Who will lecture the lecturers?

University lecturers should themselves be taught how to teach, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said on Tuesday. And poor universities in rural areas need particular support on this regard because the students they admit are among the most disadvantaged in the country.

Nzimande was addressing delegates at the opening of the annual Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (Heltasa) conference in Tzaneen.

Heltasa is a professional association for educators and academics in tertiary education.
The association’s roots are in academic development and in addition to the special-interest groups it convenes throughout the year, it holds a conference every year on teaching quality and development.

The theme of Heltasa’s conference this year was “Higher Education Development: Academic Excellence, Opportunities and Challenges”. “The academic development movement in the past could perhaps be criticised for a somewhat lopsided and skewed focus on learning,” Nzimande said in his opening address.

This outdated focus has led to “a warped understanding that students are the only ones who need to be developed on the grounds that they come into academic environments severely lacking in the competencies required to succeed in these environments”, Nzimande continued.

“This is clearly a deficit view of students, which does not take into account the role that the institutions themselves have to play in preparing and transforming themselves to deal with these challenges.”

The minister went on to warn against the practice of employing academics who do not necessarily have the aptitude for teaching as lecturers. “It is a fallacy to assume that, by virtue of advanced study in a particular field, someone automatically becomes a good teacher in that field,” he said.

“Teaching, like learning, needs development, and academics at our institutions have to recognise that improving pedagogical competency is a critical factor in improving success.”

This applies to all universities, Nzimande said, but the historically disadvantaged universities need particular support in this regard. “The former black universities face an overwhelming challenge to improve learning and teaching as they are populated by students who predominantly come from poor and under-prepared backgrounds,” he said.

“In addition, these students are beneficiaries of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, but this assistance is normally inadequate to meet all their needs, including inability to pay for the full cost of study. This in itself tends to aggravate their conditions of study, thus creating further barriers to success.”

He expressed concern that former black universities, are consumers rather than producers of knowledge and base their curricula on what is passed on by the developed world without adequate critical interrogation.

“Our students are daily being taught to reproduce some of the very ideas that today have led to the current global economic crisis that we face, and are not adequately equipped to critique some of these paradigms and advance ideas that are more appropriate to our own challenges and those facing the south in general,” he said.

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