Education still pondering biometrics

Nicola Mawson
By Nicola Mawson, Contributor.
Johannesburg, 25 Apr 2013

The Department of Basic Education is still considering implementing a biometric clock-in system, but is also looking at the possibility of a card-based solution, in a bid to curb absenteeism.

However, while it is ready to engage stakeholders, thousands of teachers have taken to the streets in a bid to increase pressure on basic education minister Angie Motshekga and DG Bobby Soobrayan to resign from their positions and enforce a work-to-rule environment.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has hit out against the concept of getting teachers to "thumb-in" on arrival at school. Earlier this month, SAPA reported that hundreds of the union's members picketed outside the education department's Durban office, carrying placards reading: "Use your R480 million of biometric system to eradicate mud schools. Pay the rural allowance." (Sic)

The department said in February that it was planning a biometric clock-in system for teachers at all of its 24 000 schools, although the project was in its infancy. Reports at the time suggested it would cost R480 million to implement, but spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said the cost could not yet be quantified.

Ready to talk

Yesterday, Lesufi told ITWeb the project was still at conceptual stage, but the department was ready to engage with stakeholders. He says the current strike has not derailed the department's plans.

Lesufi says 13% of schools are already running a biometric system, and the department will look at their experiences as part of its determination as to whether the system will work. He adds that a card system is also being considered.

The current system of signing in and out is from the "stone age", Lesufi has noted. He added that the conceptual plan is for the system to be implemented in 2015, but it could be done next year if all parties are in agreement and the funds are available. "In every class, there must be a teacher in front of the class."

Lesufi explained the signing-in system is problematic, as some teachers sign in on behalf of others, while some educators forget to sign in at all. If teachers are not at work for three days, the department can act faster and deduct money from salaries quicker than is currently the case, where the process takes as long as two months, he noted.

Questionable effectiveness

However, in March, Sadtu called the biometric system a "publicity stunt" and said Motshekga misrepresented absentee figures in her "desperate" attempt to justify the spending when "a significant number of schools still lack basic infrastructure such as electricity".

"Policing teachers should not be her obsession, because there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this would improve their performance and morale, which is currently at an all-time low under her leadership.

"It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that this system has significant inherent flaws within it; for one, it will not be able to determine the teacher's effectiveness inside the classroom, and it also will not be able to record when the teacher is out of school due to school activities like sport, excursions and illness."