South Africa is still not producing enough qualified teachers

This is the finding of a new Stellenbosch Working Paper entitled “Teacher Supply in South Africa: A Focus on Initial Teacher Education Graduate Production” by ReSEP researcher Hendrik van Broekhuizen. The study uses aggregate data from the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) to investigate the trends and underlying correlates of first-time enrolments and graduations in initial teacher education (ITE) programmes in the public higher education system for the period 2004 – 2013 in the context of current teacher shortages in South Africa.

The paper’s findings show that first-time enrolments in ITE programmes have grown rapidly since 2006, followed also by a moderate rise in ITE programme graduations from 2008 onwards (pp. 13 – 17). However, while both enrolments in, and graduations from, ITE programmes appear to be on an upward trend, growth in the former has largely been restricted to UNISA, South Africa’s foremost distance learning institution, which now accounts for roughly half of all first-time enrolments in initial teacher education programmes (pp. 18-21). This is potentially problematic for teacher graduate production since ITE programme throughput, while low overall in South Africa, is far lower still at UNISA than at contact institutions (pp. 62-76). It is therefore doubtful that the current rise in ITE programme enrolments will result in commensurate increases in ITE programme graduations.

Projections indicate that the higher education system could begin to produce sufficient numbers of graduates to satisfy projected teacher demand within the next decade, but only if current enrolment growth can be sustained without any decline in programme throughput rates (pp. 29-37). Yet, even if the country manages to produce sufficient numbers of ITE programme graduates in the next 10 years, it remains unlikely that the phase and subject specialisations of those teachers will match the ones that are most needed in the schooling system (pp. 38-61).

The paper argues that addressing South Africa’s teacher supply shortfall requires policy interventions that balance the emphasis on increasing enrolments in ITE programmes with several other objectives.  These include ensuring that ITE students complete their programmes, specialise in high-demand subject areas and phases, transition into the teaching profession with minimal delays, and are retained as teachers in the system for extended periods of time.