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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

The writing’s on the blackboard: Half of SA teachers fail to meet Grade 4 literacy level

A damning report shows that due to a lack in qualified teachers, only 20% of children in South Africa are receiving the required education.

Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. The shock findings of a report on the current state of our country’s education system, however, point to a dismal failure in arming our children with any intellectual fire power.

Despite October being Teacher Appreciation Month, it is the quality of teaching that is one of the biggest factors contributing to negative learning outcomes of pupils.

In South Africa, the majority of teachers fall woefully short of local or international education standards, particularly in specialist areas such as mathematics and science … with thousands being either unqualified or underqualified.

Report reveals SA teachers’ shock level of reading literacy

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust  (OMT) Education Research Report now also dropped the bombshell that only 55% of Grade 6 teachers could read at the level of Grade 4 children internationally.

The report was commissioned earlier this year to understand key challenges and prioritising opportunities in the South African education system.

The quality of teaching reflected in the results, was alarming to say the very least.

Reading for meaning

Earlier this year, Amnesty International expressed serious concerns about South Africa’s reading crisis and its education system after the release of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) 2021 assessment results.

Amnesty International in South Africa executive director Shenilla Mohamed said it was “shocking” that more than 80% of Grade 4 pupils cannot read for comprehension.

Education system ‘needs changes at every level’

 OMT chief executive Tracey Webster said the South African education system needed changes at every level, starting with early childhood development (ECD) all the way to higher education research and development.

The researchers found big gaps in early childhood development, which hampers these kids’ performance in school.

“Our country cannot afford to lose yet another generation of learners by not giving them the key capabilities they need to succeed at higher levels of education,” it said.

Severe lack of qualified teachers

The report finding echoed widespread concerns over a severe lack of suitably qualified teachers and a shortage of new high-quality teachers.

  • 80% of Grade 6 mathematics learners were taught by teachers with mathematics subject knowledge below the Grade 6 level.
  • Only 55% of South African teachers met the intermediate benchmark of Pirls – which 82% of all Grade 4 learners achieved internationally.

Simply put, a large percentage of South African teachers lacked the basic knowledge of the subjects they taught.

ALSO READ: Education system crisis: 30 000 qualified teachers are unemployed or doing other jobs

 How did this happen?

The OMT report split the underlying causes of the teacher qualification and skills challenge into three categories:

  • In-service training – Historically, poor in-service training, the limited scalability of effective programmes, and poor evaluation of in-service programmes were detrimental.
  • Pre-service training – Questionable content knowledge standards of BEd degrees, a lack of strong candidates, and incorrect subject allocations in schools also hampered progress.
  • Curriculum problems – Changes in the curriculum without corresponding support for educators and too much content caused problems with teacher knowledge.

To address the problem, researchers proposed an increase in the number of high-quality new teachers coming through school-based Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes to supplement the university-based ITE system.

It also supported fresh thinking and action in South African universities and higher education institutions in general.

“We must also understand and further develop the role that technology can play in supporting both foundation phase learners and teachers,” the report said.

Thousands of unqualified teachers in schooling system

In an answer to a written parliamentary question by the Democratic Alliance (DA) last year, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revealed that in 2021, 1,575 unqualified and underqualified teachers were teaching in schools across the country. 

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Photo: Jacques Nelles

To qualify as a teacher, educators must possess Matric and a three-year professional qualification and be clued up about subject matter and methodology.

Motshekga explained that underqualified teachers are educators who “are professionally qualified both in terms of subject matter and methodology”, but do not possess the required “Matric plus three-year professional [training] requirement”.

Unqualified teachers are educators that have neither academic nor professional qualifications but have a Matric certificate.

According to the minister, the Department of Basic Education (DoE) has implemented various programmes to assist unqualified and under-qualified educators to improve their qualifications.

She cited the National Professional Diploma, which was implemented as an interim qualification for the purpose of upgrading under-qualified educators.

ALSO READ: Bela Bill is not the end of the road for homeschooling

Why are qualified teachers unemployed then?

In July last year, DA KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson on education Dr Imran Keeka called out Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu after discovering that despite the MEC’s promise, two years later the number of untrained teachers in the province’s classrooms had increased more than ten-fold.

IOL reported that Keeka said the opposition party’s question was why there were unqualified Grade R teachers being employed when qualified teachers were aplenty and sitting at home.

“That the DoE has opted to keep unqualified individuals on its payroll while qualified teachers struggle with unemployment after years of study and debt, is beyond comprehension.

“The question now is – what should the DoE do with these unqualified teachers? A simple solution would be to utilise their experience and skills, either as teacher assistants or within the Early Childhood Development sector.”

ALSO READ: Ramaphosa calls on basic education sector to deal with school dropouts

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