shortage is a global issue, the UN said sub-Saharan Africa has been affected the most, where an estimated 15 million new teachers are needed by 2030. File photo

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said her department has started recruiting people to fill the 31 000 teacher shortage in the country.

Motshekga announced this while answering questions by the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Baxolile Nodada in parliament last week. 

KwaZulu-Natal, at 7 044, recorded the highest number of unfilled posts followed by the Eastern Cape and Limpopo at 6 111 and 4 933, respectively. Northern Cape, at 726, has the least number of unfilled posts.

This is a 28% increase on the 24,000 vacancies recorded in 2021.

“This is a serious disaster and dilemma because a shortage of management and support staff is a recipe for a catastrophe in any education system,” said the National Teachers Union (Natu) secretary general, Doctor Ngema. 

South Africa’s public education system has 410,000 teachers employed in about 25,000 schools in the country, according to the department. 

Education advocacy group Equal Education believes that the number of unfilled posts is more than the 31 000 cited by Motshekga. 

“Not having enough teachers in an already understaffed and overstrained sector means that learners will continue to be stripped of their immediately realisable right to education and that the already overworked and under-resourced teachers in schools will have to carry an even heavier load,” said Equal Education researcher Kimberly Khumalo.

The effect of the teacher shortage has resulted in overcrowded classrooms, overburdened educators, educational disparities and placed financial strain on the schooling system, which affects the quality of education.

A 2023 study by Stellenbosch University found that public schools have an average of 35 learners to one teacher — the maximum class size for foundation phase learners (grades R to four). 

Early this year, Natu raised the matter of a primary school offering grades one to seven and operated with only two teachers — one of whom served as principal.

In some instances, teachers are not willing to teach in township and rural schools because resources are inadequate.

According to Equal Education, in cases where teachers are willing to teach in rural areas or resource-constrained schools, their training does not prepare them to facilitate teaching and learning in such environments.

“This indirectly affects learning outcomes and not only jeopardises the quality of education but also undermines efforts towards achieving inclusive and equitable quality education for all,” Khumalo said. 

Many teachers are opting to move abroad for better pay, employment perks and “well-behaved” learners. 

“The lack of opportunities and poor working conditions are the main reasons teachers are choosing to go and teach overseas, and they find better perks there than they could ever find in South Africa,” said Mary Metcalfe, a former member of the Gauteng Executive Council for Education. 

In recent years, countries in the Middle and Far East opened their borders for graduates to teach English, because of a growing need for an internationalised education curriculum. 

Some of the graduates are qualified teachers, while others have degrees in fields outside of education.

Those without teaching degrees can do a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate to make them eligible to teach in foreign countries. 

An English teacher living in China said she would never have been able to earn as much money in South Africa as she does in China. 

“When I had just started teaching English in China, I was earning about R38 000 with free accommodation, medical aid and so many other benefits. If I was a teacher in South Africa, I would have never even reached that amount after four to five years,” said Faith Mtombi.

Equal Education has previously pointed out that finding employment in the education sector is difficult, and how provincial education departments spend their money is also problematic.  

According to the auditor general, the department is the third highest wasteful spender of all departments. From 2011 to 2021, 29% of the budget allocated to school infrastructure grants was not spent.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana allocated R324.5 billion to basic education for the 2024-25 financial year, with additional money to cover teachers’ salaries. 

But, with the cabinet-approved reduction of R2.8 billion over the medium term from various programmes, including the school infrastructure budget, the sector will once again have to tighten its belt. 

“In cutting or reprioritising any parts of the education budget, the treasury is making a political choice to limit departments’ ability to provide quality schooling for all,” Equal Education said in a statement. 

To tackle the teacher shortage, the education department said it awarded nearly 12 000 bursaries to trainee teachers from April 2022 to March 2023 through its Funza Lushaka bursary scheme

But the issue lies in the provincial education departments (PEDs) struggling to place graduates in posts.

“Due to budget cuts, PEDs have had to come up with cost-cutting measures which exacerbate overcrowding and leave unfilled teacher spots,” Khumalo said. 

In 2023, the education department appointed 53.12% of graduate teachers from the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme, while, for example, the Eastern Cape managed to place only 7%.

According to a collective agreement between the Education Labour Relations Council and the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme, bursary recipients should be prioritised for posts at schools once they graduate. 

The Funza Lushaka bursary is offered to students pursuing certain subjects, which include those wanting to teach grades R to three, African languages, Braille and sign language, and students learning to teach pupils with neurodevelopmental needs.

As an immediate measure to tackle the teacher shortage, Motshekga told parliament that her department would appoint temporary teachers. 

But Natu said one of the reasons for the teacher shortage was that the government has continued to fail to employ temporary teachers. 

“The department ignores the labour laws which dictate that a temporary employee serving in a vacant substantive post must be converted to permanent after three months,” Ngema said. 

During the International Task Force on Teachers for Education summit in Johannesburg in January, the United Nations issued a global teacher shortage alert worldwide. 

“Now, more than ever, we need to move towards learning societies. People everywhere need high-quality skills, knowledge and education. Above all, they need the best teachers possible,” UN chief António Guterres said in his video message to the forum.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation said seven out of 10 teachers at the secondary level will need to be replaced by 2030, along with more than 50% of all existing teachers who will have left the profession by the decade’s end.

Although the teacher shortage is a global issue, the UN said sub-Saharan Africa has been affected the most, where an estimated 15 million new teachers are needed by 2030. 

The Centre for Development and Enterprise has estimated that South Africa will need 456,000 teachers by 2025 for the country to offer quality education.

Equal Education has called on national and provincial treasuries to reverse all cuts made to the education budget, end austerity budgeting and prioritise the allocation of teacher posts to overcrowded schools.