Bad teachers fail SA school curriculum

2014-09-07 15:00

South African universities and colleges are producing badly trained teachers who struggle to meet the demands of the country’s school curriculums.

A report released last month by the Joint Education Trust (Jet) Education Services, an education think-tank, said this was partly why pupils fell two classes behind in reading and maths by the time they reached Grade 5.

The research seems to corroborate the basic education department’s own research, which found last year that pupils in grades 3, 6 and 9 “can’t read” and are not able to solve basic arithmetic problems.

Last year, research by Nic Spaull of Stellenbosch University found that by the time pupils reached grades  10 and 11, their reading and maths skills were so bad they could not catch up.

Jet’s Initial Teacher Education Research Project is a multiyear project aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of the Bachelor of Education degree and postgraduate certificate in education in five unnamed universities across the country.

The first phase involved auditing the five universities’ maths and English education courses that are designed for the intermediate phase from grades 4 to 6.

Researchers found that:

»?Entrance requirements for teaching courses were low compared with other disciplines;

»?Students passed teaching practical courses despite performing poorly in a classroom;

»?In some universities, the focus was on the quantity of students accepted instead of their quality;

»?Course content differed dramatically, with three of the universities failing to provide subject knowledge of English even though teachers with weak English proficiency will eventually use the language as a medium of instruction;

»?Three of the universities offered mere semesters of the method and practice of teaching while the remaining two offered four-year courses;

»?Only two of the institutions allocated substantial time to microteaching and lesson planning;

» Few students took up maths as a speciality. In one class, 58 chose to specialise in maths in the first year, but only eight remained in the fourth year;

»?There were no set criteria for accepting students as maths specialists – one university demanded 65% on an aptitude test, another required a 50% pass mark in matric, while another required a 30% pass in maths literacy; and

»?While at some point most teachers will be required to teach maths even if it is not their speciality, one university didn’t have a maths methodology course while another taught maths literacy instead of pure maths. Still another taught maths for daily life instead of specialised maths.

The report notes: “It is clear that as a whole, none of the five institutions studied is rising fully to the challenge posed by the country’s low-quality school system, particularly with respect to those student teachers not specialising in maths or English. In this regard, the teacher education sector seems to be far from a solution to the problem of poor- quality teaching.”

Researchers also lamented the closure of teacher education training colleges in the late 1990s. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga told a radio station this week that closing these colleges was a “mistake”.

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