YOUNG Eastern Cape teachers who have paid their own way through tertiary education fear their studies could be in vain as Education Department bursary holders are given preference when applying for departmental posts despite the chronic teacher shortage.
Teachers and education experts have labeled the department’s policy – which sees qualified Funza Lushaka bursary holders receive “first option” when applying for posts in the province – as “grossly unfair”.
Some teachers have even been discouraged by schools from applying for posts as the department requires those posts to be filled with bursary holders, before considering those teachers whose studies were self-funded.
One newly qualified Port Elizabeth teacher said she had applied for teaching positions at more than five different schools this year, but was turned away every time because she was not a bursary holder.
The department’s Funza Lushaka bursary programme provides full-cost bursaries to eligible students to complete a full teaching qualification in “an area of national priority”.
These areas include critical subjects such as mathematics and science.
Bursary recipients are then required to teach at a public school for the same number of years that they receive the bursary or else repay it.
This year, the department granted 2 400 bursaries nationally and plans are in place to dramatically increase this within the next year.
“It is so unfair. My family and I had to make a lot of sacrifices to pay for my studies and now we are struggling to get jobs because we didn’t have these bursaries,” said Gevone Snyman.
She said she applied for teaching posts at more than five schools this year, but was told each time that bursary holders received preference.
“We all have the same qualification so we should all have equal opportunity for jobs.”
Another newly qualified teacher, Shafeeka Abrahams, has battled the same problem.
“I’m struggling to get a post and was recently told I needn’t apply as I wasn’t a bursary holder,” Abrahams said.
Her mother, Mureedah Abrahams, said this was a “devastating blow” for her daughter. “We made a lot of sacrifices to keep her at university and now she can’t find a job,” she said.
Eastern Cape education portfolio committee member Edmund van Vuuren confirmed the department favoured bursary holders because, as part of their bursary conditions, these teachers were required to work in public schools for a period once qualified.
“This, however, doesn’t mean other qualified teachers can’t apply for those posts. If the post is not filled with a bursary holder, other teachers are considered,” said Van Vuuren, who added this also only applied in “critical subjects” including maths, science, accounting and languages.
However, he conceded the situation was “grossly unfair” to teachers who had worked hard, made sacrifices and given up four years of their lives to complete their studies.
East London education expert Ken Alston believes all qualified teachers should have equal opportunity when applying for a position.
He said the department’s policy interfered with school governing bodies’ mandate to appoint the candidates they saw fit.
“You cannot force a school to appoint a certain candidate. The government is playing with fire here. The school should be able to appoint someone who will fit the school,” said Alston.
Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) acting chief executive Jaco Deacon also confirmed bursary holders enjoyed preference.
Deacon understood why the department adopted this policy – if these teachers did not work for the department they would be “throwing taxpayers’ money in the water”.
Despite numerous attempts to contact Eastern Cape Education Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani, he could not be reached for comment.