Researchers found that teachers in the country were unmotivated, were often absent from school and were not knowledgeable about the material they were teaching. File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Some teachers cannot pass on knowledge that they themselves do not have, yet in South Africa this is the case for many, an International Monetary Fund working paper has found.

The paper, titled Struggling to Make the Grade: A Review of the Causes and Consequences of the Weak Outcomes of SA’s Education System, was written by IMF senior resident representative in South Africa Montfort Mlachila and Wits PhD student Tlhalefang Moeletsi.

They found that teachers in the country were unmotivated, were often absent from school and were not knowledgeable about the material they were teaching.

“While South African teachers are well compensated by international standards, they have lower subject content knowledge than their peers in sub-Saharan African countries.

“Indeed, they are even sometimes outperformed by pupils they are supposed to be teaching.”

The study further said that when teachers were tested on Grade 6 maths, “a majority of South African teachers performed below average for the test and struggled with questions that were aimed at pupils.

“The top 5% of Grade 6 pupils scored a higher mark than the bottom 20% of Grade 6 teachers in the same mathematics test.

“South African teachers displayed lower content knowledge than teachers in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Tanzania. This is clearly troubling since teachers cannot pass on knowledge that they themselves do not have.”

In relation to absenteeism, the study said 20% of teachers were absent on Mondays and Fridays and 33% at month end.

In predominantly black schools, teachers teach an average of 3.5 hours a day compared with the average of about 6.5 hours a day in former white schools.

“South African teachers have few systems that make them account- able for the academic performance of pupils.

“Low accountability and teacher effort are often regarded as South Africa’s greatest challenge in education.”

Teacher union Naptosa’s president Basil Manuel said teachers in South Africa felt unappreciated, and that needed to change.

“It worries me that we may lose those who care the most, but there are so many teachers who would do it all over again. 

"Because there are all those small positives that make a major difference, that in fact you see them as blessings. Even at that time there were difficulties.”

Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga did not respond by the newspaper’s deadline.

In other media reports, he rejected the paper’s findings, saying that the majority of schools were fully functional and teachers were motivated to do their work.

Cape Times