Although teachers’ unions don’t condone the shocking figures of absenteeism among their members, there are a number of contributing factors that lead to their absence and these need to be addressed in order to ensure 10% of classrooms aren’t left teacherless daily.
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga released the findings of the 2017 School Monitoring Survey (SMS) in Pretoria yesterday, and pointed out that the trend of teacher absenteeism from classrooms throughout South Africa is marginally growing, and remains a cause for concern.
The last time this report was published was in 2011.
“We note that the 2017 survey found no discernable change in the rate of teacher absence, since 2011. The survey recorded an increase in the national aggregate (from 8% to 10%) on an average day,” said Motshekga.
“We must do more to support our teachers. There’s a need to drill deeper into the statistics to understand this leave of absence phenomenon. However, we must congratulate the provinces of Limpopo [6%] and Free State [7%] for registering the lowest rate of teacher absence during the period under review.
“[This] is roughly in line with international norms and should not be interpreted as evidence of a systematic or substantial increase in teacher absence.”
An education expert, on the other hand, believes things may be even worse than reported.
Professor Brahm Fleisch was not convinced by the findings on teacher absenteeism, saying because the survey relied on what the principals of the schools would report to them, it was likely that principals at schools with the highest absenteeism would report lower absenteeism rates.
“It is not a reliable indication across all provinces and so we don’t really know. We do know that these cases are often under-reported and I am not convinced that it is better or worse, but it is not much different from the 2011 survey. We need to track this information more closely,” he said.
On the other hand, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general-secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said that although the union did not support or condone absenteeism, certain contributors like violence and depression could not be evaded.
“There is violence in schools that [teachers] need to deal with and they are helpless because they lack support from government. There is also a high level of sickness among teachers who experience depression,” Maluleke said.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) general-secretary, Basil Manuel, said it was important to contextualise and understand the sub-optimal conditions teachers worked in.
“We do acknowledge there are some who are those who take advantage, but there are those who have valid reasons,” said Manuel.
Chisom Jenniffer Okoye / The Citizen