Durban - Overworked, underpaid and inadequately resourced, that’s just a few of the difficulties facing KwaZulu-Natal’s 89 000 teachers.
That is according to teachers in the province and a union official who were commenting on the conditions facing the profession, which observes World Teachers’ Day on Wednesday.
Security, the long distances pupils walked to schools and multi-grading were among other difficulties cited by a teacher, who could not be named because she did not have the authority to speak to the media.
The teacher, with more than 30 years’ experience, said the lack of resources was particularly acute in KZN’s rural areas, where many high schools faced teacher shortages, especially in specialist subjects like science.
“The pass rate suffers because of this because teachers end up teaching subjects they have not specialised in, therefore the quality of lessons drops,” she said.
She said they also faced multi-grading at some schools with small enrolments of about 20 to 30 pupils. Often just two teachers had to teach them all - from Grade R to Grade 7.
Discipline also remained a major problem.
“Bullying among the children is another major factor we face. They also no longer have respect for teachers and do as they please because corporal punishment was abolished.
“They don’t even bother to do their homework because they know they won’t comply with any other form of punishment you mete out as a substitute for corporal punishment,” she said.
National Teachers’ Union spokesman, Allen Thompson, said teachers clashed with the department every year over poor pay.
“We, as teachers, are underpaid. Grade R teachers receive a stipend of R5 000 a month without benefits.
“We are fighting for them to be employed like any other educator, and be paid according to their qualifications,” he said.
According to Thompson, there were about 89 000 teachers in the province, spread across about 6 000 schools.
Nationally, about 400 000 individuals work as teachers or contribute to teaching, supporting more than 12 million pupils.
A teacher with a three-year qualification takes home an annual salary of about R155 298, while those with four-year qualifications earn about R211 617 a year.
All this makes it hard for teachers to make ends meet.
“We are fighting for the children of teachers to get free education. Senior teachers are underpaid and we face a problem of teachers who resign because they cannot survive their lifestyle as they swim in debt,” Thompson said.
“Being an educator in South Africa means you have chosen a poor career,” he said.
Teachers qualified for an early retirement at the age of 55, with a normal retirement allowed at 60 and compulsory retirement at 65.
According to Thompson, the scrapping of corporal punishment had left teachers with few alternatives for dealing with pupils.
“The relationship between learners and teacher now is not fitting of one between an adult and a child as learners physically assault teachers in schools,” said Thompson.
KZN Department of Education (DoE) spokesman, Sicelo Khuzwayo, agreed that there were numerous difficulties facing the department, but it was dealing with many of them.
Khuzwayo said a major challenge had been a lack of resources, infrastructure and facilities at previously disadvantaged schools in the deep rural parts of the province, which the department was striving to address.
“There are a number of schools, including Phumlani High School in Jozini and Ilanga High School in Phongola, where we have constructed state-of-the-art schools with facilities needed by learners in the modern times.
“The construction of these schools is to make sure that learners from rural areas are at a similar level to those in townships and urban areas when the time comes for them to access tertiary education,” Khuzwayo said.
On security at schools, Khuzwayo said a memorandum of understanding had been signed by the DoE, the Department of Community Liaison and Safety and the police.
The SAPS was patrolling schools to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers. He said violence at schools was part of a wider, societal problem.
“A lot of the violent incidents also boil down to the behaviour of students due to a variety of social ills, including drug abuse and a lack of respect.
“We have assembled a team to deal with social ills in our schools, which is why we are urging principals, school governing body members and teachers to report any case that deals with social ills to the department,” said Khuzwayo.
“We’ve also had to deal with teachers having to teach kids who come to school hungry because they come from impoverished homes, but we have intervened with a nutrition programme that feeds learners and allows teachers to impart lessons on active and focused learners,” Khuzwayo said.
According to Khuzwayo, they also face high enrolment in schools, but they have combated this challenge by erecting mobile classrooms and even building more classrooms, such as at Mavumengwana and KwaDenge high schools in Eshowe and KwaNongoma respectively.
“This is to ensure that we provide a conducive working environment for our teachers, because it is our responsibility to do so,” Khuzwayo said.