A report by the Human Sciences Research Council, titled The Health of Educators, indicates that absenteeism of 20 days or more was highest among teachers in the Northern Cape, with 28.4 percent of teachers in the Province off sick for more than 20 days last year.
The most common types of reported leave nationally among teachers were sick leave (66.6 percent), leave to attend funerals (13 percent), special leave to care for a sick person (9.8 percent) as well as other special leave (18.8 percent).
“When the teacher is not at school, the process of teaching and learning becomes disrupted. When teachers spend more than 10 days away from school in a year, pupils are more likely to score lower in their standard tests. In the present study, it was found that 14.4 percent of teachers nationally had been absent from school for 20 days or more. These findings are similar to that reported by Minister Angie Motshekga in 2013, which stated that South Africa the highest rate of absenteeism in the Southern African Development Community. “We’re at 19 days (average per teacher) a year, while the monthly average is 10 percent nationally,” the report states.
In 2004 it was established that HIV infection and other chronic health conditions were common reasons for teachers’ absenteeism from school.
“An increase in self-reported NCDs (non-communicable diseases) is now evident, suggesting an increased level of morbidity in this population. However, teachers’ personal problems also influence absenteeism,” the report states.
The overall HIV prevalence among teachers in South Africa was 15.3 percent, translating to approximately 58 000 teachers living with HIV in South Africa. Female teachers had a significantly higher HIV prevalence when compared to males (16.4 percent vs 12.7 percent). HIV prevalence was lowest among the youngest (18 to 24 years) and oldest (older than 55 years) age groups of teachers at 6.7 percent and 6.6 percent respectively.
KwaZulu-Natal (27.7 percent) had the highest HIV prevalence among teachers, followed by Mpumalanga (18.3 percent) and the Eastern Cape (16 percent), with the Free State and North West provinces at 14 percent and 11 percent respectively. The Northern Cape and Western Cape had the lowest prevalence, namely 5.1 percent and 3.4 percent respectively.
A disturbingly high percentage of teachers in the Northern Cape, namely 36.7 percent, also indicated that they intended leaving the profession.
Almost 30 percent (28.3 percent) cited the workload as the main reason for wanting to leave, while one in four teachers (24.5 percent) could no longer cope with the ill-discipline of pupils. One-fifth (23 percent) reported that the reason for leaving was because their salaries were too low.
According to the study, large class sizes - above 40 pupils - were found in several schools, while teachers in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape also taught two or more subjects.
“The current findings are contrary to the view that workload has been alleviated with the introduction of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS), which reduced administrative duties so that teachers could focus on teaching and learning,” the report states.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) said while absenteeism among teachers was concerning and had been happening for a while, what was most worrying was the fact that they were overworked.
Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel said many teachers were often booked off due to burn-out.
“What is in the report is not something that we did not already know. Absenteeism has spiked for some time as teachers are overworked. Looking at the white teachers you will realise that it only focused in certain areas, and some schools demand more from teachers like extramural activities. Many teachers are stressed out,” he said.
Manuel said contrary to what is put out there, the new curriculum had not lessened the administrative load for teachers. He said based on what came out of the report, there should be more done to improve the state of psychological health of teachers.
The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) said that while being absent from class was not ideal, some teachers, like those in the Northern Cape, experienced travelling challenges to get to work.
“The Province is sparsely populated and teachers have to travel long distances to get to their workplaces. This is why we have been calling for rural allowance and incentives so teachers can easily access their work place,” Sadtu spokesperson, Nomusa Cembi, said.
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