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2020-04-17
Newsletter 263 - "Broken & Unequal" - The State of Education in South Africa - Amnesty International - PART 4


  • When children do make it to school, they often find that teaching is hampered by a range of factors.
  • These include an insufficient number of trained teachers many of whom have to teach in overcrowded classes with an increasing workload, while the government struggles to address teacher retention and recruitment. In some schools, classroom shortages impact on learning as more and more students are put into already overcrowded spaces. In one school we visited a shortage of classrooms meant that two years – Grades 1 and 2 – had to be taught together but only received 2.5 hours tuition per day owing to lack of available staff. In another, there are 16 classrooms for 978 pupils, leading in some cases to a teacher to pupil ratio of 1:70 double the stipulated ratio of 1:35.
  • In our joint survey with the NASGB, 48% of respondents indicated that the average class size was more than the official stipulated figure of 1:35 in all or most schools in their areas; 41% responded that either no or few schools in their areas had sufficient numbers of teachers; 21% stated that it was hard to recruit new teachers; and 32% responded that schools in their area had a problem with teacher absenteeism.
  • Teachers who spoke to Amnesty International expressed concern about a number of challenges.
  • These included multiple changes to the curriculum and the trend towards more content with consequently less time for preparation and creative pedagogical input. They added that the increasing complexity has meant teachers have become facilitators rather than educators. At the same time, they reported, support for teachers is often lacking, with insufficient professional development and engagement from curriculum subject advisors.
  • For many teachers, this has resulted in increasing stress with a consequential impact on the right to education of their pupils.
  • Another issue is the amount of actual teaching time that is being conducted during lessons.
  • During a typical lesson, teachers spend on average 66% of classroom time on actual teaching and learning compared to an OECD average of 78%. Actual teaching and learning time is lower in schools with high concentrations of students from socio-economically disadvantaged homes - an equivalent of more than 3 minutes of actual teaching and learning per 60-minute lesson.
  • Unsurprisingly this also means that classroom management practices are also more common in South Africa, with 84% of teachers reporting frequently calming students who are disruptive (compared to an OECD average of 65%)
  • In these circumstances it is not surprising that teacher retention and recruitment is a significant challenge. Vacancies continue to be a major problem, with serious consequences for the ability of learners to access a quality education.
  • Again, it tends to be the poorer provinces that have the most vacancies such as Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. The problem of teacher numbers is borne out by the NASGB survey with 41% responding that either no or few schools in their areas had sufficient numbers of teachers (48% in Eastern Cape, 46% in Gauteng, and 22% in Limpopo); and 54% stating that they faced problems recruiting new teachers (70% in Eastern Cape, 64% in Gauteng and 29% in Limpopo).
  • South Africa also faces major challenges in the level of teacher skills and ability, particularly in specialist areas such as mathematics and science, with thousands being either unqualified or under-qualified. A study in March 2018 found that South African teachers could not pass simple mathematics and English tests, with some scoring as low as 10% for English first additional language and 5% for mathematics. Another study by Stellenbosch University found that Grade 4 to 7 (Intermediate Phase) mathematics teachers in under-resourced schools in the Eastern Cape are not proficient in English‚ the language in which they are supposed to teach‚ and that they lacked knowledge of mathematics.


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