One of the biggest teacher problems in South Africa

 ·27 Mar 2023

South Africa’s public education system continues to struggle because there are low entrance requirements to study teaching at a tertiary level, says Paul Esterhuizen, the CEO of School-Days, a rewards programme that enables members of the public to provide financial assistance to schools.

Esterhuizen cited Stellenbosch University’s Research on Socio-Economic Policy (Resep) Teacher Demographics Policy report, which recently noted that Bachelor of Education degrees have lower entrance requirements than other degrees.

It also found that most students enrolled for teaching degrees performed significantly worse in matric level maths compared to students enrolled in other degrees (41% compared to 54%).

The study found a similar trend in other subjects, albeit to a lesser degree, he said.

Irene Pampallis, a researcher at Resep, said that the low entrance requirements to teaching degrees “may funnel students who are weaker academically into teaching programmes because they do not meet the entry requirements for more selective programmes.”

Esterhuizen said that this leads to fewer qualified teachers teaching more rigorous academic subjects such as math and science.

“A critical shortage of qualified maths and science teachers has been cited as one of the contributing causes for the country’s dismal maths and science standards,” the CEO said.

He noted that most universities offering bachelor of education degrees don’t require a minimum mark for maths or maths literacy.

South Africa has the third lowest score globally in mathematical ability according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

Less than a third of all learners in grade 12 take maths, and only half of those that do take maths pass, Esterhuizen said.

According to the Department of Basic Education, more than half of the maths and science heads of departments in secondary schools are not qualified to offer appropriate support to teachers because they have not majored in either of these subjects.

“Based on a study the department conducted in 2018, only 43.3% of maths and science departmental heads have the necessary qualifications. The situation is exacerbated by maths and science teachers who have not majored in the subject at higher levels.”

Esterhuizen said that the Stellenbosch report shows that maths is essential for all foundation phase teachers, as well as teachers who teach mathematical, commercial, or scientific subjects in other grades.

At the very least, teachers require basic mathematical skills for assessing learners, he said.

Resep researchers Nic Spaull and Peter Courtney said that “at a base level, a teacher cannot teach that which they do not know.”

Esterhuizen noted that various studies have found that maths proficiency at the high school level has a higher correlation to a country’s economic growth than proficiency in any other subject.

The ISET Policy Institute, an independent economic policy think tank in Georgia, said: “Proficiency in maths implies a higher level of cognitive skills among the labour force, in other words, a high quality of human capital, which leads to technological innovation and productivity gains.”

Remuneration is an important factor

Esterhuizen said that in South Africa, teacher remuneration is dependent on teaching experience, with less experienced teachers paid less than those with more experience. However, there is often no correlation between years of experience and achievement.

“If South Africa is to improve its educational outcomes – including in maths and science – it needs to remunerate high-performing teachers above the industry average, offering more attractive benefits to act as a retention tool.” the CEO said.

He said that long-term, tertiary institutions need to start implementing more stringent entrance requirements and proactively work to attract school leavers with higher maths and science marks to the teaching profession by, for example, providing them with full bursaries in exchange for a work contract for a specified period post-graduation.

“At the same time, high-performing teachers need to be supported with opportunities for further career growth and development. These strategies are nothing new and are ones that most high-performing organisations are well acquainted with,” said Esterhuizen.

The average teacher in South Africa earned in the top 5% of South Africans in 2019, according to a Resep report. The report also revealed that, on average, teachers had higher hourly wages than at least 70% of all formal sector-paid employees.

Read: These are the jobs dominated by men and women in South Africa – and where the gender pay gap comes in

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter