A UNESCO report, which examined the number of teachers that each country needs, found that sub-Saharan Africa needs an additional 6,3 million teachers if it's to attain universal primary education by 2030.
The Centre for Development and Enterprise predicted that South Africa will need to have 456,000 teachers by 2025 to offer quality education. According to the Department of Basic Education, South Africa's public education system has 410,000 teachers. These teachers are employed in approximately 25,000 schools across the country and are responsible for teaching 12.9 million pupils.
South Africa doesn't graduate the adequate number of teachers to meet the supply and demand. Currently, the country's initial teacher institutions graduate 15,000 new teachers per year. This is below the 25,000 mark required to maintain an effective teacher-pupil ratio.
But between 18,000 and 22,000 teachers leave the profession every year. This figure is higher than teachers who join the profession.
The Teaching and Learning International Survey published in July 2019 found that the average age of the South African teacher was 43 years. The survey also found that 32% of teachers were aged 50 and above. This means that in the next decade almost half of the current teaching workforce will have to be replaced.
In addition, South Africa is particularly lagging in producing teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Teachers are regarded as the essential drivers of a good quality education system. If South Africa can't successfully recruit, retain, and train enough suitably qualified teachers it won't be able to provide quality education to the citizens to meet the country's social and economic needs.
There are a number of contributors to the country's escalating teacher shortage. These include:
Increased pupil enrolments. The number of pupils is expected to rise from some 12.4 million in 2013 to 13.4 million in 2023. On paper, and drawn from current demographic statistics, learner enrolment in South Africa is projected to decrease from 2023 onwards. However, such projections don't include undocumented migrants and refugee seekers who contribute to an unanticipated increase in school enrolments.
Challenging working conditions, which include lack of facilities for teaching, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate incentives, poor parental participation and policy overload.
There's also an oversupply of teachers in certain subjects and also in certain geographical locations - such teachers are at times not absorbed by the system. There's also a shortage of qualified teachers to teach content subjects in specific languages, for example, teaching life sciences in Afrikaans, foundation phase, and technical subjects.
In some instances, teachers may not be willing to teach in township and rural schools. Even in rare cases where teachers are willing to teach in rural areas or resource-constrained schools, their teacher education and training doesn't prepare them on how to facilitate teaching and learning in rural environments.
What needs to be done
To solve this shortage of teachers in the short term would require the country to tap into a pool of experienced teachers who are willing and qualified to re-enter the teaching profession. The country also needs to provide better incentives to teachers, such as better working conditions, job security, motivation and safety.
South Africa employs a considerable number of migrant teachers who help alleviate teacher shortages. But a more strategic plan needs to be developed, especially for scarce and critical skill subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Such a plan will allow the Department of Basic Education to recruit teachers from neighbouring countries while developing capacity to replace migrant teachers. A longer-term view needs to look into investing resources in initial teacher education through funding of student teachers.
In 2017 the largest reallocation of resources towards the government's priorities was for higher education and training. This amounted to an additional R57 billion to fund the phasing in of fee-free tertiary education. This was in addition to the R10 billion provisionally allocated in the 2017 budget.
Those students should then enter into service contracts with the Department of Basic Education for a certain period. Currently the government has the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme which supports teaching studies and is made available to qualified students to complete a teaching degree. Bursary recipients are then required to teach at public schools equivalent to the duration of bursary received. There's still a need for a robust evaluation of the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme, however, there are indications that it's making a positive difference in the public schooling system.
South Africa should also expand distance education to enable student teachers to learn while working to sustain themselves and support their families. The education system must create conducive working conditions, which will ensure the retention of teachers, especially those with the most experience and with scarce skills. And finally, teachers in oversubscribed subjects need to be re-skilled so that they can teach in areas where there is a shortage.
Authors: Mncedisi Maphalala - Professor and Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Zululand | Nhlanhla Mpofu - Senior Lecturer, University of the Free State