Why we need to bring back the teachers’ colleges

Bring back the teacher training colleges, at least some of them, and link them to universities to enhance the quality training.

Universities will provide the much-needed theories which colleges can try out in an extensive school-based placement for the duration of the training.

Systems that invest in the quality of their educators have a very high multiplier effect.

A good teacher inspires an entire class and a whole generation of parents who will in turn demand good quality education for their children.

Teacher education in this country was in a mess in 1994, and something drastic had to be done to rectify that.

The quality was racially based, with the white colleges offering relatively the best training, while the blacks (including Indians, coloureds and Africans) got the short end of the apartheid stick.

It’s a fact that universities are not the best places for training teachers, especially for primary schools. Universities are educational establishments and also generators of knowledge and technology through research.

However, even dark clouds have silver linings. The dedicated teacher training institutional model had some positives that must be revisited.

The transference of teacher education to the higher education sector is not the issue.

Rather it is the transfer of teacher education to universities that is a problem.

It is true that after 1948 teacher training colleges mushroomed, particularly in the homelands.

Sadly the establishment of these colleges was driven not only by the need for trained teachers in the enrolment boom which followed the establishment of the ministry of Bantu education, but also by other factors.

Teacher training was one of the few avenues of upward social mobility for blacks. This led to a high demand for teacher training.

For the homelands’ leaders, building education colleges quickly became a source of status and patronage.

By 1981 there were 37 training colleges for blacks, peaking at 120 by 1994.

This led to the anomalous situation, by the early 1990s, of a steady supply of unemployed teachers, while black schools had many unqualified or underqualified teachers who had acquired their tenured positions before the onset of the surplus of teachers.

Sadly the quality of these colleges was so inferior that something had to be done as a matter of urgency.

They had to be rationalised and upgraded, but certainly not to be closed as it later happened.

It’s a fact that universities are not the best places for training teachers, especially for primary schools.

Universities are educational establishments and also generators of knowledge and technology through research.

Hence they are doing very well in imparting content knowledge, research and technology through degrees and diplomas.

Read: Victory at last for teachers working in challenging conditions

Practice without theory is blind, though theory without practice is mere intellectual play.

Many university lecturers tasked with preparing our teachers have never been teachers themselves and therefore lack experience which is crucial in the training of prospective teachers.

Nothing can replace the classroom experience.

Our educational contexts of overcrowded classrooms, inadequate resources, poverty and diseases require that teachers are exposed to role models who have walked through the fires.

Often one hears teachers calling on their trainers to come and demonstrate those skills in front of the largely overcrowded classrooms.

If this is not a cry for help, then what is?

Prospective teachers need to spend a lot of time in the classroom observing and shadowing experienced mentors.

It cannot happen once or twice in three years as if it is incidental to the profession.

It must happen at least 60% to 70% of the time, while education theory may take 40% to 30% of the time.

A higher practice-theory split can only be achieved in a dedicated teacher training college setting.

University lecturers are essentially researchers in the mode of university education.

Indeed, colleges were weak in their disposition of theory, but with the wisdom of hindsight we could have strengthened the weak points, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

We should reopen some of those institutions and link them to universities for accreditation.

But we also should allow them to excel in what they always did best – training teachers and offering them sufficient time to observe and practice their trade.

Teachers trained at colleges always exhibited good didactics compared to those from universities, and the main differentiator is the amount of time they spend in schools doing practical teaching and observation rather than in lecture halls.

This is a call for a blended learning rather than one practice to the exclusion of the other.

Dikotla is the CEO of the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy


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