The government is planning to introduce a biometric log-in system to combat unacceptably high teacher absenteeism at South Africa's schools, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a post-State of the Nation Address media briefing in Cape Town on Tuesday, Motshekga said a recent survey had shown that South Africa had the highest teacher absenteeism rate of all Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries - with about 10 percent of SA teachers absent for an average of 19 days annually.
'Serious neglect of responsibilities'
A biometric electronic system would allow the department to collect real-time data on what schools were affected by high teacher absenteeism, and to address what she said was the main reason behind the country's high absenteeism rate, namely poor administration, lack of management and a "serious neglect of duties and responsibilities".
"As a teacher, I find it extremely embarrassing for professionals to be told that they should be in class the whole time teaching and that's the basic thing they are employed for."
Motshekga said the department would inform teachers' unions, but hastened to add that the biometric system wasn't a test, but a biometric log-in system.
"It's not anything that really affects [teachers'] conditions of service, because it is there already that they have to report - like all of us have to report for duty, [going] in and out and explain our whereabouts."
Motshekga said that what President Jacob Zuma had meant by making education an essential service, was that education was critical to the future of the country and that no one, from the department to teachers and parents, should do anything to disrupt pupils from learning.
Teachers would still be permitted to go strike, she stressed.
Eradicating 'mud schools'
She expected that by 2015, all remaining "mud schools" in the country would be eradicated. By September, her department would be able to present a full report on the progress to eradicate mud schools.
In the Eastern Cape, a team is currently conducting a headcount of pupils and teachers in the province, after Motshekga had instructed the provincial department to rationalise the number of schools in the province.
She added that often the department built a school on the basis that there were 500 pupils, only to find out later that the school only had 50 pupils.
The department therefore could end up building fewer new schools than planned in its Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi) to eradicate mud schools.
Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty said his department had already made significant progress in the Eastern Cape, since the province's department of education was placed under administration two years ago.
Surty said when his department intervened, a number of issues had plagued the provincial department, including a lack of nutrition, transport for pupils, delivery of textbooks, administration issues and poor financial systems.
He said progress had been made after decentralising procurement for school-feeding programmes, which had allowed local communities to run them.
While Surty said the department had helped to boost district education authorities, the biggest challenge that remained was that of poor administration, which has been a problem in the province for years.
Teachers' unions were also against relocating teachers to regions where there were shortages or dismissing teachers who didn't perform.
He said the Eastern Cape had shown an improvement in learning outcomes, while the matric pass rate had passed the 60% mark for the first time.