Sadtu opposes hi-tech tracking of absent teachers

2014-03-06 00:00

THE KZN Department of Basic Education is mulling whether to introduce an online attendance register that is currently being used, with considerable success, in the Western Cape and Northern Cape.

This week, national Basic Education Department spokesperson Eli­jah Mhlanga said they were considering expanding the online system to other provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal.

He said the aim was to identify the most cost-effective, standardised and efficient system that could be implemented nationally.

The department has in the past been unable to introduce the biometric system to monitor “chronic absenteeism” because of an ongoing dispute with teacher union Sadtu over the system.

Sadtu said they will also oppose the online monitoring system.

“While it has been established that the biometric system can be effective in the long run to reduce the rate of absenteeism, the department is still considering similar systems that would achieve similar result,” Mhlanga said.

Nicholas Spaull, a researcher in the economics department at the University of Stellenbosch, has found that teacher absenteeism is a big problem in South African schools.

Spaull quoted the SACMEQ study of 2007 that found that SA had the highest rate of teacher absenteeism of all 14 African countries that participated in the study.

Western Cape Education Department director of communication Paddy Attwell told The Witness their online attendance register introduced five years ago achieves the same objective as a biometric machine.

“Principals or school secretaries have to complete the register online by 10 am each morning. The system provides an instant record of attendance,” he explained.

The system automatically records a staff member as absent if the school has not registered them present.

“Principals, districts and our head office can draw reports on a daily basis if necessary to check whether employees who are absent have applied for leave,” he added.

It was the Western Cape that shared the system with the Northern Cape and Attwell has promised to make the system available free of charge to other provinces should they wish to use it.

Attwell believes that their system has helped reduce unauthorised absence in their schools.

Mhlanga said this system in the Western Cape and Northern Cape was developed using state funding and can therefore be rolled out to other provincial education departments in a more cost-effective manner.

The biometric system is still in the pipeline and he said they are still busy with consultation with stakeholders, determination of cost, and time frames.

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has publicly refused to accept the department’s plan to install fingerprint machines in schools to monitor teachers’ attendance.

Sadtu’s national spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the online registration was still part of the biometric system and suggested the department improve the manual register.

She thought it was best that the department divert the money to other priorities such as eradicating mud schools and improving security.

“We don’t have CCTV cameras at schools but the department is running to install biometric machines. The time is just wrong,” Cembi protested.

“I know that people may say the manual system is not sufficient to monitor teacher absenteeism, but this can’t be compared to the millions that the department wants to spend. We don’t think it’s a priority at the moment,” she said.

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