Teacher unemployment crises in South Africa

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Over the decades it was known that if you have an Education qualification you are most likely employable and wouldn’t be out of work for long because there was a shortage of teachers in schools. There was somewhat a balance in the demand and supply of teachers in the profession. More recently, there is an influx of teacher graduates and schools do not have enough capacity to absorb them. In addition, teacher graduates can be without work for even five years.

The government must be commended for mitigating the issue of severe teacher shortage that was apparent from the early 2000s. Government has since been able to launch many initiatives to upsurge the amount of new teacher graduates, including funding for Education students, capacitating universities with providing the foundation phase programme, and other developments. Having made all these developments, I don’t think the government has been aware of the paradox revealed that as they were busy resolving the issue of teacher shortages by ensuring more teachers are produced, the more teachers are being produced to an extent that they don’t know what to do with them. It is clear that the influx of qualified teachers has resulted in structural unemployment, the numbers don’t lie.

A cursory look at the number of unemployed teachers who are members of unemployed teacher’s social media pages paints a bleak outlook for the profession. The reasons concerning this should be reviewed.

Social media reflects the dire realities of unemployed teacher graduates. Many share available posts and the desperation reveals that some are even willing to relocate to other provinces. On facebook one said, “…I have registered on 9 district databases”. Some share the hefty costs of job hunting and the lack of data bundles. On the other hand, others bring about ideas of conducting evening classes for learners or provide tutorials. What is also shocking is the fact that even seasoned teachers who have been teaching for many years are affiliated in these social media groups and are also desperate for teaching jobs. In 2018, unemployed teacher graduates took to the streets and appealed the KwaZulu-Natal Premier at that time to intervene against the sale of teaching posts which gets some ahead of others. In one of his recent interviews, President Ramaphosa stated that South Africa is creating jobs, the issue is in keeping up with the number of new entrants in the job market.

According to Stats SA, in 2019, the unemployment rate stood at 29,1% – meaning that 6,7 million people are unemployed. To date 1,7% of graduates are unemployed – qualified teachers included. In the first quarter of 2019 it was recorded that 31% of unemployed graduates aged between 15-24 and 12,9% aged between 25-34 are unemployed. The Department of Education databases in different districts are condensed with numbers of teacher graduates looking for work including many other social media platforms. Some graduates do get employed, especially those funded by Funza Lushaka (a government funded bursary for Education students), however, most don’t.

Teacher supply and demand should not be analysed in isolation. There are other factors to consider. To begin with, higher education institutions of learning are enrolling more students without reviewing the job market. Furthermore, those who have the Education degree may be looking to teach outside the country or may not even enter the profession immediately after attaining the degree. In addition, others may be looking for a career change and opt for the Education profession. There will always be push factors – positive and negative. Another concern as well, is centred around individuals who study Education for the sake of getting the benefits attached (subsidised pension fund, medical aid, 13th cheque, longevity, etc.) as opposed to being passionate about teaching because there may be implications for that. Passion should be a strong inclination towards achieving excellence in Education because the profession is highly demanding and has its challenges.  At some point passion will be the only thing to fall back on when the going gets tough. Nonetheless, no individual should take the liberty of another’s ambitions to pursuit studying.  

One of the strategies the government has tried to establish to mitigate this influx is to allow teachers who are already in the system to retire from age 50 as opposed to the prescribed 60 years. Section 187 (2) (b) of the Labour Relations Act states that: “a dismissal based on age is fair if the employee reached the normal or agreed retirement for persons employed in that capacity.” The issue with the former statement is that early retirement is an option, not a must; meaning that the problem may still be looming. The sanctions attached to this strategy is a reduction of the portion of the pension money until they reach 60 years. If there were no sanctions attached maybe the teachers would retire early, availing spaces for those teachers who are unemployed.

New problems relating to employing the beneficiaries of these developments need to be resolved. One resolution is that higher institutions of learning providing teacher training programmes should prepare students to meet the demands of the 21st century by reviewing the type of education skills provided at the dawn of the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Teachers should be technology literate, distinguished by possessing above threshold teaching skills, can apply educational technology in the classroom, and display basic solutions in basic coding and robotics. This is the type of teacher that Mancosa seeks to mould. Through the introduction of the iteachlab the MANCOSA student teacher will be able to develop these 21st century critical thinking and classroom skills; and the use of current technological advances (across four hubs: Math and Sciences, Languages, culture and creative) to develop teachers for the changing world, teachers who are agile and responsive to the ever-evolving teaching environment.

– Thembeka Myende, School of Education, MANCOSA