Measures to Improve Initial Teacher Education Programmes: DBE, DHET & Education Deans Forum briefing

Basic Education

03 November 2015
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC) and Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Departments of Basic Education and Higher Education and Training, as well as the Education Deans Forum, combined to inform the Committee of measures being taken to improve initial teacher education in South Africa.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) explained that the need for improving teacher education across the country was as a result of the low performance of both teachers and students. The system needed to innovate and set new rules and standards for the teachers entering the system, as well as for the teachers that were already in it. There was a need for quality checks and continuous vocational training. All three departments and structures – the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the DHET and the Education Deans Forum (EDF) played a leadership role with respect to specific functions in teacher education.

As a result, it had been considered that in order to improve quality in initial teacher education (ITE), the Departments had to promote the following components: policy, oversight, collaboration, infrastructure development, dialogue and community building, research and the creation of programmes. All the components were already being developed, but they had not yet been completed. The current impact of the efforts that had been undertaken was merely positive, and there was still a lot of work that needed to be done in expanding higher education and teacher education into the rural provinces.

The next steps in improving teacher education and quality would be: to set professional standards for teachers and school leaders; to invest in ITE programmes to strengthen teaching practice and enhance the quality of new teacher graduate output; to create induction programmes for new teachers (including better recruitment); to promote the evaluation of teachers and school leaders; and lastly, to develop a quality check list for continuous professional development programmes.

Members raised various questions in regard to the existing mechanisms to test and monitor teachers after graduating, matters and procedures regarding the registration of teachers, the Funza Lushaka programme and its budget allocation, and the expansion of higher education into the rural areas, among others.


Meeting report


Dr Whitfield Green, Acting Chief Director, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), presented a report on the measures that had been taken to improve Initial Teacher Education (ITE). He described the formal teacher education landscape and said that teacher education was a national competence, funded and regulated through the DHET, because teacher education could be offered only by accredited higher education institutions. However, teacher education was a matter that corresponded not only to the DHET -- the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Education Deans Forum (EDF) were involved as well. In other words, while different departments and structures played a leadership role with respect to specific functions, there was collaboration between structures on certain functions.

Strengthening ITE was an ongoing process that had been unfolding with more focus and intensity since 2007 through a range of policy, planning and programme initiatives. It was in direct response to issues highlighted by the Ministerial Task Team on teacher education, by the 2007 Council on Higher Education (CHE) review of teacher education programmes, and at the 2009 Teacher Development Summit, which were all part of the process to strengthen and improve the quality of teacher education.

In order to improve quality in ITE, it was necessary to promote:

  • Policy: a policy on Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications (MRTEQ) was an important response to the issue of teacher education quality, as it set minimum standards for ITE qualifications and also required that all ITE programs must be strongly focused on developing teacher knowledge and practice. For this reason, all universities were required to develop new programmes that complied with the policy.
  • Oversight: including several evaluation processes -- by the Teacher Education Programme Evaluation Committee (TEPEC), evaluation for inclusion on the Programme Qualification Mix (PQM), Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) evaluation for accreditation by the CHE, and application to the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) for registration on the National Qualification Framework (NQF).
  • Collaboration with: the National Teacher Education Development Committee (NTEDC), whose purpose was to ensure that a coherent and coordinated approach was taken to the planning for and delivery of teacher education programmes in the country in ways that were aligned to national teacher education needs, which were sustainable and led to stability and quality in the system.
  • Collaboration with: Provincial Teacher Education Development Committees (PTEDCs), to ensure a coherent and coordinated approach was taken to the planning for and delivery of teacher education programmes in the provinces in ways that were aligned to national teacher education needs, that were sustainable and led to stability and quality in the system.
  • Collaboration with: the Education Deans Forum (EDF), which meets on a quarterly basis to share knowledge and information, as well as to network and foster collaboration among higher education institutions and other stakeholders in the higher and basic education sectors.
  • Infrastructure Development: by giving grants to universities for infrastructure (see table on page 15 of the presentation).
  • Dialogue and community building, through the creation of events such as the 2009 teacher development summit, the 2012 teacher education conference, the 2014 colloquium on the teaching practice component of initial teacher education programmes, the 2014 symposium on academic depth and rigour in initial teacher education, and the 2015 colloquium on teaching practice and teacher professionalism.
  • Research: some of the examples include: the Initial Teacher Education Research Project (ITERP), partnerships between the Joint Education Trust (JET), the EDF, the DHET and the DBE to generate information to inform the debate about the quality of ITE among the most important stakeholders in the sector. There were also research reports on establishing professional practice schools in South Africa by Prof M Robinson (completed),  on establishing teaching schools in South Africa by Prof S Gravett (completed), enhancing teacher professionalism through the South African Council of Educators (SACE), research on teacher induction programmes and research on teacher supply and demand, and validation of the Commonwealth standards for teachers and schools leaders by JET education services.
  • Programmes: to develop programmes in order to strengthen Foundation Phase teacher education, Primary Teacher education and Teacher education. In the Foundation Phase, the number of universities involved had increased from 13 to 21; the enrollment for ITE foundation phase programmes had grown from 10 073 students in 2009 to 18 260 in 2012; 28 journal articles had been published in peer-reviewed journals; the programme supported the employment of 24 new childhood education academics at universities; scholarship support was provided for seven Honours students, 54 M Ed students and 40 PhD students; and there had been the establishment of the University of Mpumalanga, Siyabuswa Teacher Education Campus and a centre for African language teaching on the campus. Moreover, The Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme had made a contribution to a higher calibre of students entering ITE programmes based on merit criteria; the risk was that Funza Lushaka had to maintain a larger number of existing students while fewer bursaries were available for new applicants.
  • Primary Teacher Education: there was a need to support the establishment of academic communities; to finalise norms and standards for professional practice schools and teaching schools; to develop a national programme/course and course materials to support the professional development of school teachers; and to support the development of a teaching practice platform for initial teacher education programmes. To strengthen universities’ capacity for inclusive and special needs teacher education, there was a need to support the establishment of three university-based centres of excellence, each one with a focus on education for the visually impaired, education for the hearing impaired, and education for the intellectually impaired, which would have the function of training specialist teachers who would work in special schools.
  • Teacher Education: the next steps in improving it was to set professional standards for teachers and school leaders; to invest in ITE programmes to strengthen teacher practice and enhance the quality of new teacher graduate output; to create induction programmes for new teachers (including better recruitment); to promote the evaluation of teacher and school leaders; and lastly, to develop a quality check list for continuous professional development programmes.

Ms J Basson (ANC) referred to the presentation as both encouraging and discouraging. It was discouraging because when looking at the presentation, not all the provinces were being considered to have the mentioned colleges, or even improving the existing ones. In terms of infrastructure, the presentation had focused mostly on areas like Gauteng and the Western Cape that were already overloaded with colleges, but when looking at rural areas like the Northern Cape, none of the existing infrastructure was being considered for improvement. Why was that? Were any funds being allocated for private education? If so, why were those funds not being used to support public institutions? How and where were the departments trying to strengthen inclusive education?

The Chairperson asked the Committee Members to be short and straightforward with their questions due to time constrains.

Mr G Davis (DA) objected to the way the meeting was being shortened. A two-hour session with an hour and ten minute presentation did not leave much time to discuss such a big and crucial topic on education. He proceeded and commented on the quantity of teachers being trained compared to the supply and demand. The South African survey of last year had shown there were 8 324 teacher vacancies in the Eastern Cape, but only 86 teachers had been trained in the Eastern Cape. This was the province that had the most vacancies but the fewest number of teachers graduating. Why was the Eastern Cape Province being left behind on this regard? What was being done about it? Secondly, in terms of quality, the 2007 SACMEQ study that looked at teachers’ performance across the continent had asked South African teachers as well as teachers from other countries to write a comprehensive paper, and only 38% of South African teachers had passed that paper. When he visits schools, he hears that the best teachers are indeed foreign teachers, and schools are usually struggling in trying to keep them, as foreign teachers had difficulties with their work permits. When it came to South African teachers, what was being done to regularly test them? How did one verify if they were still competent? What was being done to make sure that teachers could actually teach when they left the university system? What steps should be taken to remove teachers when they could not teach our children properly?

Mr H Khosa (ANC) referred to the number of institutions, including the private ones, providing teacher education and asked if the output would meet the target or if the department was going to experience a shortage of teachers in the future.  There was a huge difference in the budget allocation per province for the Funza Lushaka Programme -- why was the Eastern Cape getting the lowest numbers in terms of placement? Why was that the general allocation for the Funza Lushaka programme declining?

Prof T Msimang (IFP) was impressed by the number of boards and councils that were involved in improving the quality of teaching, which was certainly a good thing. His concern was, if teachers had to interact with all these institutions, would there be enough time for the teachers to stand before the class, considering quality was very important and necessary?  How would the teachers already in the field catch up with the newly trained teachers -- was there perhaps a training programme? It seemed that the Funza Lushaka programme was going to produce teachers at a higher level than the ordinary teacher, but at the same time criticism had been heard the English and Afrikaans-speaking communities. What were the reasons for such criticism? The answer that had been given was that communities should not worry as it was not going to be a permanent project, but if it was such a good thing why did it not go on and on? Lastly, were there any incentives for prospective teachers to take the Funza Lushaka programme?

Mr M Mbatha (EFF) asked whether there was consolidated knowledge of what the universities were supposed to charge, in order to help the students to plan. Who was supposed to drive the move to have the SACE professionalized? Whose responsibility was it?

Ms D van Der Walt (DA) raised the issue of the role of the SACE. The DBE knew how much money went into SACE and the role they played. Her concern with the existence of SACE was that the money being allocated to it could easily be allocated somewhere else in the Department for better results. She asked about the possibility of using the existing infrastructure in rural areas for teacher training. She said it was true that teaching should be popularised as a career, but at the same time one needed to create specific criteria for allowing people to become teachers, as not everybody could be a good one.

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) wanted to know the balance between research and classroom practice in qualifying for the initial teaching degree. Where was the focus -- was it on the research, or in the classroom? On the issue of the expansion of higher education, was this being done to concentrate all higher education in two provinces? Was there any way it could be spread to rural provinces like the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the others? Lastly, could more effort be put into classroom practice? Perhaps the holidays could be used for teachers to do their teaching practice.

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) commented on the issue of the autonomy of the universities, and asked about how to control the common curriculum for teachers in the country. How could both departments, the DBE and the DHET, ensure compliance with the policy guidelines in terms of the curriculum that had been created?

Ms N Gina (ANC) commented on the policy that all universities had to adhere to, and enquired about the exact programs that were offered by such institutions. Were the programmes assisting the teachers only initially, or did they go beyond that? As a matter of fact, going beyond initial assistance was what the country needed in order to ensure the quality of the teachers. She asked about the coverage in terms of the African languages being offered in these institutions.

Dr  Green  replied that in regard to the issue of spreading higher education, work had been done to expand the sector into the rural areas by making use of the existing facilities that were available. There was ongoing work in identifying the available facilities as well as identifying the purpose they could serve. The Department had recently conducted a survey on the current use of teacher education colleges. The survey had shown that the majority of them were being used for a variety of educational purposes, including university campuses and district and provincial education offices, among others. However, some of the facilities were not being fully used and the Department was trying to solve this problem. With respect to the rural provinces, in Limpopo there was a facility that had good infrastructure that was not being appropriately utilised. The Department had commissioned a feasibility study on the use of the facility, including the possibility of establishing teacher education at that campus facility. Thus, efforts were being made to expand higher education in the rural areas.

Dr Green said that private institutions did not benefit or receive any funding from the government, nor did they benefit from Funza Lushaka. These private institutions functioned as businesses. In terms of how much these private universities charge, this was related to the bigger picture of universities fees in general. The Department had established a commission that would investigate the cost drivers in higher education, and teacher education would be a part of that as well. It was not a secret that fees had been increasing during the last years due to the lack of funding provided for higher education.

In terms of quantity and supply and demand, the Department had done a study at the national and provincial level, but a different meeting would be necessary to present all the findings. In terms of the segment study, the findings had pointed out the deficiencies in teachers’ knowledge, and the new programme had strengthened the teacher qualifications in order to create a bigger focus on teaching knowledge and practice. The majority of teachers that were in the system right now came from the previous system and the number of teachers coming from the new system were still a minority, so the Department still had a lot of work to do in terms of capacity development. In addition, when comparing the teachers graduating from universities against the ones from colleges, the Department had found that teachers coming from universities had a stronger content knowledge in mathematics and English in comparison to the teachers coming out of the colleges.

As of today, the Department did not have a system to ensure the quality of teachers once they left the university/college system. Universities produced teachers, those teachers wrote exams and then they exited the system as graduates. As mentioned before, the Department does not have a mechanism at present to assist teachers at a beginning, intermediate or advanced level once they had graduated. There was a need to set standards in order to know what exactly it was that a beginning/intermediate or advanced level teacher needed to be capable of. The idea now was to have an induction programme for about a year to help teachers familiarise themselves with classroom life and to develop their proficiencies. This process would allow them to register professionally as a teacher after having completing a competitive test at the end of the induction year. Thus, registration would not be automatic upon graduation. Teachers would have a provisional registration until they passed the induction programmes in order to get their permanent registration. In other words, registration would not be permanent and for ever. Teachers would retain their registration by showing continuous professional development in the classroom, but at present there were no systems for teacher testing. However, the Department was moving forward to implement those systems.

In terms of the criteria to be a teacher, there had not been any other requirement but a bachelor’s degree. However, by understanding admission requirements, the Department was hoping to also evaluate the disposition and the desire of the applicants in order to identify what persons were likely to become good teachers. These new admission processes for teacher education would be implemented in the upcoming years. Lastly, with regard to the decline in Funza Lushaka funding, both the DBE and DHET had to acknowledge that although there had been an annual escalation in the funding, based on the inflation rate, the increasing tuition fees, accommodation, books etc, went far beyond this. The increase that the Department received from National Treasury was the reason for the decline. Therefore, the Department was particularly happy about the 0% fee increase because in that way it would be able to maintain its recruitment at least at the same level, or a bit more, in the following year.

Ms Phosa thanked the Departments for the presentation and called on Committee members to submit any further questions in writing due to the time constraints of the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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