A recent article published in the Mail and Guardian by ReSEP member and Stellenbosch University researcher, Nicholas Spaull, bemoans teacher absenteeism as a major problem with the South African education system. The article corroborates evidence from a joint study done by the Human Science Research Council, Stanford University and the University of Botswana cited in an earlier article and supports Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s and President Jacob Zuma’s renewed focus on this problem.
According to Spaull, the average absenteeism rate between 10% and 12% relates to about 39 000 absentee teachers per day, or a teacher being away from a classroom for between 20 and 24 days a year, with absenteeism in the poorest 60% of schools being twice as bad as the richest 20%. Frequently principles would leave the children to their own devices when the teachers are absent, or simply send them home. Spaull reports that even when teachers are present they might not be teaching, or teaching too slow. This left the vast majority of grade five classes covering less than 40% of the maths curriculum, for example.
This view is not supported by all. Notably, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) accused Motshekga of “deliberately misleading the public” with regards to absenteeism, claiming that the SACMEQ III data used was biased as a result of a national strike in the year the study was done.