The department of higher education and training and the department of basic education have to look into the reopening of some teacher training colleges, Minister of higher education and training Blade Nzimande said yesterday.
Speaking at the closure of a three day summit on teacher development Nzimande said this would be in line with a decision taken by the ANC at its Polokwane conference at the end of 2007.
Calls for the reopening of colleges have come from various sections of society in the last year, including teachers’ unions and from senior leaders in the ANC.
Training colleges for teachers were rationalised in the second half of the 1990s in terms of the Constitution which defined them as a national competency. This meant they had to move from the jurisdiction of provincial departments of education to that of the national department. Of the more than 100 colleges that existed about two thirds were closed and by 2001 the remaining 27 colleges were incorporated into universities.
According to Nzimande the first step in any assessment of whether colleges should be re-opened is to look at why they were closed in the first place.
“There were basically two reasons. Firstly, the quality of the teacher training provided by most of the colleges was considered to be very low. Secondly, the training provided in the colleges was very expensive when measured on a per-capita basis, mainly because most colleges catered for fairly small numbers of students,” he said.
Nzimande said the reasons why there have been calls for the reopening of colleges include the fact that they were more accessible, both geographically and in terms of their enrolment requirements — including, but not limited to, the issue of fees. Another reason is that there has been a problem to produce enough teachers for the schooling system.
“Following the incorporation in 2001, service bursary schemes for teachers, which were previously offered to all students entering the teaching profession were withdrawn. This resulted in a radical reduction in the number of teacher education students. One of the major impacts of this has been a reduced supply of new teachers coming into the system. Not surprisingly, the closure of teacher-training capacity in the form of the colleges has been blamed for this,” he said.
He said another problem with the current system of teacher training is that many university education faculties have limited expertise — or even interest in primary school teaching.
“It is worth reflecting that not one South African university has a chair in primary education — and most spend little energy on teaching students to teach reading, writing or numeracy; they also conduct little research in this areas. Despite very extensive research evidence that mother-tongue instruction could improve the quality of learning of our youngest learners, universities have been closing down or cutting back their African language departments. Does this make sense in the wake of a successful national liberation struggle?,” Nzimande said.
He said the education departments had to look at whether universities can overcome their weaknesses.
“I believe that it is necessary, in the time ahead to examine these various options in detail and to consider the educational and economic implications and benefits of each, in the light of local and international studies of best practice balanced by the needs of our teachers and education system as a whole,” Nzimande said.