The establishment of more specialist universities and education campuses for teacher training could see South Africa substantially increasing the quality and quantity of new teachers entering the profession. Rajaa Azzakani, Kim Barlow and Kuhle Mkize report.
The target may seem somewhat ambitious, but producing 22 000 graduate teachers each year by 2019 is within reach. This is what the Portfolio Committees on Basic Education and on Higher Education heard recently at a meeting on developing teachers. Achieving this goal will be costly however.
Committee Chairperson for Basic Education Ms Hope Malgas said the subjects taught to students at university level were "problematic", when measured against the needs of schools. Schools were still being staffed by new teachers who had inappropriate subject qualifications, and she suggested that this issue needed to be addressed at the level of teacher training.
There are currently two paths people can take to become teachers, Dr Whitfield Green, Acting Chief Director, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), told the meeting. The first is to do a Bachelor of Education degree and the second, an undergraduate degree followed by a professional graduate-level Certificate of Education.
Dr Green said there were currently 21 public and technical universities offering initial teacher training, and the Vaal University of Technology would soon add to that number. When they were completed, the new universities being built in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape provinces would also offer teacher education.
Dr Green emphasised that the development of new teacher education campuses depended entirely on obtaining additional ring-fenced funding from the government. Some R450m was ring fenced in the 2012/13 to 2013/14 budget cycle to expand university infrastructure capacity for teacher education.
Although the number of students who graduate with teaching degrees each year increases, a gap of about 8 000 posts persists, Dr Green said. He also emphasised the need to improve the quality of South Africa's teachers.
A recent report from the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU, which forms part of the Department of Basic Education), was previously presented to the Committee, stating that there were substantial challenges with the quality of teachers and that for this reason it was desirable to develop a new qualification policy for teacher education.
The DHET announced at the meeting that it would be investigating the ability of newly qualified teachers to make a successful transition to the new systems. Diagnostics assessments were currently underway for the teaching of mathematics, said Mr Haroon Mahomed, Director: Department of Basic Education (DBE).
During a 2009 Teacher Development Summit, it was noted that five provinces had already established institutes to improve teacher skills. The DHET said that so far some 58 000 teachers had been through a professional skills development programme.
The gap between teacher supply and demand was a concern for Committee member Ms Florence Mushwana who asked if there were any rules that bound teachers to remain in the country after their training was complete.
Committee member Ms Cheryllyn Dudley said additional funding was sorely needed for teacher development. She wanted to know what the DHET was doing about this and also asked the DHET for more detail about the responsibilities of the specialist teachers that it intended to place in schools. Mr Mahomed responded by saying that these teachers should be able to screen, assess and identify learners' abilities and needs.
He would like to see services in each school to address the needs of disabled children. The roll-out plan for training all teachers in screening, identification and assessment would also aid in referring students to special needs agencies, if their own school did not have the resources to help them.
Committee member Mr Ntopile Kganyago noted the lack of information in presentations to the Committee on plans to guarantee the quality of teacher training, and asked for more details. Dr Green stated that a new policy had recently been released, setting out the minimum requirements to become a technical or vocational lecturer.
Committee member Prof Annette Lovemore said the DHET had to look more closely at the skills of people who were actually training the teachers. She wanted to know if there had been any discussions with the universities to examine the quality of the courses teachers were following, or the competency of the lecturers who were instructing teachers.
Dr Green responded that there were moves to build links between universities, education campuses and schools. When setting up campuses, the universities would establish strong relationships with schools, so that lecturers could visit schools and start teaching there.
Committee member Dr Annelie Lotriet noted her concerns about the education of deaf students. Mr Mahomed responded by saying that there was a programme underway to link the DHET and organisations for the deaf. He conceded that there was still a lot of work to be done to meet the needs of blind and deaf communities.