Cape Town - teachers were absent from schools for an average of 19 days last year - the highest rate in the region - prompting the Education Department to introduce an electronic clock-in system to replace paper-based registers.
The department said 392 000 teachers were employed at public schools around South Africa last year.
With each teacher, on average, being absent for 19 days last year, the total number of days absent multiplies out to 7 448 000, Sapa reports.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Tuesday the Southern African Development Community, by contrast, had an average of nine days absent per teacher for the year.
Briefing journalists at Parliament, she said that, during a spot oversight visit to one of the worst-performing districts, nearly 10 percent of teachers were absent in a single day.
“It is a major problem. It is huge - an average of 10 percent nationally,” Motshekga said.
“Part of it is the burden of disease where you find teachers over a period of time have not been to school, but in most instances it is just poor administration and that is why we want to replace paper-based reporting with biometric reporting.
“We think it will be more reliable and… will give us more information as a sector. The paper-based system only allows us to get information (on absenteeism) after a long time, whereas, with a biometric system, we can get it immediately.”
Motshekga said the department had noted with great concern the calls for the government to address teachers’ absenteeism.
“We have taken swift interventions in this regard. The biometric system will be piloted as done currently in the Western Cape and Northern Cape. This is not a policing system but a management tool to monitor school attendance for both teachers and learners.
“The system is aimed at relieving the school principals of the burden of logging in teachers manually. It is simply a modern way to monitor.”
Motshekga said the process of rolling out the system had not yet started. There would be wide consultation before implementation - and cost time frames were still not available.
Teachers’ union Sadtu has rejected the plan, saying teachers were being blamed for problems in the education system such as bureaucratic incompetence, poor facilities and crowded classrooms.
Motshekga said the department had also prioritised the eradication of unsafe and mud schools.
“Over the next three years, our plan is to eradicate the 495 inappropriate structures.
“We are confident that, by end March, we will hand over the 90 schools which the president raised in the State of the Nation address.”