Seeing the national senior certificate results and the general performance of schools, questions continue to be asked about whether South Africa’s teachers are competent or well qualified.
Everyone in education admits that the continuing development of in-service teachers is key to quality education. In 2007, the national policy framework on teacher education and development was declared policy, mandating the South African Council of Educators to develop a system for managing the professional development of teachers. The integrated quality management system of 2003 had good intentions but schools and districts lacked capacity to implement it, to train or to follow up. Weaknesses identified and amendments proposed to this plan, by way of a system review, have yet to see the light of day.
The 2011 Education Summit, the later integrated strategic planning framework for teacher education and development and the formal launch of the continuing professional teacher development management system in 2014 brought glimmers of hope but these initiatives are still in their infancy.
School management teams are required to develop teachers and promote whole-school development on a continual basis, with reasonable support from the districts. Are there any measurable achievements across the system linked to this?
The answer is a hesitant “yes”. Evaluation reports show that many education policy implementation efforts fail because management teams lack capacity and districts have failed to capacitate, monitor and support schools. To a large extent, sporadic once-off workshops and routine meetings are the districts’ sole attempt to fulfil this responsibility of theirs.
What needs to be done? A school should be the epicentre of teacher development. The continuing professional teacher development programme recognises this by focusing on teacher- and school-initiated activities for teacher development.
The integrated strategic planning framework for higher education and development in South Africa identifies professional learning communities as avenues for effective development.
Professional development needs to be managed from within the school by management teams, the drivers of professional development, through structured programmes that run throughout the year. The truth is that teachers are always on a professional development trajectory. The vast bulk of workshops and training sessions are directed at subject teaching, not performance.
The integrated quality management system lends itself well to this but with no purposeful support to schools it has turned into a paper exercise. The overemphasis on matric results means professional development, especially of management teams and instructional leadership, has taken a back seat. It is seen as a waste of time that could better be used to complete syllabuses and rush into revision programmes to drill learners for the dreaded national senior certificate examination.
Unless we take the professional development of teachers seriously, our future generations will have teachers with no professional autonomy, no authority in their subject content, and without the ability to educate learners to be independent and effective
Wanda Mpisi is a deputy principal at a KwaZulu-Natal school