Welkom by Universiteit Stellenbosch
Wedersydse begrip en samewerking noodsaaklik om onderwys te verbeter
Outeur: Maureen Robinson
Gepubliseer: 17/10/2014

​ʼn Beter wedersydse begrip van die werksaamhede van verskillende opvoedkundige rolspelers, insluitend diegene wat nuwe onderwysers oplei, kan onderwys in Suid-Afrika help verbeter, skryf prof Maureen Robinson, Dekaan van die Fakulteit Opvoedkunde aan die Universiteit Stellenbosch, in ʼn meningsartikel wat op Vrydag 17 Oktober 2014 in die Cape Argus verskyn het.

Die volledige artikel, soos dit aangebied is, verskyn hieronder​.

Teacher Educators are learning too

In the general blame game that exists around why we have poor quality educational outcomes in South Africa, teacher education is often an easy target.  The refrains go something like this: "Teachers are not being properly prepared for the realities of schooling/ university programmes offer too much theory and not enough practice/ there is too little support for student teachers in schools/ graduates of teacher education programmes are not ready for the profession/ colleges of education did a better job."

So how should Faculties of Education respond to these challenges?  It is tempting to be defensive, for – as most teacher educators will tell you – they are working exceptionally hard to prepare student teachers, they spend many hours on the road visiting schools, they care deeply about South African realities, and have a strong commitment to ensuring that student teachers make their contribution to improving schooling in the country.  Why, they might ask, are fingers being pointed at us?

Part of the answer might lie in the need for better mutual understanding of what different role-players in education are actually doing, and what dilemmas and challenges they face. Education in South Africa is characterised by a vast array of stakeholders, including national and provincial departments of education, universities, schools, unions, professional associations, NGOS, and various advocacy groups. This offers dynamic opportunities for engagement from a range of perspectives. However, at the same time, there is often a lack of knowledge and understanding of the goals, purposes and challenges of the other. 

How, then, might universities respond to the challenge of what they are doing to prepare teachers for South African schools?

The design of initial teacher education programmes revolves around the following deceptively simple question - What should young teachers know and be able to do when they graduate as new professionals?  For some, the answer to this question seems obvious.  New teachers, they will say, need to know and communicate their subject, be able to manage a class, motivate and support learners, be enthusiastic, understand school administration, and be good role models.

How does this translate into a teacher education programme, either the four year Bachelor of Education, or the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (the one year professional qualification after a degree)? There are no easy answers in curriculum design; I share just three examples of the dilemmas of preparing teachers for the "obvious" things a new teacher needs to be able to know and do:

  • Knowing the subject: This dilemma manifests most obviously in teacher education programmes for the primary school, where one needs to be both a "generalist" (knowing about the many school subjects contained in the South African primary school curriculum), and a "specialist" (knowing one or two subjects in more depth).  In addition to content knowledge, the teachers also need to know how to communicate the subject so that learning takes place. This could be one reason for the poor Mathematics competencies among many primary school teachers, for most student teachers for the primary school are doing many subjects over and above Mathematics. The imperative of ensuring that teachers have strong content knowledge can lead to sensitive questions around the requirements to enter teacher education programmes, with some seeing high academic entry requirements as an indicator of quality, and others seeing this as elitist.
  • ​Managing a class:  Many schools in South Africa expect new teachers to walk into the class on the first day and manage a situation that is often challenging for the most experienced teacher.  This might include a poor physical environment, lack of learner motivation, or just one disruptive person in the larger group. The expectation that a teacher education programme can prepare a young person for all eventualities is unrealistic, and the idea of a structured induction period, where new teachers are given support in their first years of teaching is certainly worth pursuing.
  • Supporting inclusion: As we all know, classrooms in South Africa are not homogenous. Teacher education programmes have to prepare future teachers to work in an environment where learners might speak different home languages, come from different socioeconomic backgrounds or have different historical experiences.  In addition, the policy of inclusion means that classrooms might contain learners who have specific learning needs and need extra support.  Teacher education programmes must and do introduce students to working with diversity, but this can only be an introduction; it is through the guidance of excellent and innovative teachers that young teachers will eventually build their skills to ensure all learners get the best education possible.

There are also those that argue that universities make the exercise of learning to teach too abstract, and that what is needed is more time in schools, doing the real work of classroom teaching. While nobody disputes the importance of practical experience, universities are well-placed to promote an understanding of teaching as the very complex process that it is.  Crossing the so-called theory-practice divide does not necessarily mean giving student teachers more time in schools, rather powerful learning occurs when student teachers are given opportunities to link their practical experiences to knowledge beyond their own immediate situation. This knowledge could be drawn from what is happening in other countries, or from research and debates in psychology, sociology, history or philosophy.  In this way, students become exposed to the local as well as the global, thus developing richer insights into what it takes to become an excellent teacher. 

World Teachers' Day is a chance for the many stakeholders in education, including those tasked with preparing new teachers, to share their dilemmas, challenges and initiatives. Through such discussion, we will hopefully be reminded of our common purpose, namely to offer the best possible educational opportunities to all our learners in South Africa.