Education department accused of favouritism

A teaching graduate whose studies were not funded by the Funza Lushaka bursary programme says he is being excluded from jobs at state schools because he was not part of the scheme.

An unemployed graduate with an honours degree in English has slammed the Department of Basic Education for what he terms its prejudice when hiring teachers. 

Sibusiso Nkambule, 23, graduated with a teaching degree from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) but finds himself unemployed and frustrated. Nkambule earned his four-year degree between 2015 and 2018 and followed it up with an honours degree in English last year. He is now studying towards a masters.

He said the reason he hasn’t been able to get a job is because he wasn’t part of a group that studied with a Funza Lushaka teaching bursary. “I have an honours degree in English, which I specifically pursued to enhance my subject knowledge, and 2020 is my first year of masters in English literary studies,” he said. “All these things do not count if you are not a Funza Lushaka graduate. They will consider a relatively fresh graduate before they would even give someone like me an interview call.”

The department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, says the Funza Lushaka bursary programme is a “conditional bursary awarded to qualifying candidates to address a gap in areas of need. The bursary scheme was designed to ensure an adequate supply of teachers in the area of maths, science and technology as well as African languages at foundation phase.”

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For Nkambule, who comes from Amsterdam, Mpumalanga, this means bursary recipients are being favoured. He knows first-hand the pain of being turned down. “Early this year, I applied for a post and I was excited to be invited for a job interview,” Nkambule said. 

“Sadly, the following day, before I could leave the house, the teacher called me again to confirm if I was a Funza Lushaka graduate or not.” During the call, Nkambule learned that the position he had applied for was available only to Funza Lushaka graduates. His hopes were dashed.

More recently, Nkambule says, he experienced this same pattern of only Funza Lushaka graduates getting job opportunities when he assisted at his former school. “One of the teachers was sick and I took over her duties. I was responsible for the English first additional language classes in various grades. Unfortunately, she died. However, her death meant that a permanent position had opened up,” he said. 

“As someone who had already been serving at the school, I thought I was the first preference for the position. To my surprise, I was told that the position should be made available to a Funza Lushaka graduate.”

But Mhlanga disputed this: “A school can employ any teacher who meets the requirements of the post. There is no discrimination on any basis. Where this happens, it should be raised and dealt with following the appropriate processes.”

A dream deferred

Nkambule says not being able to teach at his alma mater broke his heart. For him, this was a chance to give back to his community through teaching and education. The missed chances of getting a job also means he cannot help financially at home. 

Being the first to get a university degree in his family motivated him to work hard in his studies. “This meant a lot for my family,” he said. “I’m the one who had the potential to change things around for the better, like to build a house, buy furniture.” 

Getting a teaching job in his hometown would have been the culmination of a journey that began when, while in matric, Nkambule received a bursary from the non-profit Rural Education Access Programme, which supports well-performing rural pupils. According to Nkambule, the programme requires that these pupils must also be interested in giving back to their rural communities.

Looking for a teaching job has been strenuous for Nkambule. “I have been sending my curriculum vitae to hundreds of schools. I even hand-deliver them, sometimes to remote areas, wasting money on petrol. But I never get a response, even in rural schools,” he said.

Nkambule said he believes principals are scared to hire graduates not funded by Funza Lushaka bursaries because they fear being “accused of corruption and taking bribes or even defying a government policy”.

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In 2019, Nkambule was hired for a three-month teaching post offered by the school governing body of Ferndale High School in Johannesburg, teaching English home language to grade 8 pupils. “I enjoyed sharing my passion with the kids, and I was able to assist back home with the money I earned,” he said.

Nkambule is now tutoring English and academic literacy students at UJ. “It’s quite ironic, because a higher education institution entrusts me to facilitate learning and provide support, whereas basic education institutions completely disregard my skills and abilities based on the funding model that I used to acquire those skills.”

Mhlanga said the Funza Lushaka bursary fund was created to address the shortage versus oversupply of teachers in different areas. “The department is continuously addressing the issue of the supply and recruitment and retention of educators…” 

He said the department also follows post provisioning norms and standards when assigning teachers to schools across South Africa. These norms are “a model used to ensure that schools have the right number of teachers per learner population in a given area” and they consider “several factors, such as the size of the school, class size, subject offered and social factors that include poverty and the needs of the community now and in the future”.

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It’s not only Nkambule who has had issues with the Funza Lushaka bursary programme. Funza Lushaka and the post provisioning norms both have their critics. 

Thomas Salmon and Yusuf Sayed from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology found that although teacher governance interventions such as these are supposed to promote equity and build trust for social cohesion in post-apartheid South Africa, they fall short of achieving this. 

Zahraa McDonald, an education specialist and postdoctoral fellow at UJ, said South Africa needs “more classrooms and the graduation of teachers in the phases and specialisation where they are required … The reason we don’t have the right teachers in the right places relates to a complicated and complex past of segregated, uneven development. Moreover, the current policies are not able to redress the imbalances.”

A 2017 report titled Engaging Teachers in Peacebuilding in Post-Conflict Contexts: Evaluating Education Interventions in South Africa shows the challenges with the recruitment and deployment of teachers in rural areas. “There is a geographical maldistribution of teacher qualifications; the likelihood of teachers being under-qualified is significantly higher in rural areas.” 

It adds, “Teacher shortages, poor transport services, poor access to social services, and long distances to and from school also have a direct knock-on effect on teacher effectiveness in rural schools.” 

Meanwhile, Nkambule has “lost hope of getting a teaching job, and I hope there’s something that can be done to reconsider the exclusive and disadvantageous implementation of the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme.”

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