Children’s learning affected by unqualified Grade R teachers

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

The life-long learning of children in the Western Cape is at risk as two-thirds of the province’s Grade R teachers are not qualified for the job.

South Africa’s auditor-general Kimi Makwetu’s report made public in Parliament last week indicates that 66% of the province’s Grade R teachers are “without minimum qualification”.

It laid blame with the basic education department, which it said did “not provide adequately qualified teachers for Grade R”.

Makwetu said nationally 78% of Grace R teachers “did not have a diploma to teach at this level, which is the minimum qualification required in terms of the national qualification framework levels”.

Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the provincial education department, disputed Makwetu’s statistics, saying local Grade R teachers complied with “national policy requirements”.

But a number of education specialists said the situation was in fact desperate on the ground.

Lisa Visagie, training and development facilitator at the Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU), said there were numerous teachers without relevant qualifications at independent and unregistered early childhood schools.

ELRU is a non-profit organisation that trains teachers working at pre-primary school facilities countrywide.

“We are sitting with teachers in a classroom who don’t have high school education. It’s a very hard process to equip them. We need government investment in teacher education,” said Visagie.

She said this would impact children’s long-term learning as when a “child hits the age of five the brain is 95% developed”.

“If we are not going to teach them basic skills there is gong to be a huge gap. It will be hard for teachers to fill those gaps,” said Visagie.

“That’s when children are learning to read and decipher things. If they aren’t given those opportunities it will be hard for them.

“The biggest impact will be a lack of literacy skills. And nothing else happens if you are illiterate. There is a direct link that shows children who have inadequate education will generally not succeed.”

Visagie said unqualified teachers were offered jobs because there was a “desperate need for teachers”

“There are all these children that need to be looked after because their parents need to go to work,” said Visagie.

Grassroots Educare Trust, which trains Grade R teachers, said the matter of qualifications related to certificates obtained as well as skills learned.

Sedick Galant, early childhood development specialist at Grassroots, said as an NGO they offered relevant training but not the qualification that a college would.

This meant that while there were Grade R teachers trained to work with children, they were likely without the relevant certification.

“Many don’t have the qualifications on paper, but many have years of experience. They don’t have the paper to show it,” said Galant.

He said the education department should make available funds to ensure Grade R teachers obtained the right educational qualification.

Galant said an unqualified teacher would “impact on language development, mathematics and life skills” of children.

“This is why we are far behind internationally in language and mathematics,” he said.

“The foundation of language and mathematics is done in the early years. If your writing skills are thrown away we will have a lack of readers. It impacts long term.”

Lyrice Trussell, who works at the Centre for Pedagogy at Stellenbosch University, said the education department did not “understand the full impact and context of poor teacher training”. Trussell said their centre trained and supported teachers.

“The department complains about matric results but what are they doing about it? They should get serious about training and developing teachers,” said Trussell.

She said foundation phase teachers needed to “stimulate learning and a love for books and reading”.

She said parents should also “have the right to ask to see the qualifications of the teacher” at their child’s school.

“It’s among a while list of things. I would also speak to people who have had children at an institution,” she said.

Jonovan Rustin (CORRECT), Western Cape secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), said there was a “challenge around qualifications of Grade R teachers”.

“We need to improve their qualifications. We are aware of the fact that we don’t have qualified Grade R teachers. We have run content training for them,” said Rustin.

He said the lack of qualified Grade R teachers was also because many education graduates preferred to teach children in higher grades as the were paid better.

“Grade R teachers are currently paid between R6,500 to R10,000 depending on the school, which is far below what a starter educator earns in a public school,” said Rustin.

“You are unable to attract qualified teachers to Grade R if the reimbursement is far less. It’s all about supply and demand.

“That how somebody may be employed with a lower qualification with the understanding they would further their qualifications, but that is too expensive for Grade R teachers.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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