Teacher Education in the Northern Province: the need and strategies for quality.
Benson E. Gozo
Teacher education in South Africa is fragmented, uncoordinated and its quality is found on the continuum very bad to excellent. There are many systems of teacher education, most of which are not accountable to anybody for the quality of their work and products. One finds that each of the twenty one universities in the country has its own system of teacher education. There are also nearly a hundred state colleges of education as well as private ones. The state - run colleges of education are the responsibility of provincial governments, they are therefore the responsibility of provincial departments of education. There are however private colleges of education that appear to be accountable to nobody! This presentation looks at the situation in one of the nine provinces, the Northern Province, and attempts to make the observations generalisable to the rest of South Africa.
2. Teacher education in the Northern Province
2.1 There are two universities in the province : the North and Venda. They have large faculties of education whose main preoccupation appears to be the production of high school teachers. This activity has preoccupied the two faculties to such an extent that research and publishing have taken a back seat. Consequently large numbers of students are admitted, the majority having the local languages and biblical studies as their majors. There is therefore a huge oversupply of teachers in these subjects who are virtually unemployable.
One consequence of the large student population has been the poor quality of tutorship. Lecturer/student ratios are very high, supervision of written work is minimal, tutorials and seminars are unheard of!
Practices such as micro-teaching become impossible because of the lecturer/student ratio. This obviously impacts on the quality of teaching practice. Teaching practice supervision by university lecturers is very limited when it does occur due to the large numbers of students. Because of the large student population, lecturers are unable to observe all students and have to make use of teachers in the schools as well as senior students. It is common that a student teacher is not seen at all by the faculty members, the grades are obtained from the teachers in the school who are often the student's relatives or friends. In other words these faculties certificate students they themselves might not have supervised.
Entrance qualifications into teacher education programmes are virtually non- existent : students who still have to complete their degrees and those who have graduated are admitted to the same courses which are supposed to be post - graduate.
2.2 There are currently fourteen colleges of education but they will be reduced to seven in the near after a rationalisation procedure. The seven surviving colleges shall be required to be affiliated to a university which does not have to be in the province. This process has started and in the end each college's curriculum will be supervised by a university faculty of education.
A number of issues that require answers arise : do the university faculties have the capacity to supervise the colleges given the current understaffing and limited qualifications and experience of the majority of their staff? This is a serious concern in a situation in which a new curriculum is to be introduced in 1998 in the form of outcomes based education.
Another issue relates to the autonomy of the colleges. How much autonomy shall the colleges have in working out their own programmes? Are colleges not going to be extensions of university faculties? The significance of this question is that since these university faculties are not, in the writers opinion, doing a good job, the same poor performance will be extended to the colleges after affiliation.
2.3 Another problem area in both colleges and university faculties of education is that of the medium of instruction. The majority of classes are supposed to be conducted in English, assignments are also supposed to be presented in the same language except in the case of the home languages. Most students and lecturers experience serious problems in expressing themselves in English. Many students have problems in following what is presented in lectures and in writing assignments, the only feasible solution appears to be remedial intervention but this is rendered ineffective by the large size of the classes.
2.4 Teaching methods under apartheid were linked to the concept of "fundamental pedagogics". The majority of lecturers in the universities and colleges were brought up on a diet of this approach which insists on compliance and fear of authority which in turn encourages the development of an unquestioning attitude. Critical thought is not encouraged , teaching methods revolve around "telling and informing learners who are expected to be passive and receptive", Gozo (1996:79).
Fundamental pedagogics has led to reliance on a single source of information for lecturers and students at both colleges and universities. These sources are often followed religiously (it is common to hear lecturers say that they are going to teach such and such a chapter rather than such and such a topic!). Little, if any, debate takes place about the content or underlying philosophy of the source.
2.5 The national government has decided to introduce an outcomes based curriculum from 1998, this is a complete opposite of fundamental pedagogics. Outcomes based education's main goal is to create critical thinkers who are prepared to examine various ways of solving particular real life problems. The question which must be answered urgently is whether or not the current lecturers in colleges and universities will manage to make a u-turn and now work on producing critical thinkers rather than docile receivers and listeners. The writer has serious doubts on the lecturers' capacity to voluntarily change and abandon the methods they have grown so used to. One also wonders how uncritical masters can produce critical followers.
The lecturers will need assistance in their attempts to meet the new requirements. In other words, they need to familiarise themselves with the philosophy and nature of outcomes based education. They will need new skills and knowledge if they are to cope, the universities could take the lead by organising seminars and debates on the new curriculum.
3. Strategy for Quality Teacher Education
The picture that the writer has painted is that of a teacher education system seriously in need of guidance and support inorder to cope with the demands of the new education system and the upliftment of the quality of its products. The universities have been shown to be inadequately prepared and equipped to play the leadership role that they are being called upon to assume in the process of affiliation and transformation. This presentation argues that the guidance and support can be provided by a model that is based on a national policy of affiliation since the conditions in the Northern Province are replicated in the other eight provinces of South Africa. A position is being taken that a set of national standards that every institution engaged in teacher education should meet before it can be allowed to function shall act as beacons of excellence.
A case for national affiliation standards does not imply an attempt to create uniformity nationally in teacher education. Individual universities and colleges will be encouraged to work out their own unique programmes , they will therefore be able to maintain their individuality. All that will be required of all teacher education institutions will be evidence that they are meeting certain national standards.
The model for national affiliation proposed in this presentation is guided by a number of considerations:
(i) an emphasis on the outcomes of successful teacher preparation rather than on the structure and process of teacher preparation.
(ii) sensitivity to individual institutional programmes and mission statements.
(iii) clarification of the goals and requirements of the affiliation process and
(iv) support and promotion of the planned changes in teacher education programmes in individual institutions.
The insistence on outcomes will facilitate the definition of criteria for determining the degree of success achieved by any institution in the professional preparation of teachers (Andrews & Schwab, 1993). A point that needs emphasis here is that the outcomes do not have to be rigid and fixed, they are expected to change as a consequence of new conceptualisations of the teachers that are required by the new nation and as new forms of knowledge come to the fore. The change might also be a result of feedback on the success or failure of teacher education programmes to produce the ideal teacher. In other words, teacher educators in South Africa are expected to reconstruct and redefine the nature of meaningful learning and the role teachers should play in assisting pupil learning with the passage of time.
The proposed model would require the establishment of a national agency that would assess the degree to which teacher education institutions meet the national minimum standards. The agency would accept or reject individual institutions' applications for affiliation or accreditation, it would thus become a licensing commission on the lines of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) of the United States of America.
4. A Sample of the National Affiliation Standards
4.1 Every institution should clearly state its mission statement justifying the programme being offered. This statement should address what it considers to be the ideal teacher and the knowledge base that is appropriate to the vision of the ideal teacher.
This requirement acknowledges that there are many ways to produce good teachers and that institutions should be encouraged to explore and work out better approaches. The content should be shown to be supporting the mission statement. This requirement will no doubt result in the mushrooming of a variety of teacher preparation programmes.
4.2 Every institution should demonstrate that it assesses and changes its programme on the basis of success or failure in meeting the goals of the programme.
This means that programmes are not changed willy nilly. Such an approach will see to it that components of the teacher education programme (courses, admission requirements, staffing, teaching practice) are means to an end, not ends in themselves. Teacher education programmes must be continuously be examined inorder to maximise their effectiveness in meeting the institutions ever -changing goals.
The current approach of affiliation which sees procedures of teacher preparation as ends in themselves must be abandoned. Teacher education programmes, whether accredited or not, should always test the effectiveness of the methods they promote and accept the fact that the knowledge base or content must constantly change as institutions appraise their graduates, alter their missions and new knowledge opens new frontiers in the conception of learning, teaching and schooling. Some institutions in the Northern Province have not altered their programmes in the last five years inspite of changing political, economic, social and educational goals.
4.3 Each institution in the business of preparing teachers should demonstrate that it is actually implementing the programme it claims to be advancing in its mission statement. It must also prove that it has sufficient resources to take the programme to its logical conclusion.
This requirement will guarantee programme integrity and continuation and put an end to the situation currently obtaining in some institutions where inordinate numbers of students are registered without any consideration for the staff complement, physical and financial resources available. One consequence of this has been a big drop in the quality of both academic and practical work as students have received inadequate or no supervision. Institutions will be forced to be realistic.
4.4Each institution must produce evidence that the majority of its students have the academic potential to succeed in the teaching field.
Insisting on better than average academic skills will ensure that the teachers for the new South Africa are academically able(something we cannot claim for most of current and recent crop of teacher trainees in the Northern Province). This will not only promote effective teaching (restoration of the culture of learning and teaching), it will also put some much needed shine back onto the badly battered status of teachers in the South African society.
4.5 Every institution should demonstrate that admissions criteria are consistent with its image of the ideal teacher.
There is virtually no other criteria besides the academic one which has been identified by teacher education as predictive of good teaching. The point being made here is that there are other things that contribute to good teaching and these need to be identified. Affective, moral, interpersonal and social aspects are critical to good teaching. The importance of these factors should be defined and included in the admissions criteria. Some institutions appear to have no admissions criteria at all while those in the Northern Province pay little regard to the criteria they profess to employ. Rules are always bent or ignored in attempts to appease students.
4.6 Each institution should produce evidence that its graduates actually enter teaching.
If teacher preparation programmes are to claim to be professional they must produce graduates who teach. Andrew (1990) and Feistritzer (1983) have shown that the majority of teacher education programmes in the United States of America place about one half of their graduates in teaching. Although we do not have corresponding concrete statistics in South Africa, the numbers of college and faculty of education graduates employed in occupations other than education persuades one to conclude that the situation is no better, probably worse than that quoted for the United States of America.
Students who are identified as being unfit to be teachers should not be allowed to continue and complete teacher preparation programmes. Teacher education should be careful to devote its scarce resources in preparing only those who are capable and willing to join the teaching field.
4.7 Each institution should show that the majority of its graduates stay in teaching for a reasonable length of time.
Research in the United States of America (Schlechty & Vance, 1983) has shown that there is a high attrition rate for teachers, as high as 60% within five years of entering service. It is being argued that setting a national standard of retention will compel teacher educators to address the issue. It is however not being suggested that all who enter teaching should remain for there are many who should be encouraged to leave for lack of commitment, competence and job satisfaction. This standard aims at improving teacher preparation so that more new teachers will be successful.
4.8 Each institution must demonstrate that its graduates are successful teachers after they leave the programme.
This is the ultimate test for any teacher education programme. Every institution should endeavour to find out how its graduates are fairing in the schools of South Africa. Teacher educators have for too long ignored the importance of marketplace evaluation in South Africa. Institutions that consistently produce poor performers must be called to account.
4.9 Each institution must show that its products' on the job performance successfully approximates the institutions vision of the ideal teacher.
The institutions should be in a position to develop instruments to determine whether or not their own criteria of excellence in teaching are being met. For, what would be the point of having high sounding visions of the ideal teacher when in the final analysis an institution is unable to demonstrate whether or not this vision is realised?
The main aim of this presentation has been to highlight the shortcomings of teacher education programmes and the the common accreditation processes currently employed by the majority of institutions in South Africa. The presentation has also attempted to provoke discussion of this issue by proposing a model which at first glance appears to be a radical departure from the traditional teacher education programmes. It is however important to remember that outcome based education is going to be the main approach for South Africa from 1998. So, far from being idealistic, outcome based accreditation is the direction in which teacher educators of the new South Africa are to travel.
There is no doubt that many people involved in teacher education in South Africa today will view this as very threatening to their ideals and even their job security. This is a real fear and the author sympathises with those who feel threatened, but that is a price that has to be paid for change, especially fundamental change. Many teacher educators would naturally be anxious about the performance of their graduates, they would be embarrassed if they failed to perform or they would risk losing their jobs! Given these considerations, there is no doubt that the proposals in this paper are likely to face stiff opposition, but that is what happens to any proposals that bring fundamental change.
It is however important to note that if teacher education institutions could provide data that showed that their programmes did in fact succeed in making progress towards the achievement of important outcomes the credibility, status and professionalism of teacher education and teachers would be immeasurably enhanced. Who needs this more than the teacher education programmes and teachers of the new South Africa?
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