A Grade 12 pupil uses a tablet as Gauteng classrooms go digital. Picture: Itumeleng English

Pretoria - Respected academic, Professor Jonathan Jansen, says pressure from trade unions prevents the hiring of qualified foreign teachers who are legally in the country, to fill vacant teaching posts.

In an interview with the Pretoria News, Jansen, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State, said: “Union pressures and the nationalist sentiment for local hires will always trump common sense when it comes to hiring the best teachers regardless of where they come from.”

This problem would continue unless “the politics of leadership changes”, he said.

Last week the Pretoria News reported that the Basic Education Department employed thousands of teachers who have no qualifications to teach Grade R pupils. This is according to a report by the Auditor-General, Kimi Makwetu, on his state of education for 2013/14.

In the report Makwetu found that there were many loopholes that have allowed the department to employ thousands of teachers with no diploma or the required qualifications to teach Grade Rs.

The report also found that a large chunk of pupils, 33.2 percent, were in the foundation phase. This phase covers Grade R to Grade 3.

Makwetu found that in seven provinces half of the teachers did not have qualifications.

The report found that in the Eastern Cape 88 percent of the teachers in Grade R were not qualified.

In Limpopo the situation was even more dire with 100 percent of Grade R teachers unqualified.

The auditor-general also found that in KwaZulu-Natal 83 percent of the teachers in Grade R were unqualified, and 85 percent in the Northern Cape.

In Gauteng 56 percent of the teachers were unqualified to teach Grade R.

However, while Makwetu found that more than 16 000 teachers did not have qualifications to teach Grade R, the department said its own audit found that about 12 300 teachers needed to upgrade their qualifications.

Kate Paterson, an attorney with Section27, an NGO involved in education, says teachers generally do not have enough knowledge of the curriculum they teach.

There are some problems with the content of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (Caps) but any change in the curriculum would worsen the situation because there have been so many changes over the past few years, she said, and this would also require a change of textbooks when some provinces were battling to supply enough textbooks under the current syllabus.

Paterson said the quality of education was also sometimes compromised by a high rate of teacher absenteeism. The poor condition of school infrastructure made it difficult for teachers to do the work they were supposed to, she said, because they had to contend with overcrowded classrooms, schools without adequate furniture and sanitation, and without the necessary pupil or teacher support materials.

Commenting on the fact that tablets and smartboards were being introduced in some schools while other provinces could hardly provide enough textbooks and critical infrastructure such as classrooms and toilets, Jansen said it was necessary to advance modern technologies in the classroom.

At the same time it should be ensured that basic infrastructure was in place for teaching and learning in every school and classroom, he said. “Doing only the former deepens inequalities, while doing only the latter leaves South Africa behind in the global competitiveness race,” he said. But Jansen said for tablets and smartboards to succeed, the department would have to invest heavily in security as tablets were being targeted by thieves.

Pretoria News