Growing our TVET footprint will place immense pressure on our human and financial resources (John McCann)
The Nelson Mandela University’s advanced diploma in technical and vocational teaching is a direct response to and addresses the vision expressed in three national policy statements — the white paper for post-school education and training, the National Development Plan and the policy on professional qualifications for lecturers in technical and vocational education and training (TVET).
These policies emphasise the centrality of the TVET sector in addressing some of the huge social and economic challenges that face our country. These policies, importantly, also provide a framework within which universities, TVET colleges and the private sector can respond to these challenges.
The government wants to have 2.5-million students in TVET by 2030. This means the TVET student population needs to be grown by about 1.7-million in the next 11 years. The current almost 800 000 students require approximately 10 000 lecturers operating in the 50 colleges countrywide. These numbers imply an influx of an additional 20 000 lecturers over the next 11 years.
In order to put these numbers into context, one needs to scan the literature available on the profile of current TVET lecturers. At a cursory glance, four elements emerge:
First, approximately 50% are professionally unqualified or underqualified. Second, of the 50% who are qualified, 35% are school qualified and only 15% are TVET qualified. Third, approximately 55% of all TVET lecturers lack workplace-based experience. Fourth, approximately 45% have been teaching for less than five years.
The new diploma can make a difference in several ways.
Starting in 2019, this qualification creates the opportunity (on a part-time basis on our Missionvale campus) for those currently teaching in the sector who are deemed academically qualified but professionally unqualified to become TVET lecturers.
Furthermore, this qualification places huge emphasis on the relationship between the classroom and the workplace and creates the opportunity for those who lack workplace-based experience to gain such experience.
But we cannot do it alone. This qualification will not be meaningful if the colleges, the sector education training authorities (Setas), local government and the private sector are not intimately involved.
When the white paper was gazetted, the faculty was already involved in TVET, as we offered a short learning vocational education orientation programme to 42 unqualified and underqualified lecturers from the Port Elizabeth TVET and East Cape Midlands TVET colleges. We began engaging in earnest to respond to the new policy and took the decision to develop the advanced diploma in technical and vocational teaching around 2015. We worked with about 10 universities around the country to develop a national framework for a diploma.
In 2016, I asked Neville Rudman to put together a plan that would put us on a pathway to connect us with international best practice. He and Lucky Maluleke chose three institutions to explore: the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg in Germany, the University of Winchester in Britain, and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
In Oldenburg, they found a seamless link between the vocational sector (Beruftbildungschule), the university and the (private sector) workplace. The levels of interaction between these three stakeholders ensures that the curriculums offered by the vocational colleges in Germany are mostly fit for purpose, because those in the workplace have opportunities to be involved with the curriculum.
Their second destination was to meet Professor Bill Lucas at the University of Winchester, whom many regard as one of the foremost writers in vocational pedagogy. In referring to vocational teaching, he states the following:
“The effectiveness of all education systems depends critically on the quality of teaching and learning in the classrooms, workshops, laboratories and other spaces in which the education takes place. While outstanding teachers (including lecturers, trainers, tutors, and coaches), engaged students, well-designed courses, facilities which are fit for purpose, and a good level of resources are necessary if any kind of educational provision is to be excellent, they alone are not sufficient.
“The real answers to improving outcomes from vocational education lie in the ‘classroom’, in understanding the many decisions ‘teachers’ take as they interact with students.”
Much of the pedagogical work that he and his colleagues have done has permeated the modules we are in the process of conceiving.
Their final destination was the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, which offers, as part of its teacher qualification in further education, a qualification very similar to the one we were contemplating.
But Rudman and Maluleke found a lot more. Not only were there curriculum features from which we could learn, but the institutions were also offering their programmes online. Adding this element to the new diploma makes it possible for us to cater for unqualified and underqualified lecturers at remote campuses.
During 2017, Dr Kathija Yassim went to Kenya to explore what other African countries have to offer in terms of TVET education, and we have been impressed with their kind of innovation and sustainable education. Their emphasis is not just on competency but also on student capabilities in relation to the solutions that TVET may have for community issues. It was an insight into African solutions for African problems in a real way.
While we were writing our modules, we visited TVET colleges in Nelson Mandela Bay to observe the culture and the vibe and to see how things were being done. Furthermore, we asked our TVET colleagues to critique our work and give input into the development of the learning materials.
Central to our humanising pedagogy are the concepts of ubuntu (I am, because you are) and community. This means that we have immersed this diploma in African philosophical thought. We are, after all, an African university, serving an African TVET sector to provide people who can function effectively in an African context.
Second, technology is central to our model. The team believes that no TVET lecturer should be technologically challenged. The programme forces lecturers to embrace technology, so that they can take their classroom into the world — and bring the world into their classroom.
Third, we also believe that, besides preparing TVET students for the world of work, they must have critical thinking skills, be innovative, maximise their communication skills and understand the socioeconomic and political challenges of our country.
Fourth, lecturers who will complete the diploma will understand the important role they have to play in the sustainability of the world and the people who live in it. So, the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals central to our work.
Finally, research underpins our work. From the outset, we have endeavoured to ensure that we based the advanced diploma in technical and vocational teaching on a solid research foundation.
Yet, the diploma is not just a theory about teaching in TVET colleges — it is about theory becoming practice. Almost one-third of the qualification (32 out of 120 credits) is practice based.
The advanced diploma in technical and vocational teaching makes a number of conversations possible.
It means that, as a faculty of education, we must engage much more closely with our colleagues in the other faculties. They have the disciplinary knowledge — engineering, tourism, marketing, business management, maritime and a host of other disciplines — to ensure we put TVET lecturers into the sector who are at the cutting edge of their knowledge disciplines.
It imperative that TVET colleges and employers in both the private and the public sectors have a serious conversation about those who will qualify from the various subject disciplines at the colleges. If we do not allow employers to make input into the curriculums and the values or work ethic we teach, how do we then make TVET fit for purpose? If employers do not open the doors to their offices, workshops, laboratories and other workspaces, how will TVET lecturers know towards what they should be teaching?
Universities also need to have a conversation with these employers, because we need to understand what a TVET lecturer needs to know so that we may adequately prepare them for their task.
Universities also need to work very closely with the colleges, because they understand their sector.
And, of course, we all need to talk to the government and the Setas about funding. Growing our TVET footprint will place immense pressure on our human and financial resources. We need to find ways to make this growth possible.
In conclusion, the advanced diploma in technical and vocational teaching makes it possible for a matric pupil to decide, as a career choice, to become a TVET lecturer. True to the Nelson Mandela University mantra, Change the World, we believe we are indeed doing this.
This is an edited version of the speech given by Dr Muki Moeng, the executive dean of the faculty of education at Nelson Mandela University, at the launch of the advanced diploma in technical and vocational teaching earlier this month