Underpaid teachers exposed to danger on the job are now leaving SA

Teacher Lungile Jamani left for China
Teacher Lungile Jamani left for China

Young, highly qualified teachers seek greener pastures, better working conditions, improved salaries and well-resourced schools overseas

Lungile Jamani left for China last week to ply his trade there.

The 25-year-old teacher joins a growing number of South African educators not only seeking greener pastures abroad but searching for better-equipped classrooms and children who are hungry to learn.

Raised in Vosloorus, Jamani said his passion for mentoring young boys drove him to choose teaching as a career.

But a meagre salary and being exposed to violence forced him to leave the country.

“For me teaching is not just a passion or a calling; it’s practically who I am. It’s close to my heart. It’s about seeing young people become who they want and should be. I know I can be a catalyst to them fulfilling their dreams,” he said before jetting out.

He said the main reason for leaving was his salary – R14 000 a month after deductions – from the Gauteng department of education.

He was also worried about his safety.

“One of the biggest reasons is the money. As teachers we don’t get paid enough here in South Africa and the benefits in China are very attractive,” he said.

He said he would earn double his salary in China.

Jamani, who taught English at Leondale High School in Germiston, began teaching in 2017 after graduating from Wits University in 2016.

But it did not take him long to start worrying about his safety at school.

“Teaching conditions in South Africa are not conducive. Working in the schools, especially township schools, you go there at your own risk every day because we never know what will happen,” he said.

“A day at work as a teacher could possibly be your last. Those are some of the things that drive teachers away from the career and the country.

“To make it worse, we are not even given support by the relevant departments. All we hear is ‘the MEC supports teachers’ but we don’t see it. It’s not conducive for a teacher in South Africa.”

Soon to follow in Jamani’s footsteps is foundation phase teacher Kolopo Kganyago (31), who teaches at a private school in a rural area in Limpopo.

Kganyago told City Press that he was considering moving to China later this year because he was simply “sick and tired of the problems”.

Foundation Phase teacher Kolopo Kganyago says South African teachers need more support from all relevant stakeholders, including parents and government departments

“Parents are not supportive, not just to teachers but to their children too. When you get to a school as a new teacher, no one supports you. So, there is no support from colleagues or our superiors at our respective schools,” he said.

Kganyago said he was also discouraged by the conditions under which teachers work.

“Some teachers have to teach in classrooms of about 45 children and I feel like we are underpaid for what we are doing. I feel like I am being underpaid. We are not treated well as teachers. From my research I have found that teachers overseas actually get paid more than us this side,” he said.


“I have also found that the kids in China are actually interested in learning, unlike in South Africa. For instance, already in Grade 2, I have kids who do not want to be in class and don’t want to listen.”

The SA Council of Educators (Sace), the teachers’ regulatory body, said the exodus of young, qualified teachers was of “great concern”.

“This is a dire situation and it is not the first time that it is raised. We also dealt with this issue about a year or two ago after we realised that qualified South African teachers were leaving the country in their numbers to go abroad seeking greener pastures,” said Sace spokesperson Themba Ndhlovu.

He said the teachers who were leaving the country were the talented, highly qualified ones “we as South Africa need”.

Ndhlovu said the teachers had raised issues about poor salaries and school safety, which most cited as their reasons for leaving.

In his 2013 state of the nation address, former president Jacob Zuma announced that a commission would be established to look into teachers’ salaries.

Ndhlovu said they had “hoped [the commission] would come up with something that would address the concerns of teachers”, but nothing came of it.

However, national education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told City Press his department supported qualified teachers moving abroad.

“The number of teachers leaving the country is on the rise and it’s a good thing. We support this because we also encourage them to do so because they will return home eventually. They do not leave forever,” he said.

“These educators return home with new skills and new teaching methods. This [the exodus] is also affirmation for us that we are producing quality teachers.”

Mhlanga said more than 10 000 teachers leave the system each year for varied reasons – from illness to retirement, emigration or other jobs.

“Between 18 000 and 23 000 qualified teachers are produced every year, so for every teacher who leaves, that creates an opportunity for someone else to take a position,” Mhlanga said.

An official from the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA said teachers had historically received lower pay increases than other public servants – at 1% a year – a situation that was only rectified this year.

This was a contributing factor in South African teachers moving elsewhere.

Lindokuhle Masheane (24) is one of those teachers. She moved to Shanghai, China, to teach English in March last year and is very happy she did.

“I worked at a high school in South Africa for five months, and then I left for China. I knew before I completed my degree that I was not going to stay.

“I always told my friends that I was not planning on staying. I wasn’t specific about China, but that is where I ended up,” Masheane said.

She said she wanted to learn about how other education systems work.

Lindokuhle Masheane always knew she would teach overseas for the experience, and to gain knowledge and skills to bring back home

“I am really interested in the South African education system, so I wanted to get insights into education systems of other countries so I could see what we as South Africans are doing wrong and doing right.

“I wanted to gain some of that international knowledge so that I could bring it back to South Africa.”

Masheane earns 14 000 renminbi (about R28 800) a month, which she said was sufficient “because the cost of living is affordable here”.

She agreed that South African teachers need more support and her working conditions in China are far better than back home.

“One thing that gets education in China to thrive is that teachers here get support from all involved, including parents, the relevant departments and from their colleagues.

“The school I started teaching at in South Africa was experiencing a shortage of desks, textbooks and it was a huge shock to me because when I got to China even public schools had the necessary resources,” Masheane said.

Our violent schools

Basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga says violence is a societal issue that is not only limited to schools or the education system.

“Kids bring guns and drugs from society. We put security measures in place such as metal detectors, but learners always find ways to get them on to their respective school premises,” he said.

“When children roam the streets instead of being in school, and killings happen outside the school we cannot blame the school or the education system. The SA Police Service and the society at large must take responsibility.”

First-year teacher Lindokuhle Masheane (24), who works in Shanghai, China, agreed with Mhlanga.

“I think violence is just prevalent in our communities. More than anything, it is a communal problem before it becomes a school problem.

“If the community could play an active role in teaching kids about this as well as support from law enforcement agencies, it could change a lot. South Africa is just not safe, so kids see violence and re-enact all this at their respective schools,” Masheane said.

The country’s schools have been wracked by violence this year.

In Johannesburg, Forest High School pupil Daniel Bakwela was stabbed to death by a fellow pupil two months ago.

The Mpumalanga provincial education department suspended a teacher in June for invigilating a midyear exam with a gun.

A video of the teacher circulated on social media showing him walking among pupils who were writing the exam while his firearm was exposed.

A month before this incident, a 15-year-old boy was arrested in connection with the fatal stabbing of a fellow pupil at a school in Ga-Mamabolo, outside Polokwane in Limpopo.

Two pupils were arrested for murder following the death of a 12-year-old pupil from Grace and Hope Special School in Seshego outside Polokwane in April.

In March, Kulani Mathebula from Mondeor High in Johannesburg was stabbed to death by three schoolboys from a nearby school.

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