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Skills upgrade

Teacher training

Teachers must continuously upgrade their subject knowledge to be on top of their game. This will not only enable them to employ the latest and effective classroom teaching techniques, but will also impact positively on the quality and performance of the entire education system, argues Johan Human. The Teacher asked him to elaborate further on this point.

In your view, how seriously poor are the skills of the South African teachers?

We have to differentiate between the skills of newly trained teachers and those of established teachers. Some excellent new teachers are being trained each year, but many poorly trained teachers are slipping through the cracks. More than half of all teachers in South Africa study through distance learning (mainly through Unisa), but it’s common knowledge that some of these graduates are not at the required level, mainly because they could go through four or more years of study without being assessed on their teaching practice. Research has shown that many existing teachers, especially in the foundation and intermediate phases of primary school, struggle with content knowledge and may even perform worse than their students. They also struggle to teach reading skills, which are essential for primary school learners, as they first learn to read and then read to learn.

What factors contribute to their underperformance?

Many external factors contribute to teachers’ underperformance, including inadequate training, not staying abreast with developments in their field, lack of resources and lack of support from school management.

Do you think re-opening teacher training colleges would help address under-performance and poor skills?

Teachers’ poor skills can only be addressed through Continuous Professional Teacher Development (CPTD), which is not always the focus of new teacher training colleges. Funding the re-opening of some of the former colleges will be a challenge to government in the light of the available financial resources for higher education. If sufficient financial and qualified human resources are made available, these colleges should assist in terms of access to teacher education programmes.

If these colleges were to be re-opened, how should they be re-purposed to ensure they produce high-calibre teachers?

They should simply follow best practice and employ good academics and administrators who are passionate about teaching.

Since the closure of the colleges, training is now provided by universities; are you happy with the quality and the number of graduates produced every year to fill the existing vacancies at schools?

We are not producing enough graduates to fill the gaps left by an aging teacher corps who are leaving the workplace. The teacher attrition rate varies between 4% and 6% per annum; between 28 000 and 30 000 teachers leave the system annually.

The latest official initial teacher education (ITE) graduation numbers are for 2013, when 15 655 ITE students graduated, with 8 402 in the four-year BEd degree and 7 253 in postgraduate ITE programmes, mostly the postgraduate certificate of education also known as PGCE.


BEd Postgrad Total Unisa % BEd Postgrad Total
2004 8 385 4 884 13 229 12,2% 5 962 4 544 10 506
2005 9 240 3 018 12 258 15,8% 4 789 2 837 7 626
2006 7 176 2 292 9 469 25,2% 4 631 2 557 7 188
2007 8 581 2 369 10 950 27,9% 4 162 2 251 6 413
2008 10 129 2 678 12 807 32,4% 3 722 2 437 6 159
2009 13 412 3 142 16 553 35,8% 4 055 2 898 6 953
2010 15 191 3 641 18 832 42,6% 4 673 3 612 8 284
2011 24 236 4 711 28 947 54,1% 5 586 4 954 10 540
2012 24 921 4 817 29 737 58,3% 7 354 5 799 13 153
2013 20 281 6 222 26 503 46,2% 8 402 7 253 15 655

Sources: Reports by the Centre for Development and Enterprise, entitled Teachers in South Africa: Supply and Demand 2013–2025 and Hendrik van Broekhuizen of Stellenbosch University: Teacher Supply in South Africa — a Focus on Initial Teacher Education Graduate Production.

Why do you think CPTD is such an important intervention?

It is essential to ensure that teachers remain up to date with developments in their area of expertise.

Despite the current weaknesses of the education system, are you optimistic we will get it right in the end?

Yes, one cannot simply blame the teachers, administrators, unions and departmental officials. We must all work together to ensure that every child has the best possible chance of success in life by addressing each problem area with understanding and compassion.

Johan Human is chief executive of the Embury Institute for Teacher Education in KwaZulu-Natal


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