- “Absentee teachers are a thorn in our side” M&G article I wrote this past week.
- The Big Debate (YouTube video) – I was part of a panel debate on SABC 2 discussing South Africa’s education system. Equal parts haphazard, depressing and entertaining. And it was fun to be on TV for the first time!
- The Blame Runner – wonderfully written CityPress article on South Africa’s pervasive culture of blame shifting.
- Andreas Schleicher (my hero) on “Using data to build better schools” (TED talk)
Very informative article on teacher absenteeism. I would like to think that ALL researchers within the field of education agree that it (high rates of teacher absenteeism and inadequate curriculum coverage) is problematic. However, we may disagree to some degree on the true nature of the problem. Once again, forgive me if my comments may seem critical as I am more interested in the policy/practice gap 🙂
I agree somewhat with the reader who found your comments on the ‘calender sensitive flu’ a bit insensitive as the practical aspect of teaching is complex. As an extremely dedicated ex-teacher of English, I found that I was 3 times more unhealthy when I was teaching than when I was working outside of the classroom. At one stage, during the swine flu epidemic, I contracting it twice in 3 weeks thanks largely to working closely with infected students. At the same time, my teaching load was hectic. I started school at 7:00, taught approximately 5/6 lessons during any given day of the week, was involved in sport training from 2:30 – 17:00, then went home to prepare for the next day and keep up with marking. By Friday I was exhausted and because Saturday was a day for relaxing (if I actually got Sat off), I found the symptons of flu creeping in by mid weekend (the transition from being mentally and physically on the go to suddenly relaxing is apparently the cause of a lowered immune system – but I am not a medical doctor so can’t explain why). Most schools try to operate on a ‘if you have a fever you may not come to school’ policy but in reality, most parents are not able to keep their kids at home and not going to school is not an option. Further, given that there appears to be a larger number of female teachers in the profession, together with the fact that we live in a predominantly patriarchal society, it stands to reason that female teachers are going to need to stay at home when a child is sick. This is then exacerbated by poor pay. I am sure you are aware of this but in KZN, at a particular district, it can take on average 6 months before a newly appointed teacher gets their FIRST pay. If they are lucky. So now you have a sick teacher, with large classes and no pay for 6months and all of a sudden, the motivation to get up and go to school whilst sick, on a monday, is no longer there. I know firsthand of teachers who have to work part-time in the weekend to pay their bills due to the pay problem!
Inadequate curriculum coverage – yes a massive problem is RSA. In terms of our curriculum, it is probably the weakest globally in terms of classification and framing but that is a whole new debate in itself. I am not entirely sure workbooks are a solution as you point out. You could have the most well defined workbooks which describe in detail what needs to be covered, and when, but I am can assure you, most schools, particularly the poorest will still not cover the entire curriculum. Incidentally, the current Grade 12 CAPS ENG policy document tells teachers what to do each week already etc.. The problem, in my humble opinion, stems from too large class sizes. Most lessons are 45-50min long. Most students have mastered the art of needing the loo after each lesson which means half the class arrive late for each new lesson. It then takes about 10min for each student to settle, find their books, bags etc etc. Thats already 15min lost. Classroom management is a big problem which can probably eat into another 10min. So in reality, (speaking from experience in a school that had class sizes of 36) I would probably only teach for about 25-30min of a 50 min lesson. Policy states each leasson is to be 50min for arguments sake, currciulum developers then develop lessons which ensure coverage is met with the use of 50min…….very soon the practical aspect of teaching is not able to meet expectation. Now, imagine the poorest schools battling with over 100 learners in a class and one understands why they are unable to complete the curriculum. That does not even take into account schools which have multiple grades in 1 class with 1 teacher. All of a sudden, it appears if policy has no idea of the practical hurdles faced by teachers?
Now to critique my own comments above – I am well aware that the above may represent a small number of truly professional educators only and that there are a lot of unprofessional educators causing our crisis .
Thanks for your comments Tracey. You raise many of the practical aspects of teaching which I agree are often neglected when formulating policy. You may find the NEEDU report addresses some of the concerns you raise. It is available here: http://www.education.gov.za/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=nP8OBmjJ2h4%3d&tabid=358&mid=1300