THE Eastern Cape education department will shed more than 4 000 teaching positions next year due to declining pupil numbers in the province.

Addressing the media in East London yesterday, education MEC Mandla Makupula declared a total of 55 796 educator posts for 2014.

The department currently has 60 060 teachers, effectively meaning it will scrap at least 4 264 teaching positions.

This includes a large number of teachers currently at home on sick leave. Of these, Makupula said 263 had spent more than 100 days at home on full pay.

“Teachers who are on extended sick leave will be pushed into retirement to clean up space for new teachers in the system,” said the MEC. “The deadline for that initiative is April 2014, at the start of the new financial year.”

The announcement was met with mixed reaction from opposition parties.

DA MPL Edmund van Vuuren said the number of positions to be shed was higher and the figures given by the department were incorrect. He said 5 024 teacher posts would be slashed.

“Classrooms will again overflow with up to 125 learners per teacher in our disadvantaged schools,” he said.

“Vacant posts have still not been filled in our disadvantaged schools, despite promises to do so.”

Education portfolio committee chairman Phumzile Mnguni said he regretted the cuts and feared it would impact on teaching and learning.

“This move might have a negative impact on the results and there might be some deterioration in the teaching service provided to learners, a situation we will have to monitor carefully,” he said.

Education expert Graeme Bloch said the current education climate of the Eastern Cape required more teachers, not fewer.

“It’s a problem and I think we need to find more money to fix this,” he said.

Education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the figure was largely determined by a steady decline in learner numbers in the province.

While the exact number will be announced later this week, the Education Management Information System (EMIS) estimates the decline in pupil numbers at 2%.

Makupula said learner numbers were crucial in determining affordability.

“The data provided by both the national census and that collated internally by EMIS suggests that there has been a consistent downward spiral in the total number of schoolgoing learners in the province,” he said.

“This must necessarily have a direct bearing on the post basket allocation.”