“It decreases curriculum coverage. For example the Carnoy Chisholm study of 2012 showed that in the North West teachers only taught 52 of the 140 daily lessons scheduled for the year – that’s only 40% of the lessons,” he said.
The study, titled The Low Achievement Trap, which Spaull refers to, compared South Africa to Botswana and found that the latter’s curriculum coverage was 60% and its pupils performed much better than South Africans.
“Curriculum coverage is a huge problem in SA and teacher absenteeism contributes to that problem,” Spaull said.
“It is conservative to say that on any [given] day, between 10% and 12% of teachers are not in school, amounting to about 39 000 teachers absent every day.”
An additional concern was that 77% of these leave instances were for one or two days of Mondays and Fridays.
“These are the findings from the 2010 Khulisa Consortium Audit, but we have no reason to think things have changed since then.
“Obviously some teacher absenteeism is due to sickness and this is to be expected, but about 30% of the leave instances reported were for official business such as cluster meetings, union meetings, curriculum workshops …
“These meetings are supposed to be scheduled outside of school times, but this is frequently not the case,” Spaull said.
The Department of Basic Education has reiterated, after an announcement last year, that it was considering introducing a biometric system to monitor teacher absenteeism.
But it was also still exploring the option of expanding the Human Capital-Leave Management System (HC-LMS), which is in place in the Northern Cape and Western Cape provincial education departments, to other provinces.
However, South African Democratic Teachers’ Union spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the system was merely “an administrative tool” that did not address the root causes of the absenteeism such as illness, lack of motivation, infrastructure and poor working conditions.
The Western Cape education department, which introduced the HC-LMS in 2008, before later sharing it with the Northern Cape, has reduced teacher absenteeism from seven days per teacher in a year in 2007 to just four days in 2013.