The school placement chaos at the beginning of this year highlighted a very scary reality – we simply do not have enough good schools in Gauteng. A number of schools faced a very high enrolment demand as parents clamoured to ensure their children have a place in a school of excellence, while many schools, particularly in townships, were virtually empty. The result is that oversubscribed schools are forced to make use of mobile classrooms which are barely conducive to quality teaching and learning. These schools’ resources become constrained, with the average number of learners reaching 60 per class. This puts additional pressure on our teachers, and makes it a near impossibility that our learners will be provided with the strong foothold they so desperately need if they are to succeed in high school and beyond. It has been predicted that by 2020, Gauteng will still be short of 1373 classrooms at existing schools. This means that even at the accepted ration of 40 pupils per class‚ almost 55 000 pupils will be in over-crowded classrooms in three years.
At the same time, it’s calculated that 10% of the country’s teachers are absent from school each day, while a Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) found that 79% of SA Grade 6 maths teachers were classified as having content knowledge levels below the level at which they were teaching. This problem is compounded by a lack of support for teachers and insufficient professional development. In addition, the Centre for Development and Enterprise predicted that South Africa would need to have 456 000 teachers by 2025 to offer our children a quality education, this is 46 000 than we currently have, and between 18 000 and 22 000 teachers leave the profession every year.
So as parents, how do we deal with high learner ratios; a lack of resources; a shortage of qualified teachers in subjects like mathematics and physical sciences; a lack of discipline in our classrooms that disrupts teaching and learning, and absenteeism of teachers who are burnt out trying to cope with big classes and poor behaviour?
We simply have to think beyond traditional teaching and learning methods. It is time to consider virtual schools as a viable option for ensuring our children receive the best education possible, and are equipped with the skills needed for the future of work in this country.