South Africa

Maverick Citizen

No vacant posts for newly qualified teachers in Western Cape

No vacant posts for newly qualified teachers in Western Cape
Masixole Nobom (left) and Carmia Schoeman (right) graduated from the University of Cape Town last year with a postgraduate certificate in education. They are both qualified to teach the “priority subjects” natural science and physical science, but can’t because there are no vacant posts in public schools in the Western Cape. Photo: Christi Nortier.

Teaching posts in the Western Cape aren’t just scarce, there aren’t any. Unemployed newly qualified teachers and thousands of children are being turned away from schools which are already bursting at the seams. The Western Cape Education Department says its hands are tied — it doesn’t have the budget to remedy the situation. The graduates have come together to propose a way forward before more teachers stray from the field.

The number of teacher posts has increased in the Western Cape’s public schools by 429 from 2019 to 2020. Currently, they are all occupied.

Students continue to be turned away from schools because there is simply no space for them — at the end of January, there were more than 6,000 unplaced scholars.

Yet, there are newly qualified teachers who are unemployed.

The Western Cape Education Department says teachers are employed based on the number of posts available, not the number of students qualifying as teachers.

“The WCED would like to create more teaching posts to reduce class sizes and create more space for new enrolments. However, this is limited by available budget. Unfortunately, the provincial equitable share allocated to the Western Cape is not increasing at the same rate as the number of learners – something that is likely to get worse with the expected cuts to provincial budgets as that funding is diverted to bail out SAA and Eskom.”

New teachers navigate many obstacles in tracking down the posts — only to find they are already occupied. A few times a year the WCED releases a list of vacant teacher posts, but this is not updated until the next list comes out weeks later. Graduates waste time by applying for posts that are, unbeknown to them, already filled. Some have found that schools already have someone in mind to fill a vacant post, so applying is futile.

Some graduates are recipients of the Funza Lushaka bursary programme, which is meant to “promote teaching as a profession”. This bursary scheme is funded by the National Treasury and run by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme on behalf of the Department of Basic Education.

The conditions of their contract mean that they must work at a public school for a year to repay the year they spent studying their Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). They cannot study further or take a gap year before they do this year of teaching. If they fail to get a post, they have to pay the bursary back — plus interest. Apparently, “Qualified recipients of bursaries will be placed by the PEDs (provincial education department) to teach in a public school”. Only 48% of the bursars who graduated at the end of 2018 were placed in 2019.

Some of these unemployed graduates have cottoned on to the fact that there are no vacant posts left in the province. A group from the University of Cape Town are approaching the Western Cape Department of Education and the University of Cape Town with a proposal to put their skills to use while more posts are created.

Carmia Schoeman thought that by this stage of the year she would be standing in front of a room of schoolchildren giving a physical sciences class as she has just qualified to do — not driving up to 20km to drop her CV off at schools and being told thank you, but there is no vacancy.

She thought she would be upholding the pledge she made to teach — instead, she winces daily when she thinks of the 6,000 children sitting at home all day because there is no place for them at school.

Schoeman began looking for a teaching post in November 2019. She used the Western Cape Education Department’s e-recruitment portal and went to schools in person to drop her CV off. She asked lecturers to let her know of any vacant posts. She was covering a lot of ground and kept being turned away because there were no vacancies. She is a Funza Lushaka bursar and is starting to fret that she might not be able to do her year of service to repay the bursary. If she can’t, she’ll have to start paying it back in cash and not service.

She reached out to her fellow graduates and realised that many of them were going through the same motions. Masixole Khewana, a fellow graduate from the UCT Postgraduate Certificate in Education programme who is qualified to teach the “priority” subjects of natural sciences, physical sciences and technology to high school students, has also gone to great lengths to find a vacant post. He is also a Funza Lushaka bursar.

“I can tell you that it’s a lot [to deal with]. There’s pressure from home — you have to explain why you are sitting at home. I explain, but they don’t understand. Then I have to wait for placement and I have to take my CV to different high schools. I’m still waiting — there are no calls, no interviews,” he explains.

Stuck in a particularly precarious situation, the Funza Lushaka bursars came together a few weeks ago to discuss a way forward as a group. Individual attempts to get help from the Western Cape Education Department and the Funza Lushaka programme to find vacant posts were apparently unsuccessful. They were told it is the responsibility of the graduate to find a post.

However, they realised immediately that they are not alone. They reached out to other classmates on their WhatsApp group and invited them to join their discussions.

“We got together and decided to put together a letter of appeal to first get support from our lecturers at the University of Cape Town and fellow PGCE students,” says Schoeman.

“We went into it with the mindset that we are not going to buy into the narrative that we are in competition with one another for limited jobs — we’re all aware of the teacher shortages in this country, that students are not being placed and they’re falling behind in schooling in this time and that we have a pool of unemployed teachers as well.

“We said from the get-go that this is not just a Funza Lushaka bursary thing — it is not us against the other teachers fighting for limited jobs. We are trying to expose that the jobs are not even there,” explains Schoeman.

Schoeman points out that the case of the bursars exposes the “contradictions and absurdity”, because not even they are guaranteed a job even though they are given preference as required by the national Department of Education.

Soon, they had a statement appealing for solidarity and support signed by 14 unemployed UCT PGCE graduates, 10 employed UCT PGCE graduates and seven staff members from UCT’s School of Education. They have extended an invitation to education graduates from other Western Cape universities to join them. Some graduates declined to sign for fear of negative repercussions on their career later.

“When I heard other people are in this situation too, I felt like I was at least not alone,” Khewana says. “I have to relax, and I thought maybe I should not sit and wait — I should put my signature instead of waiting. I also feel sorry for other people, because they are in the same situation as me. It’s not just the Funza Lushaka people, but others too. There’s a lot of pressure, I don’t know. There’s a lot of pressure.”

They feel both the department and the university have not kept their side of the deal. They have produced graduates who have sought-after skills, but who have no posts to fill. “We have graduated into unemployment,” says Schoeman.

The group of graduates has apparently received messages of support from the South African Democratic Teachers Union, the Socialist Youth Movement, the Workers and Socialist Party and Zackie Achmat. They have sent the statement to the Western Cape Education Department and various sections of the University of Cape Town and await their response.

The graduates are clear that they understand that, as MEC for education in the Western Cape Debbie Schäfer has said, the province would need to build 23 new schools to accommodate the 23,000 new students who want to enrol in school in the Western Cape in 2020.

When Schäfer announced this, she said:

 “The WCED appreciates that parents, teachers and schools are frustrated — we are also frustrated. It is not that we do not want to allocate extra teachers and build new schools. We are simply unable to without money.”

However, the graduates propose that while planning, preparation and fundraising takes place, unemployed newly qualified teachers should act as on-demand substitute teachers. They could be deployed at the last minute to fill in for absent teachers, those on leave or those struggling with large classes. They say they are prepared to go anywhere in the country if it means they can teach.

The WCED has responded that there is no budget to pursue this strategy. The WCED told Maverick Citizen that:

“The WCED would want to increase the number of posts employed in schools permanently but is unable to do so because of budget limitations. Our priority would be to reduce class sizes and have permanent educators in classes every day, rather than substitute teachers — but we cannot do so without an increased budget.”

In the meantime, what to do? Carry on dropping off CVs, says Khewana and Schoeman. They aren’t prepared to teach anywhere but in a public school.

“We have a system that tries to pit us against one another as teachers, but we know that there is a shortage of teachers in this country. It’s a crisis. We’re a new generation of teachers and a lot of people have been informed by the #FeesMustFall movement,” explains Schoeman.

“We are enlightened to the fact that access to education is not equal and we just see more and more cuts to something that’s supposed to be a public good. It manifests in our situation now — we are teachers who want to work in the public school system — many of us don’t want to work at former Model C schools. We want to work in low-resource schools, but we’re unable to even get our foot in the proverbial school door to do the work necessary”. MC


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