I had a conversation with one of my 4th year students in Education Management, who had been employed, with sadness, by a school in Mpumalanga. This is a student who comes from a poor family, desperately looking for financial assistance as soon as possible, since the family has been 'carrying' this child for the past three years after Matric.
She is but one of the many students I have been experiencing over the past two years since I have taken on a past time lecturing responsibility at one of the universities of technology. The majority of students at this institution come from a seriously impoverished background, and most of them are the potential first 'degree' achievers in the family. So, the pathway of these students is totally 'unknown' to them, and therefore they have no sense of what the destination looks like, other than some security that they will get a job. Despite them being so close to the 'end point', I constantly experiencing my students being offered a job as replacement or temporary teachers. These students are to the brink of hopefully being graduated as fully qualified teachers, but NO ... the schools who are so dysfunctional and weakly managed are constantly experiencing mobility in their staff (also through absenteeism and extended 'sick leave'), and therefore the need to find 'any teacher' to fill the gap.
My brief experience of this situation is indicating that most of these students (3/4 teachers) never end up qualifying as teachers from these institutions. At best, they get carried for years at temporary teachers in the system until they are seen as 'long enough in the system to be treated as acceptable teachers', like in the case of the Eastern Cape (see an earlier blog that focused on this issue). In my case, these students are from Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu Natal.
There are two issues related to the experience above, namely (i) the lack of a supply and demand of teachers strategy in the country, and (ii) the need for SACE (South African Council for Educators) to stop this abuse of desperate and poor students (unqualified teachers). Regarding the first issue, we have been raising this for the past 20 years, but no success in terms of the responses from the planning of education. All the policies that have been released since 1994, have not responded to the real need of systems planning and dignifying those in the system. Currently, the 'supply and demand' crisis is managed by no-one, and at best it is tackled by individual schools and institutions. In particular, the top schools are now managing their own supply under the term, "we are growing our own timber". Dangerous it might be, especially in a country that is seeking a more integrated approach to staff compliments, it will never materialise. But how can we blame these individual schools if the 'planners' are not doing their job from a systems perspective?
I therefore turn my attention to the second issue, which is the need for SACE to stop this abusive practice within and especially our rural and poorly performing schools. Although these schools see it as 'assisting the students with a job' and 'them filling a gap that is existing in their school', the real loser in this act is the families of these students who carried them for more than 75% of their studies, and now loosing out on benefiting from someone who could be paid a full teacher salary. Also, the loser is the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), since this student does not turn out to be a qualified person soon (hoping that after numerous years of part-time 4th year students, they eventually graduate). Also, the teacher profession, is missing out on the opportunity to have a qualified teacher in the system, if we are just patient enough to allow this student to finish his/her qualifications after one year. Finally, the biggest loser is the learner corps of our country, since they are now taught by a teacher who is not fully qualified, and will be vulnerable for the rest of his/her life as part-time and/or unqualified teachers because they will be at the mercy of 'those who are prepared to employ them'.
SACE, although this happened now to my 4th year student at the beginning of this year, the amount of students who end up in this 'hole' after they have gone doing their 'practice teaching' during the third quarter of every year is enormous. I therefore urge you to do something about this practice - safe our final year students from not finishing their studies, when they are offered a part-time job during and after their practice teaching, and therefore a total shift in their priority from 'finishing their final year studies with success' to 'doing the best possible job as a part-time unqualified teacher' in schools who actually only care about 'fixing up their problem' by having a teaching in the class of every learner, rather than leaving these students to finish their studies.
As the professional council of teachers, you need to protect our student-teacher and the profession from this practice. Your Act is powerful enough to be used to stop this practice. I trust that you will take this issue seriously, and will tackle it with the attention and focus it deserves.