The South African education system is facing a crisis with the number of ageing school principals.
With the teaching system largely made up of older teachers and principals, the directions schools take may be impacted negatively, especially poorer and rural schools.
Gabrielle Wills, a Research on Socio-Economic Policy education economist, addressed a school governance and management conference in Randburg on Wednesday.
More teachers and principals were retiring early, depriving schools of people equipped to run schools successfully.
Between 2004 and 2008 about 340 principals retired each year, Wills said, adding that people who were already in the system were not qualified enough to take up the running and leading of schools.
“If you look at principals hired in 2010 to 2012, a quarter had only been teachers for two years before being appointed as principals,” she said.
The provinces with the highest number of principals at retirement age are Limpopo, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
Poorer schools, she said, were more affected than richer schools.
“Teachers and principals are retiring early and it is hard to say why they are doing so, but the rates of retirement is higher in poorer schools… principals retire earlier than in richer schools.
“Internationally, teachers and principals are older but it’s quite interesting in our context. In 2004, 17 percent of teachers were 45 years old and a third of school principals in 2012 were 55 and older.
“The majority of teachers are retiring at 64. Right now we have a wave of principals retiring and if we project forward, we are looking at about 1 000 principals a year needing to be replaced because of retirement reasons in the next few years,” said Wills.
The exodus “raises a concern of how on earth are we going to get replacements for these positions”. But she said it was not all doom and gloom.
“It gives us an unprecedented challenge to train new recruits who can qualify principals. We have a window of opportunity, especially when one considers the average school principal will stay in that position for 10 years.”