What happened to teacher training?

Teacher training in South Africa takes two forms:

  • Initial Professional Education of Teachers (IPET); and

  • Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD)

The responsibility for IPET now rests with the universities but was once shared by the more than 80 colleges, many situated in rural areas. The body responsible for CPTD is the South African Council for Educators (SACE), which is required to identify the needs of teachers and schools and provide accredited courses for them. The failure over the past decade of the universities and of SACE to service the considerable needs of our schooling system has contributed to the poor performance of our schools.

The inability of the universities to provide sufficient teachers with the right qualifications and skills to meet the diverse needs of the school system should be seen against the background of the wholesale restructuring of the teacher training sector and the higher education sector post-1997, when the decision was made to locate teacher training in higher education.
This, in practice, meant that teacher training became but one unit in a larger university faculty rather than a separate faculty with its own funding dedicated to teacher training.

The consequences of this decision and the resulting closure of the colleges has had a significant impact on the supply of teachers. The Centre for Education Policy Development’s publication, Restructuring Teacher Education: Issues in Education Policy No 6 reveals that:

  • The attrition rate of our schooling system is approximately 5%—we need to recruit between 20 000 and 30 000 teachers to replace those who leave the system each year;

  • At the beginning of 2000, 82 institutions, of which 50 were colleges of education, enrolled 110 000 teacher education students. By the end of 2000, this number was reduced to 25 “contact” and two distance education institutions. The 25 “contact” colleges were those that were scheduled for incorporation into the universities.

  • Two-thirds of all teachers are women but only two-fifths of principals are women (2006 figures);

  • In 2007 and 2008, 9 289 bursaries were awarded in terms of the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme. A mere 5% of these were for individual training to become African-language Foundation Phase teachers, an area of critical shortage;

  • University teacher educators do not really know how to manage large classrooms, hungry learners, multilingual language acquisition and content knowledge in schools that are located in an environment which has few textbooks and little food”; and
    Because universities tend to have an academic rather than a professional focus, they emphasise “teacher education” at the expense of “teacher training”—the practical classroom management skills that teachers need to be effective.

While some of the failings of the IPET sector are understandable, given the dramatic restructuring that this sector has had to endure over the past decade, the failure of SACE to make any visible progress in developing an effective and functioning model of continuing professional development is of real concern and less easy to excuse. The department of basic education is expected to provide ongoing support to SACE to ensure that it is able to meet its mandate. Some of the “main purposes” of SACE’s CPTD system are: 

  • To improve schooling and the quality of learner achievements;

  • To coordinate professional development activities with a view to achieving sharper focus and effectiveness;

  • To revitalise the teaching profession and foster renewed commitment to the profession’s seminal role in the development of our country; and

  • To contribute to the responsible autonomy and confidence of the teaching profession.

  • These developmental activities will, according to SACE, be of three kinds:

  • Teacher priority activities which are those chosen by teachers themselves;

  • School priority activities, which are those undertaken by the school leadership and staff collectively and which are focused on whole school development; and

  • Profession priority activities which are aimed at enhancing the professional status of teachers.

Teachers need to accumulate 150 professional development points over a three-year period. They may not accumulate more than 90 points in one year and they must accumulate a minimum of 30 points from each of the three kinds of developmental activity in the three-year cycle. To earn these points, the developmental activity must be approved by SACE which must also decide on the “weighting” of points which will be allocated to that activity. All very grand and laudable in theory but, in practice, it may well be unimplementable, at least in the foreseeable future, given the huge demand that it will make on resources.

Consider for a moment the logistics involved in identifying the needs and in providing accredited courses with appropriately weighted professional development points for the approximately 390 000 teachers at our public schools—approved courses of sufficient quantity and quality to make it possible for every SACE-registered teacher to accumulate the required 150 points in a three-year cycle. Don’t hold your breath? it is not going to happen soon at a school near you.

Alan Clarke is an education management consultant and former principal of Westerford High School in Cape Town.

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