Mamphela Ramphele
Mamphela Ramphele
FOCUSED: Waheeda Bhai, a Grade 2 teacher at the Juma Musjid Primary school, prepares informative charts on the board of her classroom ahead of the children’s first day back at school. Picture: Puri Devjee
FOCUSED: Waheeda Bhai, a Grade 2 teacher at the Juma Musjid Primary school, prepares informative charts on the board of her classroom ahead of the children’s first day back at school. Picture: Puri Devjee

I have the good fortune of having been brought up by parents who were teachers. I can go beyond the words of Aristotle and honour both my parents for having given me life as well as the art of living well. My parents’ generation faced even more hurdles than today’s teachers. Yet they pursued this noble profession by never losing sight of their calling to awaken in each of their pupils the joy of creative expression and knowledge. How did they succeed against all odds?

The most important factor in their success was their conviction that education was the only sure and tested way out of poverty and helplessness. They were the first generation to be formally educated in their families and regions of abode. The transformation of their lives was a testament to the value of education. That dedication is everywhere in evidence as one reads about, and listens to, the stories of teachers who are making a mark on the lives of communities across our country in more than 600 public schools of excellence.

The disgrace playing out in the media of grotesque management failures of our public education is a crime against the humanity of poor children and parents. We, more urgently than ever, need to focus on what it will take to support the many dedicated teachers in this system to rise to the occasion of inspiring young people to find the greatness within each one of them.

First, we need to face up to the acute shortage of teachers. The SA Institute of Race Relations’ 2010/11 Report established that there were 433 280 teacher posts of which more than 62 000 were unfilled – fully 15 percent vacancy rate.

The most affected province was KZN at close to 14 000 and Limpopo at 12 560 vacancies. Temporary teachers abound, some temporary for more than 10 years. Most of those temporary teachers are in the Eastern Cape, about 3 600, and KZN at 4 600.

Equally disconcerting is the shortage of subject specialists and competent managers of schools. Last year, the Centre for Development Enterprise (CDE) reported widespread shortages of mathematics and science teachers. To add insult to injury, of the 16 581 math teachers in the Eastern Cape, fewer than half were actually teaching the subject, while just more than 5 000 were teaching maths without qualifications.

The country needs to be increasing its training output by 15 000 teachers a year to meet the requirement of 25 000 new teachers a year. Graduates from teacher training programmes average just more than 7 000 per annum. Radical rethinking is needed to get us out of the current hole.

The mooted re-opening of Teacher Training Colleges is welcome. The closure of these colleges was one of the policy errors. Teacher Training Colleges were places that instilled and modelled professionalism in their graduates. Unfortunately, like many other proposed policy shifts, it has yet to be implemented.

We need to look for innovative models at home and abroad. Teach for America has been touted as a successful model, but it has its limitations. It started in 1990 with 500 recruits and has grown to more than 8 000 who stay an average of two years. The positives are that the programme has a very high success rate of getting top graduates from top universities to learn to teach in the neediest schools across America for at least two years. Almost 50 percent of recruits stay for two years and 80 percent quit after 5 years. Critics argue that the cost per recruit (a third covered by the public and the rest private sector) is too high. There is agreement that the benefit to recruits is exposure to leadership development challenges that makes them highly desirable recruits for graduate programmes and job opportunities.

Teach South Africa is a home-grown initiative of civil society – with the support of the minister of education in 2005 –aimed at attracting graduates to the teaching profession as ambassadors. It is inspired by Teach for America but has developed its own brand with the support of Futhi Mtoba, then chair of Deloittes, now of Busa.

This year it has 52 ambassadors teaching in their speciality subjects across our country. The problem is, however, too great and too urgent for these small numbers to be expected to have the required impact. Can this model be scaled up?

The private sector is supporting many initiatives to address the challenges of the shortage of quality teachers.

The Penreach Whole School Development Programme in Mpumalanga, established in 1994, reaches 2 000 teachers and 350 000 pupils through in-service teacher training combined with turning schools into centres of community development.

The leading light is the experienced and dedicated retired principal of St Andrews in Grahamstown, David Wilde. It is the initiative of Paul Harris, retired First Rand CEO, and is supported by the provincial government. Why can’t we replicate and scale up this model?

Leap Math and Science Schools, an initiative of John Gilmour, a former principal turned social entrepreneur, has grown from its Pinelands beginnings in 2004 serving Langa, to six schools in Alexandra, Soshanguve, Diepsloot, Jane Furse and counting. It provides free education for all pupils. The model is based on partnering with the government and the private sector (Old Mutual as lead sponsor) to create centres of excellence for pupils from some of the poorest settings with a focus on the development of the whole person. It has progressed to targeting 10 percent of its own graduates to study at tertiary level to become teachers and leaders of new schools using an in-service theory and practical training approach.

Is this not another model to be scaled up and replicated elsewhere?

SA has a wealth of innovators who are doing amazing things all over the country. The challenges we face can be tackled by using the asset base we already have in these innovations. Imagine if we could identify, coalesce, galvanise, amplify and showcase all these initiatives!

Imagine the impact we could have on the quality of education and training by getting the government, the private sector and civil society to work together in partnerships to tackle the bottlenecks that are robbing our children of their dreams!

What we need is a shared vision of education, a shared dash-board to measure the outcomes we seek, and pooled resources.

We owe it to our children and to the future to end the disgrace of failing to teach our children the art of living.