Shortage of teachers plagues EC schools

Members of Parliament say that the Alfred Nzo West district particularly is affected by a shortage of teachers. Archive photo by Mbulelo Sisulu

While some schools in the Eastern Cape may have sufficient teachers, they may not have a library or laboratory – like Gcinubuzwe Combined School in Jansenville.

It’s over a month since schools were re-opened around the country but the teacher shortages at poor schools in the Eastern Cape continues to affect learning and teaching. According to regional reports by Sadtu (South African democratic Teachers’ Union), there were a number of schools that started the school year off with classrooms full of learners and no teachers.

Isibane Secondary School in Graaff-Reinet reported that there were only three educators available for all Grades 4 to 7 classes. The non-payment of teacher assistants aggravated the problem across the Sarah Baartman District Municipality which covers the western part of the province. Learners from Dale Primary were left with no substitute teachers for the two educators who are on maternity leave.

The number of vacant teacher and school management team (SMT) positions added to the concerns raised earlier this year by members of Parliament regarding the readiness of EC schools for the 2021 academic year. “It is a concern that the Eastern Cape system has a net vacancy of 1,595 teacher and SMT positions. This is worse in Alfred Nzo West district, with 135 vacancies, and Joe Gqabi with a 4% vacancy rate,” said Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education.

The committee had called on the department to fill the vacant positions before the schools re-opened, to ensure efficiencies within the system so that learners have teachers to teach them.

Also in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Gcinubuzwe Combined School in Jansenville reported that the shortage of educators on the first day of school caused anger and dissatisfaction among parents, so much so that the teachers who were present were locked inside the staffroom by parents demanding answers.

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“The school has had a shortage of teachers since last year. We tried to report this to the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) last year in June and we only received two posts to be filled for six months. We currently have a total number of nine teachers for all 236 of our learners from Grades R to 12.  Grade 2 doesn’t even have a teacher. Sometimes learners come here and don’t get taught on that day because there is no teacher,” said Mike Manak, chairperson of the School Governing Body.

Parliamentary liaison officer for the ECDOE, Vuyiseka Mboxela, denied the claims that there is a shortage of teachers in the province and said the absence of teachers is due to the department’s re-deployment plan: “We have a contained number of schools that have reported a shortage; it’s less than 500, and close to 6,000 teachers who are ready to work. The only problem we have is placing them in suitable schools at the moment.”

Mboxela acknowledged that there is shortage, but attributed it to death or abrupt resignations of teachers since last year. “The Department is currently working through the redeployment process to try and place more teachers at schools that are still experiencing a shortage. By April, we will have come up with a clear plan to assist the schools with not enough teachers,” Mboxela said.

A learner at Middle Zolo In Ngqamakhwe doing a maths exercise because they did not have a Maths teacher. Archive photo by Elitsha reporter

Chris Mdingi from Sadtu says that the shortage of teachers does not have a direct bearing on redeployment. “Our view is that even where the said teachers are expected to move around the province, their services are still required for efficiency purposes in service delivery, which in turn will be reflected in the output of the school. This is a product of the Peter Morkel model denounced by the trade union movement and later the ANC, a long time ago. It cannot still be practiced today,” he said.

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Athenkosi Sophitshi, provincial head of Equal Education (EE), condemned the under-staffing of schools and said that instances like this are reflective of the ‘class gap’ between well-resourced schools and those in the public sector. “In our open letter to the minister of education, treasury and the president, learners and other members of EE expressed their concerns on the widening gap between private and public schools. There seems to be a declining prioritisation of public schools. Change is moving at a pace that creates a clear divide among learners from working class backgrounds and those with money,” she said.

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