In 2019, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) commissioned Stellenbosch University to carry out the Teacher Supply and Demand Study to understand the national landscape in terms of teacher graduates and demand in the system. This was particularly important since the DHET’s Teacher Graduate and Employment report had shown that just over 43% of the 2018 teacher graduates were employed in public schools.
The Stellenbosch University study report titled ‘School Teacher Supply and Demand in South Africa in 2019 and Beyond’, now commonly referred to as the ReSEP-DHET study, found that higher education needed to increase new teacher graduates from the current annual output estimated at 25 000 to about 50 000 by 2030. The researchers explained that teacher supply would need to be doubled as a response to imminent retirements. But they also cautioned that the increased capacity would need to be downscaled after 2030, at which point the demand was expected to taper off, all the way to the late 2040’s before rising again.
When the findings of the ReSEP-DHET study were shared with Universities South Africa’s Education Deans’ Forum (EDF) at one of their meetings in 2021, the EDF expressed reservations about the report predictions on teacher demand and supply. To supplement and put these findings in perspective, the EDF agreed to commission two additional studies, subject to securing the requisite funding.
When looking at provincial education data during 2022, the EDF found that teacher demand predictions in the Eastern Cape mirrored those of the ReSEP-DHET study. The Eastern Cape’s provincial Department of Education predicted demand of approximately 5,000 educators by 2024, if the educators currently aged between 55 and 59 years stayed on beyond 60 years of age. By contrast, if all those teachers retired at 60, the demand would rise to 10,000 by 2024, further rising to19,771 teachers by 2030. This would translate into a 400% increase on current demand in a province already facing a shortage of technical subjects’ educators, especially in rural schools — a situation also reported in the ReSEP study.
By comparison, the Western Cape data did not predict any shortage, at least not in the major metropolitan areas, and shortages in rural areas were less pronounced. In fact, the Western Cape Department of Education was reported to have been encouraging older teachers to leave, appointing younger graduates in their place and thus not anticipating a retirement bulge in 2030. The Western Cape further experiences a constant inflow of job seekers from other provinces, thus bolstering their confidence that they will not experience a shortage. This therefore implies that the ReSEP-DHET predictions do not apply to that province.
Education Deans found the ReSEP-DHET report valuable because of its scope – having explored not only teacher stocks (total number of initial teacher graduates) but also flows (movements post-graduation). In doing so, the study had highlighted a large number of variables influencing supply and demand on the ground (e.g. learner:teacher ratios; drop-out rates; language of teaching and learning; specialisations; urban vs rural placements; quality considerations including the academic records of matriculants entering teacher education programmes compared to other study fields; and more).
The Deans, however, also found significant gaps in the ReSEP-DHET, which necessitated that complementary studies be commissioned to fill those gaps and provide a more comprehensive picture to inform planning decisions regarding future demand for teacher graduates’ output. Some of the identified gaps included: the supply of teachers not on PERSAL (the personnel salary system used in the public sector); teacher demand in special schools, private schools and School Governing Bodies-funded posts; the impact of the Department of Basic Education’s streaming intention and of the scrapping of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit which currently allowed thousands of Zimbabwean graduates to teach in South Africa.
Questions also remained unanswered on placement dynamics and inefficiencies; quality considerations; mismatches between what teachers studied and what they teach, and the languages in which they teach; teacher graduates’ motivation towards the teaching profession and the extent to which initial teacher education (ITE) graduates go into and stay in the teaching profession.
Subsequently, the EDF submitted a draft proposal to the DHET to run two independent studies. The first will be focussed on re-analysing the ReSEP-DHET data and juxtaposing its teacher demand predictions against available provincial data. The Deans will review the total number of teachers currently in the education system and distinguish those on the government’s payroll from others. Most importantly, the Deans study will compare the 2019 study data with teacher subject specialist statistics to understand the extent of teacher demand per subject.
The second study will be a Teacher Tracer study aimed at establishing where ITE graduates end up and find out what becomes of those not employed in the education system.
At the EDF’s first meeting of 2023 in March, a task team comprising Professor Eureta Rosenberg of Rhodes University, Professor Mbulungeni Madiba of Stellenbosch University and Professor Tawanda Runhare of the University of Venda, presented initial data that would shape EDF’s supplementary research. The analysis would span four provinces – the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Western Cape. The objective was to use available information from these provinces to formulate a funding proposal for the project at hand.
During a subsequent EDF meeting on 26 May, the task team informed other members that they had completed and submitted the proposal for the two studies to USAf. At the May meeting, also attended by representatives from the DHET, the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the South African Council for Educators (SACE) and the Research on Socio-Economic Policy (RESEP), all stakeholders unanimously agreed with the decision to expand the scope of the 2019 study.
The stakeholders undertook to find additional funding avenues to turn this wish into reality.
‘Mateboho Green is Universities South Africa’s Manager: Corporate Communication and
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant at USAf.