SOUTH AFRICA: Plan for teacher development to 2025

Education ministers recently launched the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa 2011-2025. Its primary aim is to "improve the quality of teacher education and development in order to improve the quality of teachers and teaching". Universities have been asked to identify where they can expand teacher education and what funding they need to build capacity.

The plan was launched in Pretoria by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, and their departments are now engaging intensively with it.

The new framework evolved out of a 2009 Teacher Development Summit, which brought together for the first time all teacher education and development stakeholders in South Africa.

Palesa Tyobeka, Deputy Director-general in the Department of Basic Education, told University World News that the key advantage of adopting the summit approach was confirming, with a broad range of stakeholders, key challenges and priorities regarding teacher development "and finding amazing synergy".

"The process also brought clarity on why some areas seemed more important for government and not for teachers, and vice versa, and brought all players much closer to each other."

Among other things, the plan identifies at least four essential requirements for it to succeed - enhanced collaboration among role-players, a coordinated national system for teacher education and development, adequate time, and sufficient funding - and indicates how these should be addressed.

The plan points out: "South Africa is not producing sufficient new teachers to meet the demands of the schooling system. It is estimated that between 12,000 and 16,000 new teachers are required annually." It highlights shortages of foundation phase, African language, maths and science teachers in particular.

Strategies for addressing the problem include a concerted advocacy and recruitment drive, and increased Funza Lushaka bursary funding for initial teacher education students, with priority funding areas reviewed and adjusted continually to respond to actual system needs.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) will be responsible for the supply of new teachers for all teaching specialisations (phases, learning areas and subjects) as well as teacher continuing professional development.

The plan promises an "expanded and accessible formal teacher education system" with the dual focus of developing teachers who are already practising and "producing sufficient numbers of new, quality teachers with the specialised and differentiated competences that are required by the schooling system".

Dr Diane Parker, Chief Director for Teacher Education in the DHET, explained to University World News that to provide sufficient numbers of new teachers and ensure post-school teacher education opportunities in rural areas, the plan proposes optimising, extending and expanding the capacity of teacher education institutions.

"The DHET sees the expansion of the system happening in a logical, step-wise fashion, to ensure full utilisation of the institutional capacity that currently exists, to extend current capacity by extending delivery of teacher education programmes to university campuses where teacher education programmes may not be offered at present, and to open new institutions or 'colleges of education' where needed and-or appropriate."

She said all institutions have been requested, through the enrolment planning process, to identify where expansion may be possible, and what infrastructural funding may be required to increase capacity.

"Institutions that have campuses that are well placed geographically, and that do not currently offer teacher education programmes, will be requested to expand their offerings to those campuses and [will be] supported to do so," said Parker.

She explained that this does not necessarily mean the development of new campuses for existing universities but rather that as district teacher development centres are developed they will be used as sites for the delivery of quality teacher education programmes close to where teachers live and work.

Parker said new universities set to be opened in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape provinces "will have significant teacher education footprints and will be part of the new landscape". The former Ndebele College of Education is also likely to become part of the new university in Mpumalanga province, Parker said.

On the perennial question of whether there are plans to reopen teacher education colleges that were closed after their functions were absorbed by universities, Parker said there were not.

"These colleges are either part of existing universities or are now utilised as further education and training colleges, or provincial teacher education institutions. Any new institutions that are opened (and these may be called 'colleges of education') will have to be part of the higher education system in terms of the constitution."

A National Institute for Curriculum and Professional Development, or NICPD, will be established by 2014. Key among its responsibilities will be creating content frameworks to inform the development of accessible, non-threatening diagnostic self-assessments for teachers, to help them improve their performance.

Continuing professional development courses for teachers that the NICPD will develop, will be accredited where appropriate through the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations or the Council on Higher Education's Higher Education Quality Committee.

The DHET will be responsible for driving a process of developing teacher knowledge and practice standards - or, as Parker explained: "What teachers need to know and be able to do to teach a particular specialisation well".

The plan is to bring teacher educators, discipline specialists, education researchers and others with expertise into a collaborative process for developing standards inside teacher education practice, which is currently located in the 21 universities that offer teacher education.

The standards will be used to improve teacher education curricula for both initial teacher education and continuing development qualifications and short programmes.

Parker said the new teacher education policy, which is currently in draft form and out for public comment, sets broad minimum requirements for teacher education qualifications. More specific standards "must of necessity be developed by communities of practice who have expertise in the specific specialisation," said Parker.

The plan also outlines key new structures that will be established to provide teachers with support and meaningful access to development opportunities.

Provincial education departments will take responsibility for creating teacher development institutes, district teacher development centres and professional learning communities.

The DHET will set up a network of viable, accessible teacher education institutions, teaching schools and professional practice schools. Provincial Teacher Education Committees, or PTECs, will help to inform enrolment planning for teacher qualification programmes.

The aim is to address a host of current problems in teacher education provision, including the ad hoc nature of provincial education department requests to universities, lack of quality, 'short-termism' and movement of resources away from initial teacher education.

Parker explained that the PTECs would help to ensure better understanding of processes within universities and within provinces, and would develop systems to ensure planning that would enable "stability, quality and sustainable growth within the system.

With regard to foundation phase teaching, Parker told University World News that a Strengthening Foundation Phase Teacher Education Project, funded by the European Union and led by researchers at North West University, was already in process.

"This will result in 20 of the 21 universities that offer initial teacher education offering foundation phase teacher education programmes by 2014 - up from the 13 that offered such programmes in 2009.

"The universities are being funded through the project to develop staff, to undertake research, to develop foundation phase teacher education materials, and to develop new qualification programmes or strengthen their current programmes." Parker said all products of the projects would be available as open educational resources to all institutions across the system.

Institutions not directly involved in the project but offering foundation phase teacher education are also being drawn into this process through various strategies: development of a foundation phase teacher education research association, a journal (already launched, and to be housed at the University of Johannesburg), and annual seminars.

The plan also intends to strengthen work-integrated learning for student teachers through teaching schools and professional practice schools.

Work on this has already started, with a baseline study of current practices at universities, the development of a database of schools used for practice teaching by universities, and the collection of data relating to the costs involved.

Parker emphasised: "Universities must be centrally involved in this process, as the relationships that are built with the schools will be central to the success of the system".

A consortium of universities will be invited to take part in this project, with the focus initially on developing norms and standards for such schools and for working out a process for cooperation with provinces to enable their development and funding.