Parliament's portfolio committee on basic education was briefed on Tuesday by the Department of Basic Education on the outcome of the teaching and learning international survey (TALIS) 2018.
The department's deputy director-general, Dr Granville Whittle, explained to members of the committee TALIS was the "first international survey with a major focus on the learning environment and the working conditions of teachers in schools".
Whittle said a major shortcoming was the quality of school education outcomes, adding the main contributory factors included "human capacity weaknesses in teaching" and "management and school support".
The 2018 study, he added, was the largest research study on teachers and involved 260 000 across the world from 15 000 schools representing a scientific sample, which was a representation of almost 8 million teachers.
In South Africa, 2 046 teachers from 169 schools participated in the survey.
"Critically, South Africa was the only participant from Africa," said Whittle.
The survey provided insights into nine focus areas, namely teachers instructional practices; school leadership; teachers professional practices; teacher education and initial preparation; teacher feedback and development; school climate; job satisfaction; teacher human resource issues; stakeholder relations and teacher self-efficacy as well as innovation, equity and diversity.
So just what did the survey say?
Teachers and principals' sociodemographics
According to the TALIS, 60% of teachers in South Africa were female which compared reasonably well with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 68%. However, the TALIS also indicated only 22% of principals are female, which is less than half of the OECD average of 47%. In comparison, 51% of principals in Saudi Arabia are female.
About 32% of teachers are aged 50 and above which compares favourably with the OECD average of 34% and roughly puts us in league with countries such as the US, Japan and Australia.
Another question that the TALIS sought to answer was why teachers joined the profession.
To this, more than 95% of respondents in South Africa said they joined the profession as teaching allowed them to "influence the development of children and young people", while 90% added "'teaching offered a steady career path", whereas the OECD average for this metric was 61%.
With regards to the school environment, Brazil was the only country that eclipsed the percentage of respondents who agreed that "they lose quite a lot of time because of students interrupting lessons". In Brazil, 50% of the teachers agreed to this, while in South Africa 41% agreed compared to the OECD average of 29%.
School safety incidents were more frequent in South Africa, according to the TALIS, with 34%, 21% and 27% of principals reporting that intimidation or bullying among students, vandalism and theft, use and/or possession of drugs and/or alcohol occurred at least weekly at their schools, respectively.
Teachers-student relationships are also less positive in the country - 85% of teachers said "teachers and students usually get on well with each other" compared to the OECD average of 96%.
When it comes to actual teaching time, South Africa, unfortunately, suffers in comparison to other countries. The TALIS indicated the average proportion of time teachers spend on actual teaching and learning in a typical lesson was 66%, while 18% and 16% were spent on "keeping order" and "admin", respectively. This is compared to the OECD average of actual teaching time which amounts to 78% of the time.
Some of the outcomes of the TALIS seem to be positive in isolation - 83% of South African teachers said they frequently or always "give tasks that require students to think critically", which compared favourably with the OECD average of 81%. Only 61.69% of the teachers, however, answered "a lot" when asked about the extent to which they could teach critical thinking skills.
There is also a lesser prevalence of ICT use as only 38% of teachers said they let students use ICT for projects or classwork. This despite 62% of respondents - roughly on par with the US - saying the "use of ITC for teaching" had been included in their formal education or training, which was 6% more than the OECD average of 56%.
More than half of teachers have degrees at 55.6% with 97.7% of them saying a "diploma or higher" was their highest level of formal education completed. About 18.3% of teachers in the country have an honour's degree, while 21.5% have a national diploma.