The lack of a finalised plan to professionalise the FET sector is holding vocational educators back, writes Joy Papier.
Blade Nzimande’s recent summit on further education and training (FET) colleges presented the results of extensive discussion among task teams to develop a vision for the colleges and stabilise a sector buffeted by successive policy interventions over the past 10 years. The proposals that flowed from the summit focused largely on the sector’s governance structures and funding policies as well as on the colleges’ qualifications programmes.
But summit participants were also concerned about the morale of the college workforce—its lecturers—and what could be done to boost and build capacity. There is an urgent need for national authorities to address the training concerns of college lecturers by finalising the framework within which appropriate development pathways may be established.
Compared with developed and developing countries across the world, discussions in South Africa on college lecturer training and development have not been particularly robust. At least three conferences on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and teacher development held around the world in the past four years (Indonesia, Greece and the United Kingdom) suggest the seriousness with which it is viewed elsewhere.
Recent international scholarship at respected TVET agencies and forums reveals that the professionalisation of vocational teachers or lecturers has been a key aspect of vocational systems reform for a long time.
In spite of contestation about what such professionalisation should entail, there is general agreement that it involves specific qualifications for vocational lecturers, as well as employment conditions specific to the sector.
There is a well-established body of research on qualifications for vocational teaching and curricula. Older systems of vocational teacher training (such as in Scandinavia and Europe) concur that vocational teachers should be distinguished from traditional school teachers because vocational colleges are (or should be) preparing students for employment.
A three-part lecturer preparation is therefore necessary. First, vocational lecturers must be experts in their subjects (or fields or disciplines); second, they must have the necessary pedagogy to teach; and third, they should have experience of the workplace.
The notion of “vocational pedagogy” suggests that college lecturers should be prepared to teach in a vocational environment and with an understanding of the workplace. This is irrespective of the fact that some may teach more hands-on or occupationally directed courses than others.
South Africa college lecturers
Recent research conducted in FET colleges across five provinces suggests the profile of lecturers and their needs. In the Western Cape, for example, a survey of about 1 000 college lecturers in 2008 showed that they were concerned about their subject knowledge, appropriate pedagogy and workplace exposure.
Without formal qualifications that address vocational teachers’ needs specifically, many college lecturers have enrolled in adapted school-teacher qualifications offered by some universities. Some have acquired other short courses offered by a range of providers, some of dubious quality.
The shifting policy environment in the past five years has led to high staff turnover. It has meant that college management has frequently had to induct new staff members into classroom pedagogy, especially in the case of staff appointed directly from industry or other teaching environments.
Where is the draft policy?
There was therefore great excitement when the then national department of education (now higher education and training) released its “Draft National Policy Framework for Lecturer Qualifications and Development in FET Colleges in South Africa” in August last year. It set out a professionalisation agenda, with a framework of qualifications aimed specifically at FET college lecturers.
In discussions on the framework held in various provinces, college participants were excited by the Vocational Education Orientation Programme (VEOP), a structured induction programme for new entrants to college teaching that would also form part of initial teacher education. The prospect of credit-bearing training, offered within the higher education system and bringing college lecturers within the ambit of recognised national qualifications, was attractive.
Universities in five provinces rallied with FET partners to consider the framework and plan for a pilot of the VEOP as a necessary component of initial vocational teacher education. All acknowledged that there were useful precedents to assist their foray into this domain.
An enormous amount of hard work has already gone into the development of the pilot and the partners have indicated that they are willing to continue to contribute their time and expertise. At least three universities have rolled out a pilot VEOP project in advance of the policy’s finalisation.
But the absence of a finalised policy on the horizon is proving to be a stumbling block for universities, which require national standards to formalise their vocational teacher offerings. Nearly a year since the draft policy’s publication for comment and several stakeholder inputs later, there has been no official feedback on the status of the draft.
The draft policy focuses on the future by envisaging a new cadre of vocational lecturing professionals. But it pays insufficient attention to currently employed college lecturers, to how they would access the qualifications in the framework and to the potential benefits for them of formal qualifications in a new remuneration dispensation.
The draft policy could also be perceived as punitive in the time frames it sets for existing lecturers to acquire qualifications. Universities and other providers will have to be mindful of the expertise existing college lecturers have acquired in their years of college teaching, albeit without formal teaching qualifications. A vigorous recognition of prior learning (RPL) strategy will need to be in place so that lecturers who have served the sector well over many years are not marginalised or disadvantaged.
This is a debate regarding conditions of service rather than the nature and structure of lecturer qualifications.
A policy framework setting out standards for teaching in FET colleges cannot be delayed any longer. The necessary elements of vocational teacher education can be supplied by our higher education and occupational sectors which can contribute their expertise to the development of suitable curricula. In addition, there are ample external exemplars and expertise on vocational teacher training that could be drawn on.
The policy framework should be mindful of the needs of existing college lecturers by building in RPL for access and exemption purposes. This framework could then form the basis of a properly structured remuneration dispensation for a professional vocational workforce in our colleges.
Dr Joy Papier is director of the FET Institute at the University of the Western Cape