Warning over teacher shortages and growing class sizes in South Africa

National Treasury and the South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) have warned of further teacher shortages and increasing class sizes in South Africa.

In a presentation submitted to parliament on Wednesday (3 March), the union said that the reduction in teachers will primarily be driven by lower than expected compensation and natural attrition.

The 2021 national budget, published last week, provides that funding for education in the country will rise from R387.2 billion in 2020/21 to R416 billion in 2023/24.

“While it sounds impressive to announce that the budget will grow by R28.9 billion, this means that the budget only grows with an average of 1.88% per annum,” the SAOU said.

“In the basic education sector, compensation of employees in provincial education departments remains the largest spending category, representing 51.2% of total functional expenditure.

“It needs to be born in mind that education is a labour-intensive activity. Therefore, 51.2% is not excessive.”

Low compensation growth of 0.8% over the medium-term expenditure framework period, combined with early retirements, will reduce the number of available teachers, Treasury said in its budget review published last week.

It warned that this, coupled with a rising number of learners, implies larger class sizes, especially in no-fee schools, which is expected to negatively affect learning outcomes.

These concerns were echoed by the SAOU, which indicated that classrooms across the country are already reaching capacity.

“The most recent learner educator ratio in South Africa is an average of 33.5 students to one teacher in primary schools and 32.2 students to one teacher in secondary schools. That implies minimum class sizes of 39 and 36 respectively.

“It is ludicrous to expect class sizes to further increase,” it said.

Read: Quantum computing, drones and 3D printing – what South African schools could be teaching by 2030

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Warning over teacher shortages and growing class sizes in South Africa