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I have the good fortune of having been brought up by parents who were teachers. I can go beyond the words of Aristotle and honour both of them for having given me life as well as the art of living well.
My parents’ generation faced even more hurdles than today’s teachers do. Yet they pursued this noble profession by never losing sight of their calling to awaken in each of their pupils the joy in creative expression and knowledge.
How did they succeed against all odds?
The most important factor in their successes was their conviction that education was the only sure and tested way out of poverty and helplessness. They were the first generation in their families and regions of abode to be formally educated.
The transformation of their lives was a testament of the value of education. That dedication is everywhere in evidence as one reads about, and listens to, the stories of teachers who are making a mark on the lives of communities across our country in more than 600 public schools of excellence.
The disgrace playing out in the media of grotesque management failures of our public education is a crime against the humanity of poor children and parents. We more urgently than ever before need to focus on what it will take to support the many dedicated teachers in this system to rise to the occasion of inspiring young people to find the greatness within each one of them.
We need to face up to the acute shortage of teachers in our schools. The South African Institute of Race Relations’ 2010/11 report established that there were 433 280 teachers’ posts of which more than 62 000 were unfilled – a 15 percent vacancy rate. The most affected provinces were KZN at close to 14 000 and Limpopo at 12 560 vacancies. Temporary teachers abound, some temporary for more than 10 years. Most of those temporary teachers are in Eastern Cape, about 3 600, and KZN at 4 600.
Equally disconcerting is the shortage of subject specialists and competent managers of schools. In 2011 the Centre for Development Enterprise reported widespread shortages of maths and science teachers. To add insult to injury, of the 16 581 maths teachers in the Eastern Cape, less than half were actually teaching the subject, whilst just over 5 000 were teaching maths without qualifications in the subject.
The country needs to be increasing its training output by 15 000 teachers a year to meet the requirement of 25 000 new teachers a year. Graduates from teachers’ training programmes average just more than 7 000 a year.
There is no hope of closing this gap on current approaches. Radical rethinking is needed to get us out of the current hole. The mooted re-opening of teachers’ training colleges is welcome. Their closure was one of the policy errors. One of its unintended consequences was the lowering of the status of teaching even further by making trainee teachers the poorest cousins on university campuses who were ill-prepared to do entry-level teachers’ training.
Teachers’ training colleges were places that instilled and modelled professionalism in their graduates. Unfortunately, like many other proposed policy shifts, it has yet to be implemented.
We need to look for innovative models at home and abroad. Teach for America has been touted as a successful model, but it has its limitations. It started in 1990 with 500 recruits and has grown to more than 8 000 who stay an average of two years. The positives are that the programme has a very high success rate of getting top graduates in their fields from top universities to learn to teach in the neediest schools across America for at least two years. Almost 50 percent of recruits stay for two years and 80 percent quit after five years.
Critics argue that the cost, at $70 000 (R566 000) a year per recruit (a third is covered by the public and the rest private sector), is too high.
There is agreement that the |benefit to recruits is exposure to leadership development challenges that makes them highly desirable recruits for graduate programmes and job opportunities.
Teach South Africa is a home-grown initiative of civil society with the support of the minister of education in 2005 aimed at attracting graduates to the teaching profession as ambassadors. It is inspired by Teach for America, but has developed its own brand with the support of Futhi Mtoba, then chairwoman of Deloittes, now of Business Unity South Africa. This year it has 52 such ambassadors teaching in their speciality subjects across our country. The problem is however too great and too urgent for these small numbers to be expected to have the required impact.
Can this model be scaled up?
The private sector is supporting many initiatives across the country to address the challenges of the shortage of quality teachers. Penreach, a whole schools development programme in Mpumalanga, established in 1994, reaches 2 000 teachers and 350 000 learners through in-service teachers’ training combined with turning schools into centres of community development. Its leading light is an experienced and dedicated retired principal of St Andrews in Grahamstown, David Wilde. It is the initiative of Paul Harris, retired FirstRand CEO, and is supported by the provincial government.
Why can’t we replicate and scale-up this model tapping into people of goodwill everywhere in our society?
Leap Science and Maths Schools, an initiative of John Gilmour, a former principal turned social entrepreneur, has grown from its Pinelands beginnings in 2004 serving Langa, to six schools located in Alexandria, Soshanguve, Diepsloot and Jane Furse. It provides free education for all pupils as an investment in their future and to society.
The model is based on partnering with the government and the private sector (Old Mutual as lead sponsor) to create centres of excellence for pupils from some of the poorest settings, with a focus on the development of the whole person. It has progressed to targeting 10 percent of its own graduates to study at tertiary level to become teachers and leaders of new schools using an in-service theory and practical training approach. Is this not another model to be replicated?
SA has a wealth of innovators who are doing amazing things all over the country. The challenges we face can be tackled by using the asset base we already have in these innovations. Imagine if we could identify, coalesce, galvanise, amplify and showcase all these initiatives. Imagine the impact we could have on the quality of education and training by getting the government, private sector and civil society to work together in partnerships to tackle the bottlenecks robbing our children of their dreams.
What we need is a shared vision of education as the guardian genius of democracy and to enable our teachers to kindle the minds of all our children. We need a shared dashboard to measure in a transparent manner the outcomes we seek, as well as pooled resources to make the whole larger than the sum of all our current efforts. We owe it to our children and to the future to end the disgrace of failing to teach our children the art of living.
* Mamphela Ramphele is the founder of the Citizens Movement for Change in SA.