Closing address of the Teacher Development Summit, Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr BE Nzimande MP
2 Jul 2009
Chairperson and Director-General of Education
Minster Angie Motshekga
Deputy Minister Enver Surty
Members of Parliament
Distinguished summit participants
I am honoured to be given the opportunity today to close this important event and to support and provide you with some views on how we can collectively take this very important matter of teacher development to a higher level. I am pleased to see teacher unions working collectively with government and academics for a common goal. Working together, it is possible for us to do more and better.
Despite the many changes and improvements in the South African education system and the system of teacher education and development over the last 15 years, our schooling system is still recognisably the system which was designed and shaped by apartheid.
Great inequities continue and are tied closely to the racial divisions of apartheid and the rural-urban divide. When we say rural schools we generally mean the schools in the former Bantustans and in farm schools which cater to the rural poor. We don't mean the schools that white farmers send their children to. These former Bantustan and farm schools are the poorest schools and, on the whole, provide low quality education. In the urban areas, the schools in townships and informal settlements are obviously still inferior to the former white schools in the quality of education that they provide. Division on the basis of race seem to be transmuting into class divisions as the private and former model c absorb sections of the black middle class.
Teacher education and development processes must assist us to overcome the legacy of the past which has ensured that most poor children still do not get the education that they deserve. These processes must help to produce teachers that have the skills, the knowledge and the commitment to give South Africa's children the opportunity to improve their life circumstances and contribute to our country's development.
I am heartened to learn of the fruitful discussions over the past two days that led to the declaration of the summit. The declaration expresses the common will of the principal stakeholders and other participants to work together to progressively achieve an effective and integrated system of teacher development that is relevant to teachers' working conditions, helps our teachers meet their needs for professional growth and empowers them to prepare our learners to excel.
I have no hesitation therefore in fully supporting these intentions.
In stating this, I have taken account of the principles that underpin the discussions of the last few days. In this regard, the summit's working document identifies five principles, namely:
* First, teachers individually and collectively have responsibility for their professional development, and their efforts must be adequately resourced by government
* Second, it is essential to create a clear, coherent and implementable policy and regulatory environment for both teacher appraisal and teacher development, which teachers and role-players can easily understand and with which they can readily engage
* Third, schools are where teachers learn and practice their profession and develop their skills, values and identities. In different schools, teachers work in different contexts and have different needs
* Fourth, teacher development provision for state-employed teachers must be properly funded as a national competence in order to meet identified needs and priorities. In this regard, national and provincial education departments must have strong and credible teacher development and support capacity. This implies that the current arrangements for teacher development must be rationalised and strengthened
* Finally, the strengthened, integrated national plan for teacher development must provide a plan for the development of robust human resource management and information systems. These must facilitate equitable and efficient provision of teacher development and relate key decisions affecting teacher development to the broader context of teacher supply, utilization and demand.
My understanding is that the summit is agreeing on the need for a more holistic approach to teacher development that involves all partners; teachers, school management, provincial and national education departments, non-governmental service providers, teacher unions and statutory organisations such as South African Council of Educators (SACE), Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), the Education, Training and Development Practitioners (ETDP) Sectoral Education and Training Authority (SETA) and universities. In this regard, we should also consider what role School Governing Body (SGBs), parents and communities can play in supporting teachers and their professional development. We must think creatively about these things since communities, many of which contain retired teachers, workers and professionals of every kind, often have skills that they can offer to schools and to teachers.
I have noted how the summit has also agreed on a common definition for teacher development; which is the interplay of the three elements of professional development; psychological development and career-cycle development.
It is important that teacher development is embedded in curriculum implementation; which focuses attention on content knowledge, teaching and learning strategies, assessment, as well as learner support among others.
The notion of teacher development starts with curriculum implementation. How well are teachers implementing the curriculum? How do we know this (hence the need for evaluation)? How do we improve (teacher development and support)?
This definition of teacher development reinforces again the notion of integration and the partnerships that will required for successful implementation.
This notion of teacher development as a coherent and holistic concept requires us to focus on the need to develop innovative institutional arrangements that can ensure a close link for example, between teacher education and on-going professional development of teachers.
To this end, consideration must be given to the use of a diversity of education institutions to serve as both sites of pre-service teacher education and as sites of teacher professional development. In addition, greater use of distance education and information communication technology (ICT) needs to be considered to promote the delivery of teacher education and professional development.
In the democratic era, teacher education became a national rather than a provincial competence.
This resulted in the former colleges of education becoming incorporated into the higher education institutions. Given that most teachers in South African are employed by provincial education departments, it is important that the departments and the universities in their provinces develop close, working partnerships and engage in some joint planning. This is important to ensure that provinces have an adequate supply of teachers, that the supply of teachers’ is aligned to curriculum needs and that the training provided to student teachers is relevant to the needs of the schools.
While the decision to make teacher education a national competence has benefited the discipline of education, it is evident that there have been some unintended consequences of the incorporation of the colleges of education into the universities. The resolutions of the Polokwane conference both commit government to re-examining the issue of reopening some of the teacher training colleges. The elected government, and especially the two education departments, must do this.
The first step in any assessment of whether colleges should be re-opened is to look at why they were closed in the first place. There were basically two reasons. Firstly, the quality of the teacher training provided by most of the colleges was considered to be very low. Students, we were told, were not encouraged to become critical and creative teachers with the ability to take initiatives to improve their own practice and often with poor subject knowledge compared with university graduates. Secondly, the training provided in the colleges was very expensive when measured on a per-capita basis, mainly because most colleges catered for fairly small numbers of students.
The next thing we should examine is why there is dissatisfaction with the current arrangements – something which has led to calls for the re-opening of colleges. As far as I can tell, the main reasons here are also two fold. Firstly, the 150 odd colleges were scattered across the country and were more accessible especially to rural communities. The universities are much less accessible, both geographically and in terms of their enrolment requirements including, but not limited to, the issue of fees.
Secondly, it is clear that we have been having problems producing enough teachers to meet the needs of the schooling system. Following the incorporation in 2001, service bursary schemes for teachers, which were previously offered to all students entering the teaching profession, were withdrawn. This resulted in a radical reduction in the number of teacher education students. One of the major impacts of this has been a reduced supply of new teachers coming into the system. Not surprisingly, the closure of teacher training capacity in the form of the colleges has been blamed for this.
To resolve these problems do we need to reopen the colleges? Or can we use the current providers of teacher education (i.e. the universities) and expand their capacity to include rural delivery sites, make their enrolment practices more user friendly to poor people and continue expanding our new Fundza Lushaka bursary scheme which has already demonstrated its ability to expand enrolments? We need to examine these issues carefully and we will do so.
Another thing that strikes me about the university education faculties is that many of them have limited expertise – or even interest in primary school teaching. It is worth reflecting that not one South African university has a chair in primary education and most spend little energy on teaching students to teach reading, writing or numeracy; they also conduct little research in these areas.
Despite very extensive research evidence that mother-tongue instruction could improve the quality of learning of our youngest learners, universities have been closing down or cutting back their African language departments. Does this make sense in the wake of a successful national liberation struggle?
What we must assess is whether the universities can overcome these weaknesses with the assistance of government if needs be. Would it be a good idea to introduce incentives to ensure that universities strengthen their primary school teaching capacity especially for the foundation phase?
I believe that it is necessary, in the time ahead to examine these various options in detail and to consider the educational and economic implications and benefits of each, in the light of local and international studies of best practice balanced by the needs of our teachers and education system as a whole. We must keep in mind that, given the current deepening economic crisis, any decisions we make will also have to take into account the issue of finance.
In so doing, I would like to suggest therefore that we examine the best South African and international practice in teacher education and professional development.
The ELRC, and others have undertaken considerable research about a number of countries and we should distil the relevant lessons from those experiences. In particular we should consider the experiences of countries such as Cuba, India and Mexico which have explored innovative models for teacher education and development, including the use of distance education and ICT.
Before I leave you, let me speak about something that is often left silent in technical discussions about teacher development. Although teacher education courses must provide a good grounding in content and methodology they must be careful to take seriously their responsibilities to address issues of both values and professional ethics. If teachers are not really committed to educating their students and putting a lot of effort into this, no amount of re-organisation, curriculum change, school management theory or quality assurance will help.
Teachers must see themselves, in the context of national renewal and development, as the nation's main instruments to achieve transformation and liberation. Most South African children are disadvantaged they are the children of the working class and the poor and a good education is one of their only pathways out of poverty and towards a more fulfilling life. And once they get into schools, teachers need to support each other by working as collectives to ensure that they refine their skills and also help to keep each other's spirits and commitment high. This collectivity in each school is as important for teacher development as are training courses and should be taken seriously.
After the four days of deliberations, as a collective I trust that we will emerge from the summit with a better understanding of the gains that have been made over the past decade and a half and also that we will have a clearer of the challenges ahead. We have identified major weaknesses and obstacles that impede progress and have agreed on some specific actions that should be taken and these are embodied in the joint declaration.
I am hopeful that any tensions or contradictions that have emerged from the summit can be resolved in the spirit of working together for a common cause. Similarly, I trust that we have also clarified our respective roles and responsibilities and commit ourselves to a realistic programme of action that will lead to the overall goal of a quality teacher development system that is functional, coherent, effective and, most of all, valued by our teachers.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training
2 July 2009
Source: Department of Higher Education and Training (http://www.education.gov.za)
Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training
2 Jul 2009
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