Teacher Centres: Department of Basic Education briefing

Basic Education

22 September 2015
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education said that the function of the teacher development centres was to help teachers develop their instructional skills in ICT and subject areas where they may fall short. These centres are currently operating in five provinces, but are still needed in four. The results of the most recent audit of 147 centres were provided. Unfortunately, only 74 of these centres are currently fully functional. The challenges that the department is facing in improving these centres were explained. There are partnerships with companies and institutions such as Vodacom, Microsoft, Mindset, UNISA, and CISCO, to provide equipment and training for ICT education. DBE was drafting a list of norms and standards that the provinces must follow when running the teacher centres, and it was still accepting submissions for the list.

Members asked about the partnerships with private companies. They wanted understand why these specific companies took an interest in education and how the department would make sure they would be getting quality services from them. DBE explained that because they were partnerships, rather than sponsorships, the department could make sure that their standards are being met and that they are receiving quality products. Members were concerned about the markers of functionality of the teacher centres, and they worried that teachers might have to travel too far. Was DBE taking advantage of higher education institutions as much as possible. DBE assured them that the finalized list of norms and standards would be very helpful in creating uniform functionality and properly running centres across all provinces. In addition, it planned to make centres easy for teachers to access so that they did not have to travel far distances. Many teacher development centres were operating out of higher education institutions, and that they were dedicated to providing new student teachers with proper ICT training. Submissions on norms and standards would be very welcome within the two to three weeks.

Meeting report

The Chairperson, in her opening remarks, informed the Committee and the attendees that in all committees there will now be security personnel.

Status of Functionality of Teacher Centres in the Basic Education Sector
Mr Themba Kojana, DBE Deputy Director General: Teachers, Education, Human Resources and Institutional Development, explained that the Department has been establishing teacher training centres and were focusing on physical location, infrastructure, management, resources, programmes offered, and the general functionality of these centres. Currently, five provinces have established these centres, while Free State, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West provinces still need them.

Recently, a total of 147 audits were conducted on these centres to measure the functionality of the teacher centres. Indicators for functional teacher centres include knowledgeable centre managers, availability of ICT, connectivity of the centre, number of programmes, availability of training spaces, frequency of workshops, and community programmes provided. They found that out of the 147 centres audited, only 74 were fully functional.

Mr Kojana explained that there were some challenges that the department is facing in improving the functionality of these centres. First, some of the centres lack the proper infrastructure and training spaces. Another challenge is the staffing of centres with competent staff. In addition, some Subject Advisors are not based in the centres, which means some centres have minimum human resources that drive teacher development. Additionally, few centres actually have training schedules that are readily available. Finally, in most centres, teacher support is not provided on a regular basis due to a lack of capacity. He explained that they are dealing with these challenges through the Norms and Standards, in addition to readdressing the budget.

Mr Kojana said that the Department has been forming partnerships with stakeholders such as Vodacom, Mindset, Microsoft, Cisco, UNISA, and UNICEF, which has helped them move forward with rectifying the current problems. In addition, they are implementing better training programs for Teacher Centre Managers. The Department has also trained e-learning specialists on the ICT Integration Programme, which helps teachers integrate ICTs into their teaching programmes, as well as to promote the utilization of technology to support curriculum. Finally, many apps have been developed to aid teachers with classroom activities.

Mr Kojana went over the draft norms and standards for teacher centres. Norms and standards are very important so that centres will be uniform across South Africa. A set of norms and standards will help address the most common problems facing teacher centres. The issues addressed in an official set of norms and standards would include governance and management, funding, human resources, physical resources, linking centres with schools, and teacher development programmes.

As an example of a successful partnership, Mr Kojana gave the Committee an outline of the commitments Vodacom, Microsoft, Mindset, UNISA, and CISCO are willing to make.

In closing, he explained the role of the Department of Basic Education in developing these centres. DBE is responsible for ensuring uniform standards and practices in all provinces, in addition to encouraging provincial budgeting for teacher centres. Additionally, the Department will encourage alignment and synergy between teacher development, curriculum, and ICT units. In addition to a national calendar for Teacher Development Programmes, the department will also mobilise resources and keep a database of all of the Department’s partners.

Discussion
Ms J Basson (ANC) thanked Mr Kojana for a very clear presentation. She was relieved that the Department is going to ensure uniform standards, because on oversight visits she noticed that things were operating differently in each province. She requested additional information on how communication would work between provinces and the national government. .

Mr Kojana informed her that the Department is encouraging every branch of education and government to work together. However, the DBE is responsible for all of the planning, including initial education to continual development.

Mr H Khosa (ANC) said that he worried that many of the computers and tablets provided by companies such as Vodacom will go unused if the teachers are not all properly trained to use them.

Mr Kojana explained that he has made a comprehensive presentation around the partnership with Microsoft, because they are assisting with ICT training in schools anyway. Within the department, a capacity for a national support staff is being developed to assist and support teachers. All teacher development centres must be staffed with an ICT specialist, so that the support is easily available to all teachers.

Mr Khosa asked whether or not Vodacom was approached by the Department, and if other stakeholders were asked to contribute and were uninterested.

Mr Kojana replied that the Department is working on engagement with MTN and other companies that are not already involved. However, he noted that these stakeholders might already be involved in furthering education in other ways. Vodacom just happened to choose these centres as their niche for educational support. He also made it clear that these companies are not sponsors; rather they are partners with DBE.

Mr Khosa noted that the programmes seemed to be running only during business hours during the work week. He was worried that this was not a good use of time, because it would be beneficial to provide centre services on the weekends so that more teachers could access them.

Mr Kojana agreed to look into opening the centres on Saturdays. He agreed that it is important to improve access to the centres, especially because some teachers need to travel far distances to reach them.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) stated that she did not like that the implementation of the norms and standards being based on a timeline. She assumed that it was this way because it was the easiest way to get this done. She also noted that since all district centres were to be approved by provinces, there should be someone who approves the provinces as well. The plan needs to be far more developed if the Department expects its implementation to work on any level. She criticized the Department for focusing so much on infrastructure in their plan, because the whole point of the Department is to focus on teaching and learning.

Mr Kojana did not touch on this point, and it was not brought up again.

Mr T Khoza (ANC) wondered what the implications of bringing higher education institutions into the picture would be. He noted that all new teachers coming out of universities should be equipped with ICT training.

Mr Kojana said that most higher education institutions are already teaching ICT methods of teaching. He agreed with Mr Khoza that all new teachers should be equipped with this information and training.

Mr Khoza also worried about the issue of security at the centres, because of the expensive equipment they would contain as the centres would be vulnerable to robbery. Finally, he asked if the budgetary process was being taken into account during the planning, because if the government cannot maintain the centres correctly, they will not function properly.

Mr Kojana assured the Committee that it is very important to have an ICT specialist at each centre that is trained in the upkeep and maintenance of the centre. One of the main challenges around making a final budget is making sure each centre has the resources to run properly. Having security personnel so the centre is not robbed is extremely important as well. Making sure each centre is uniformly staffed is extremely important to the final budget.

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) asked if DBE had ever considered using universities and colleges as sites for teacher development centres, because they are already qualified to give support. She urged the department to form strong partnerships with the higher educational intuitions.

Mr Kojana said that most colleges have been developed into offices, as an effort to resuscitate those institutions to include more professional development. He explained they cannot only rely on higher education institutions as teacher development centres, However, it is important to educate the teachers closer to where they live. They do not want to make the teachers travel very far to receive additional training.

Ms Mokoto asked if the Department was providing incentives for teachers to begin using e-learning as a part of their curriculum.

Mr Kojana explained that the Department is working on this, but there is nothing that has been formalised yet.

Ms Mokoto asked how the department was going to ensure that sponsors such as Vodacom and Microsoft were not giving them outdated or broken equipment.

Mr Kojana explained that this is not happening. Vodacom and other partners are invested and dedicated in furthering education with the Department.

Ms Mokoto brought up the possibility of private teacher training centres. She gave the example of the Department of Corrections working with private prisons or the Department of Health working with private hospitals.

The Chairperson asked why Ms Mokoto would be interested in seeing private centres.

Ms Mokoto explained that she comes from the Eastern Cape where the Department has allocated people to run the teacher development centres, and in her opinion are doing so inefficiently. Based on the indicators of functionality, privately run centres could be beneficial in achieving the Department’s goals. She also brought up the fact that they are already engaging in private partnerships by working with companies such as Vodacom and Microsoft.

Mr Kojana explained that as a government department, privatisation has not been considered. He urged Ms Mokoto to make a submission to the Department if this is what she wanted to have done. He said that he does not, however, believe that this option will be considered unless evaluations come back in the next few years that make it clear that this has to be considered as an option.

The Chairperson asked what would be the closing date for submissions on the norms standards. She said that the committee needed to make submissions.

Mr Kojana said that two to three weeks would be the time in which members could make comprehensive submissions.

The Chairperson has an issue with erecting new buildings for centres, because they may take up too much space in some communities. She asked what the Department’s plan was for having enough space.
           
Mr Kojana assured the Chairperson that they are doing their best to use spaces that already exist before considering creating new buildings. Once there are no more spaces for teacher development centres, however, the Department will consider erecting new buildings.

The Chairperson asked for a clearer definition of what makes a centre functional, because each province will have different ideas as to what constitutes a functional centre.

Mr Kojana informed her that each centre must provide teacher development programmes and have a calendar. They are even thinking about making it mandatory for each centre to have subject advisors working within each centre. In terms of norms and standards, each centre must have a certain set of minimum personnel that are trained to properly run each centre.

Ms Lovemore said that she has a low level of confidence in the educational system, because of her experience of doing oversight in the Eastern Cape. She said that ultimately teaching is about learning, so even if a teacher centre is considered functional by the Department’s standards, there must be evidence in better outcomes from the students. She wondered if pre and post testing for both teachers and students could result in more effective centres.

Mr Kojana said that the Department has already been considering that. They are examining data on the strengths and weaknesses of each teacher. The Department is working on coming up with programmes to target specific deficiencies that individuals are facing and to do this, they need to take a closer look at the data and proceed from there.

Ms Van Der Walt (DA) asked if the Committee would be able to receive a list of all the centres in each province so that they can pay them an oversight visit.

Mr Kojana said that he would provide this in writing. The list would be broken down to include the state and functionality of each centre as well.

The Chairperson agreed that subject advisors should be located in each centre. However she worried that eventually the way centres are set up will create chaos and conflict. She did not want the status quo to become imbalanced, which she fears might happen even with centre managers.

Mr Kojana said that the Department has organized the management structures of each centre with a hierarchy of positions to avoid any sort of conflict. In addition, he assured her that the centre managers have been trained to deal with all of these potential issues.

Ms Basson worried that even though the Department does not want people to travel far distances that they will have to, because of the way the provinces are structured. She felt as though each centre would serve a different function, which would require teachers to go to many different centres to fill all of their needs.

Mr Kojana assured Ms Basson that they were in the process of training people to train the teachers so that they would not have to travel far within the provinces.

Ms Lovemore asked about the diagnostic services, because as they stand currently, they are anonymous. She asked how the Department plans to get around the unions when they use systems to identify individual teachers with individual problems.

Mr Kojana explained that the results would remain anonymous to everyone except the individual who would need additional support. It is important for each teacher to know their strengths and weaknesses so that they may be trained appropriately.

The Chairperson said that a lot of information must be brought back to the provinces regarding the norms and standards. She urged committee members to make submissions to the Department in order to better teacher development centres. She then thanked Mr Kojana for opening the minds of the Committee and furthering their understanding on this subject. She adjourned the meeting.

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