What’s Not Wrong With This Picture? – Teacher Absenteeism

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March, 2013 by Sirius Centauri

I recall a time when being a teacher was close to sainthood. No, it wasn’t teachers’ relationships with God nor their discernible philanthropic deeds that gained them this enviable reputation. On the contrary those of us born in the early 80s had a love-hate relationship with our teachers or rather hated to love them. They did after all beat us blue-black every time we wronged them and ourselves.


Of course, corporal punishment, then employed as a primary means of discipline in the school and home environment, was one of the reasons teachers got so much respect from youth. But over and above that, entire communities held them in high regard because they were in many ways (and most still are) the backbone of society. They represented order, progression and authority. Although I’m a ruthless critic of the South African basic education system, I’m astounded at how rapidly a teacher’s status in our society has changed from one of authority to one of near-thuggish insubordination.

It’s not that I’m a fan of the snowball effect concept, but I firmly believe that managerial processes within the higher structures of South Africa’s basic education are the root of many of its problems. I also acknowledge that ours is a nation experiencing a lot of transformation on a number of levels, good and bad. In my mind, high levels of teacher absenteeism in our schools fail to find reason especially when taking to account the following:

Public Holidays in SA

In compliance with the Public Holidays Act, South Africa has 12 annual public holidays. In the year 2013 as with 2012 we’ll have 14 because two of the days fall on a weekend.

School Holidays in SA

There are so many school holidays, my numeracy skills would have been truly tested had I not found this useful table from

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2013 SA school calendar screen shot

As indicated in brackets in the above screenshot, this year teachers will work a total of 208 days. In essence, teachers will have 157 days off this year. To avoid placing unfair judgment on teachers, we should compare this figure to that of most other South African employees.

Our labour laws detect through the Employment Act that employees are entitled to 21 days of annual leave, add to that 52 weekends and you arrive at a total amount of 125 days off. This figure obviously excludes contract workers and employees of sectors such as police, soldiers, and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) because they don’t enjoy the same the same benefits of the labour laws as do others.

So teachers get an extra 18 days off work in a year compared to the average South African employee. That’s a lot of time off! You can travel at least a handful of countries in 18 days. Teachers must be the envy of millions of people across the country. As I begin to tire of this numbers’ game, I fail to fathom how it is that teachers have such a high absenteeism rate. Apparently 10 percent of teachers around the country, decide to add at least 19 days to the 157 days they get off annually.

It’s probably the same unruly 10% tainting the image of this imperative profession, who’ve rejected Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga’s proposal to have a biometric system installed in schools to enforce attendance among teachers. We’ll discuss their reaction in a later post.

For now, I’d like to thank the other 90 % of teachers and educators who are true to their profession. They keep our hopes alive that even today’s youth might get to experience the nurturing and warmth with which the teachers were regarded by our communities no too long ago (when they were without the canes, of course).


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