Teacher education:

The challenges of recruiting, training and retaining teachers

Panellists: Penny Vinjevold (Chief Director: Education Planning, Provincial Administration of the Western Cape), Prof Maureen Robinson (Dean: Faculty of Education, Cape Technikon), and Allan Liebenberg (Principal: Crestway High School)

Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust forum meeting

Institute for Democracy in South Africa, Cape Town, 26 August 2003





[This particular Harold Forum meeting was part of the Learning Cape Festival which aims to build a culture of lifelong learning and a human resource development strategy for the Western Cape.]



Is there a shortage of teachers? Many have accused government of putting across mixed messages by offering teachers severance packages at the same time as recruiting people for teacher training.

In 2001, Louis Crouch produced a paper on teacher supply and demand in South Africa– the first time government had commissioned such a study. He was clear that the number of teachers in initial training programmes is far too low to service the sector over the next 30 years, and said that we would need to recruit 30 000 teachers over this period. Over the last six years, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of students enrolled in teacher training programmes. We face a looming shortage of teachers if current trends of training college enrolment and the prevalence of HIV/Aids remain the same. Crouch argued that studies needed to be done in the provinces because there are stark differences between provinces. In the Eastern Cape, for example, there are 2.5 million learners compared to 1 million in the Western Cape. In addition, teachers and training institutions are unevenly distributed across the provinces.

When I came to the Provincial Administration of the Western Cape last year, a number of people urged us to take up the challenge of investigating whether there is a looming teacher shortage in this province. The number of pupils enrolling in schools in is increasing and . the language and race profile of learners is changing. Teacher attrition rates are on the rise in the Western Cape. The number of students enrolled at our five teacher training institutions is declining. Overseas recruitment agencies are taking teachers out of the system. The provision of voluntary severance packages to large numbers of teachers have bruised the profession, as has the closing of many teachers’ training colleges. Teaching is no longer seen to be a good profession – teachers have received bad press and are seen to have a low status. Other factors include the level of remuneration, the lack of bursaries, and changes in the labour market. Maths and science teachers could probably choose from a range of professions.

In 2002 the Western Cape Education Department undertook a study of how many teachers we would need over the next ten years. The study showed that we would need teachers by 2006/7 if attrition and enrolment and higher education trends stay the same. At least 1 900 student teachers should enrol in 2003 to meet our 2006/07 obligations, but only 900 enrolled – less than half the number we need. Because we are not recruiting the number of teachers we will need for the future, we will be starting a teacher recruitment campaign in very targeted areas. We need to increase the number of primary school teachers, recruit many more in maths and science, and we need to attract a large number of Xhosa-speaking teachers.

There are a number of difficulties in recruiting teachers at the present time. First, we have teachers ‘in excess’ (teachers are ‘in excess’ at a school if that school loses students or if the funding formula changes so that the number of teachers exceeds the approved pupil:teacher ratio). Excess teachers are needed in the system, but would have to go to a school somewhere else in the province. Our records show there are 250 unemployed teachers in the Western Cape. Although the teachers who are unemployed may not be the kind of teacher that schools can employ, indications are that these will be absorbed in the 30 000-strong pool of teachers in the province.

Second, according to Crouch, there are more qualified teachers outside the system than in it in South Africa – there are 380 000 qualified teachers at home or in other jobs, compared to 350 000 inside the education system. We could recruit from the teachers who are currently outside the system, but some are earning more outside the teaching profession than they would be able to do as teachers. However, a downturn in the economy could see those people coming back into the system. In fact there are indications of teachers coming back into the system from abroad.

Finally government is not the only agency that can and should be concerned with teacher recruitment. – All of us should take up this challenge.



The statistics are now common knowledge – the Western Cape is training about half the number of teachers it projects it will need after 2006. However, this figure needs to be disaggregated into particular phases, language groups and subjects. I would like to focus on the factors influencing the recruitment of teachers and make some suggestions for the future.

We conducted research into the perceptions of Grade 12 learners of teaching as a career. The question was ‘would you choose teaching as your future career?’ The analysis is incomplete but initial indications from the five schools we have analysed are that only about 2% said ‘definitely yes’, and a small number said ‘maybe yes’. What reasons do they give? What lives in the minds of our potential next generation of teachers?

The negative responses were: a sense of insecurity re: posts; a lack of safety, especially in township schools; learners’ lack of respect for teachers/ ill discipline; and the perception that teaching is not intellectually stimulating and that it is repetitive because teachers teach the same material each year. The positive responses were: teaching inspires children, contributes to the community, shapes the future and provides a sense of fulfilment. We need to address the negative perceptions and build on the positive ones. We need to acknowledge and encourage those who seek to make a contribution to the development of the youth, and address the disincentives they face. It is interesting to note that, to some extent, the disincentives go beyond the scope of the immediate arena of the classroom and the school: insecurity re: posts is a labour issue and the lack of safety and discipline is a social services issue.

The first lesson in recruiting teachers is to adopt an inter-sectoral approach, not to expect one sector to carry all the responsibility. We need to look at teacher recruitment from the overall perspective of social development – the starting point of the Learning Cape Festival. I also want to comment on the perception that teaching is ‘not intellectually stimulating’ – it is interesting in the light of so many new challenges, so many new ideas, and so many new policies. I would have expected the youth’s response to the question to be something like ‘intellectual overload’. Perhaps the intellectual challenges are not sufficiently bottom-up, perhaps teachers do not feel engaged, they may feel there is not enough done to promote a discourse of professionalism and that the voices of teachers in the reform process are not acknowledged. This is an interesting dilemma – integrating a national agenda of curriculum reform with promoting personal and professional engagement.

In order to understand the nature of the problem, we need to dig deeper than the statistics, and look at some facts behind the facts. Focusing on primary education: a long list of teachers’ training colleges have been closed over approximately the last 15 years: Cape Town College, Boland, Hewat, Sallie Davis, Wesley, Barkley House, Paarl, Athlone, Denneoord, Graaff Reinet, Oudtshoorn, Sohnge in Worcester, with the Western Cape College of Education incorporating Bellville, Roggebaai and Good Hope to close at the end of 2003. This represents a huge loss of capacity – I am not sure whether training institutions which remain can provide what is needed with their current space and staffing parameters. We in Cape Technikon only have 27 permanent staff members. The closure of colleges also represents a loss of a traditional and familiar training ground for primary education – people cannot go to college where their family members went. There has been a struggle around the branding of the new institutions – nobody knows them – and a confusion about which institutions offer courses. There will be further confusion when the Cape Technikon and Peninsula Technikon merge to form a new institution, possibly called Cape Peninsula University of Technology (Caput).

There is lots of concern around the number of Xhosa-speaking students entering primary education. After the closure of the Western Cape College of Education, the Cape Technikon has become the main primary school teachers’ training institution offering the four-year B Ed Foundation Phase qualification (to teach Grades R–3).


No. of students enrolled per programme

No. of Xhosa- speaking students enrolled per programme

Year 1



Year 2



Year 3



Year 4



The total number of Xhosa-speaking students in the whole four-year undergraduate programme is only about 1% of the 548 enrolled students. The figures are a bit higher for Intermediate/ Senior Phase (Grade 4–9), for Further Education and Training (Grade 10–12) and in the post-diploma year, but there the numbers in the classes are small and therefore do not make significant inroads into the need to train Xhosa-speakers to be teachers.

Two other issues need to be brought into the public domain. The first is aggressive recruitment from overseas companies – in our final year Foundation Phase class of about 30, 70% are going overseas next year. We receive constant calls for transcripts of academic records. The other is dropping enrolment. There is no selection mechanism for teachers any more. We have some good A and B candidates, especially from the white Afrikaans community, but many applicants have poor matric results. They are not going into teaching as a first choice.

Nobody wants to back a dying horse, and it is not in the interests of anyone on this platform to continue to bemoan the problem and not to be part of the solution. Luckily, there are a range of initiatives underway to support the recruitment process and to enhance the profile of teaching as a career:

1. Improving the image of teaching:

       the Sunday Times excellence in education awards

       the national teacher awards.

2. Provincial liaison:

       supply and demand studies

       curriculum reform

       a few bursaries (but only for maths and science at this point).

3. National liaison:

       the national department is visiting the provinces, highlighting the issues and co-ordinating initiatives.

The issue of dropping enrolments into teacher education is a global phenomenon. I went onto the Internet to find out how other countries with similar problems are addressing the issue of recruitment. There are hundreds of references, especially from the UK. Their many recruitment schemes and campaigns offer lots of money. Some of these include the Golden Hello for new recruits, the Returners’ Club for ex-teachers, the Best Days of Your Life campaign, and the Everyone Remembers a Good Teacher campaign.

Recruitment strategies in South Africa are pretty much in their infancy. I searched for teacher + recruitment + South Africa in a search engine, but was unable to find any results. Can our campaign be different? Can it be more successful?

We can look at history – why so many people did teaching in the past. There are many reasons, some of which are not so commendable – for example, the shortage of career options for black youngsters. One solution worth exploring is the reintroduction of the old study loan system in terms of which teachers can work off the debt by performing a term of service. A less tangible and more powerful incentive is making a contribution to building the nation. The principles of the new curriculum embody this – social justice, a healthy environment, human rights, inclusivity, a high level of skill and knowledge for all. Does the public see teachers as worthy of these principles? More importantly, do teachers see themselves as agents of change and development within these principles? They know they are social workers, police, parents, counsellors as well as transmitters of knowledge, skills and values, but are they valued as such? If not, they will soon run out of energy. This is already the case – there is talk of low morale and a high attrition rate in the profession.

On the subject of the proposed new funding formula for higher education, we find ‘education’ in the lowest of four categories. The argument that the ‘real costs’ of training were taken account of in drafting the formula makes it difficult to engage with it, but one simple but drastic anomaly as far as we see it mainly affects four-year programmes like the B Ed. A four-year B Ed in say Intermediate/ Senior phase needs to train students in methodology and content of a variety of subjects, for example, language, maths, art and physical education. It seems like these subjects are being classified as ‘education’, rather than as the particular content area, but surely they use equal resources as their content equivalent in, say, an arts or a science faculty? This is the point at which we seem to be stuck when trying to resolve the costs of teacher education – the point at which we need to come to an agreement. If the formula proposal is approved, a faculty like ours, with a large undergraduate component, is likely to land up with even fewer staff members than we have currently. We already don’t have sufficient permanent staff to teach some core subjects like art, music, drama and geography at either of our satellite campuses.

Finally, the issue of co-ordination is vital to our future strategy. One of the unintended consequences of moving the responsibility for teacher education away from the provincial departments of education to the national department is that, in the last few years, nobody has really taken responsibility for this sector. In the midst of so much curriculum change, the issue of who will provide the teachers for the future has kind of been forgotten. The national department paid most of its attention to re-training teachers already in service.

I believe that we need to build on our good efforts in the province around co-ordinating and communication between the province and the five higher education institutions in the Western Cape as we discuss and plan around issues of quality assurance and curriculum delivery. Better communication will also help us to understand one another’s challenges, constraints and aspirations, so that we can work in partnership in the tremendous challenge of providing excellent teachers for our country.



I object to this week’s programme being called a ‘festival’. There are so few human resource development opportunities in the teaching profession that there is little to be festive about. We should look at what is good and positive about the situation, but we should also pay attention to that which is weak. I do not intend to be complementary.

Before you can start talking about recruitment of teachers, you need to talk about retention of teachers. I started teaching in 1976 and have been teaching in township schools all my life. President Mbeki’s two nations thesis applies to the schools in South Africa. We cannot speak about schools, we need to qualify what kind of school we are speaking about. There are two groupings, two school systems, and they are vastly different to one another. If you do not focus on what is wrong within the system, on what causes teachers to leave, you will be creating a revolving door system – the teachers who come in will leave again.

Because of the debilitating context in township schools, retention rates for teachers are low, and they will remain low until the systemic flaws in the system are resolved. When you look at natural attrition rates among teachers, take into account that some of this is caused by teachers dying of stress-related illnesses like heart attacks and strokes. These are a result of the context teachers in these schools are working in. There is a high incidence of these conditions among educators, as well as HIV. Educators want to get out. There is a low intake of teachers because word has gone around about the context of teaching, a context most would prefer to avoid. Some teachers are treated as casual workers for up to five years. There is constant curriculum change, like a shunting train. This would affect people coming into the profession as it does those who are already there.

What is happening within our education system? It is an unholy shambolic mess nationally and in the Western Cape. Even if there were impeccable planning, they could not have created a better mess. Educational change is necessary. We have transformed from an apartheid dictatorship to a democracy, but how we have managed the change is bad. The cost of these contradictions to our society and our youth leaves me with a sense of betrayal. I remember our schools were sites of struggle. The learners were the footsoldiers of the struggle, and there were high fatality rates among learners in our schools. For that valiant contribution our children made to our freedom, our leadership should be developing a decent education system that embodies the struggle. But the idea of people’s education disappeared like a whiff of teargas smoke. In 1995, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) said people’s education and socialism is off the table. The education system we have now does not sufficiently develop our people.

In 1992, I was one of nine master students at UWC. We looked at what new problems a democracy would turn out. This was at a time when learners were alienated by the syllabus and the type of schooling they had. We said when the revolution comes we will have a ‘drop in’ problem, not a drop out problem, because we would go out and bring the brothers and sisters back into school. We said we would resolve the ‘drop in’ problem for the good of the nation. We spoke about people’s education. Then the process of rationalisation was introduced on the grounds that we had too many teachers. We lost 8 000 in the Western Cape – teachers ejected from the system. Every year the salary increase of teachers has been well below inflation. In a short time, teachers had become a cheap and disposable resource. In addition, politicians vilified, castigated and demeaned teachers in response to some or other incident.

How many of us here have a connection to township schools, and how many to ex-Model C schools? The discipline problems in township schools are extreme. In my school we have 1 100 children and our complement of teachers has been reduced to 33. Because we are in a poor area, we are not able to pay for more teachers from School Governing Board (SGB) funds, unlike the former Model C schools. Poor discipline has been one of the negative outcomes of this loss of staff. Somebody needs to do a study on why there was an increase in gangsterism after the political transformation. What has happened in schools has a lot to do with it.

Outcomes-based education (OBE) depends on a manageable class size, but we have 40–50 kids in our classes. Our teachers are sent to OBE workshops, sometimes two weeks long, but the trainers not equipped to do the work.

At the time of transformation, the state transferred its financial obligations onto parents by creating SGBs. This abdication of state responsibility has resulted in the perpetuation of the two schools system: township schools and ex-Model C schools.

I called in on the parents of one 16-year old girl to help resolve the problems between her and her parents. The girl said what she wanted was to be able to dish up food for herself, something her mother would not allow her to do. But the mother said that if her daughter dished up for herself, there would not be enough for everybody. She had to ration the food. This is the context in which the parents who are expected to fund the schooling system are living. When the government brought in a system of fee exemptions for low-income and foster children, it did not say that when a school grants a fee exemption, it may claim this amount from government. So the township schools closed their gates to the poorest of the poor.

The UK had a debate around running schools as a business propositions. This is now being slipped in here – running schools as a business – but we are not being honest about it the way they were in the UK ten years ago.

On the subject of educational goals – the national Minister of Education puts up a lot of hype around the release of matric results. The whole measure of achievement in schools goes around the percentage league tables. It seems that the prime outcome the government wants is good results, regardless of whether this is achieved by schools excluding weaker candidates from writing the exam. It is all about passing.

The official 35:1 learner:teacher ratio in high schools ratio has no relation to the actual number of 40–50 children in our classes. The department makes arrangement for one or two or three days when a teacher is still, but it does not replace a teacher who leaves. In a school which cannot afford to employ teachers, we have 5–7 teachers absent every day. This means that teachers who already have classes of up to 50 students may have to look after another 20 floating in and out.



Similarities between teaching and nursing

       Our problems in the Western Cape Department of Health are similar – we have a shortage of 30 000 nurses. The training of nurses was taken out of the health department and given over to the higher education sector – the Western Cape College of Nursing. There are approximately 1 100 student nurses. We give bursaries to draw trainees into the profession.

The conditions of schools

       Nobody touched on the condition of our schools. Many in bad shape, with no toilets, no electricity, not enough furniture, no window panes and no running water in some rural schools. When we recruit our teachers to the cities, they are all willing to go, but what about our rural areas?

Allan Liebenberg: Our school is a prefabricated wooden structure – rows and rows of barracks, with connecting stoeps. When it rains, you get wet when you go from one class to the next. An enormous amount of money must be spent on repairing and rebuilding schools. Somebody in government decided we are spending too much money on education, but the educational deficit here is greater than first world countries. There is a general understanding that we will spend less on services to the public – this has to do with the government’s macroeconomic strategy. With regard to gangsterism – I teach in Retreat, and many of the learners are from Lavender Hill. A gang war starts after the June holiday. Six or seven people get killed before a few high profile people come to make speeches. Then they go away again. We have met with Kader Asmal and asked him to stop reinventing the curriculum, stop passing the financial buck to parents, and stop making principals gatekeepers to keep poor children out of school.

Training inside schools instead of in academic institutions?

       Academic institutions are too far away from schools, training should be done inside schools the way it is done in New Zealand. The fieldwork shows we are not doing a good job of teacher training – the didactic model we use is not good.

Maureen Robinson: Teacher training in the schools is not progressive – conservatives in the UK and US are pushing for this. Spending too much time in schools is not good, because it is difficult to monitor quality. The training period is a golden opportunity for students to step back from practice, to look back and critique what they see. I would not agree that a large amount of training should be done in schools.

Private providers of teacher education

       What role does the Department of Education see for private providers of teacher education?

Penny Vinjevold: There is no particular policy on independent training institutions, as long as they meet with South African Qualifications Authority and Department of Education standards. We need as much help as we can get.

Teacher retraining

       A lot of teachers spend time upgrading their skills, but there are no bursaries for this.

Penny Vinjevold: We need to think of how many people can be trained and where.

Questioning the numbers

       The speakers have made sweeping assumptions about the number of teachers we need – there are no effective statistics in the system, how many are in the system, in which learning areas, how to assess the real need. The department is relying on field surveys done by students, and relying on Statistics South Africa. This has a huge impact on how the Treasury plans its expenditure. We need a reliable source of information.

Penny Vinjevold: The national picture of the data is not that accurate, but we do have a database in the Western Cape with accurate numbers.

Allan Liebenberg: When we call the department looking for a science teacher, they say they do not have a database of this information, we have to advertise. So our township school must spend R700 on running an advertisement for three days.

Loss of morale in the ranks

       The notion of excess teacher is a false idea – as if we have enough teachers. It is based on a teacher:pupil ratio which is absurd. Rich schools can pay extra teachers to spread the load. The system has failed many dreams and there are hundreds of teachers still in the system who have lost heart, who can no longer give their best.

Measurement by pass rate

       It has been said that education is largely rote learning that is forgotten after exams. How can you expect teachers to be interested when it seems there are principals and parents interested only in such things as ‘good pass rates’? The department does not appear to oppose principals exerting pressure on teachers. Capable teachers are discouraged from remaining in the system because of the emphasis on exam results.

Penny Vinjevold: Our most important target is not pass rates in the senior certificate but throughput – how many students go through the system from Grade R to Grade 12. Parents and principals and SGBs often encourage pass rate achievement but we need to look at how many children are lost to the system along the way.

We no longer offer prizes to schools for high senior certificater pass rates because this could be achieved though reducing the njumber of pupils who write the senior certificate. and we do encourage high numbers of senior certificate passes and matric exemption passes. We also reward schools that are adding value. There are 12 million kids in the national education system, and end of year exam results are not a good way to measure their achievement,.

Allan Liebenberg: We have ruined ten to twelve generations of youth. You don’t pick up problems until 8 or 10 years after the fact. I don’t see the will to re-orientate the education system, since it is linked to the economic system our leaders have chosen.

Partnership with industry

       I have the experience of recruiting teachers in Saldhanda Bay. Namaqua Sands, and Saldanha Steel, the two big industries in the town, have put money into training maths and science teachers.