OPINION: Lessons from New Zealand on education and teacher training

A school teacher in the classroom.
A school teacher in the classroom.
Gallo Images/Getty Images

The demands placed on teachers in a normal school day is no joke, particularly in today's world, where everything a teacher does is scrutinised and questioned, not only by parents but also by some students, writes Belinda Backwell.

President Cyril Ramaphosa listed education as a priority in his recent policy speech. But in my and many of my associates' opinion there is much more to be said and to be done in education than he indicated. 

In allocating funding for education, government ministers should look first and foremost at the beginning; starting where the initial seed is planted, to grow our teachers and provide them with the best start in their teaching careers. 

Many countries around the world, such as Finland and New Zealand, have excellent models of education that can be drawn from. It goes without saying, that each country, the world-over, have their own demographic issues to take into account, but overall, by looking at what has already been implemented, and proven to be successful elsewhere, we can create and provide an education structure that is world-class, right here in South Africa.

The Department of Education, in conjunction with our top universities, need to look at ways to improve the quality of training that our beginning teachers receive to ensure that they are fully equipped in the best strategies to support the learners of today. The quality of young beginning teachers and the continued support of these newly trained teachers is of paramount importance, to ensure they are receiving the best, up-to-date, researched-based pedagogy and support in their first few years of teaching.

Currently, teachers in training are sent on short practicums within established schools. Whilst these practicums are beneficial in providing teachers with an insight into the role of a teacher, it is not nearly enough to fully prepare them for a full-time teaching role and coping with the varying demands and needs of individual learners. With the ageing teacher workforce and increased demands for teacher retention in South Africa, it is vital that support is given to effectively manage, maintain, and retain young teachers.

This can be addressed two-fold. Firstly, by looking at the content of what is taught at higher education level; and secondly, how the new teacher can be supported once they are qualified and have gained employment within a school.

Higher education content

Delivering up to date content to trainee teachers is vital to their survival in the "real" world of teaching. The demands placed on teachers in a normal school day is no joke, and not for the faint hearted, particularly in today's world, where everything a teacher does is scrutinised and questioned, not only by parents but also by some students. I hear some hark…. "Oh, but they get so many holidays". That may be the case, but ask any teacher and the majority of his/her holidays are used for planning, meetings, recouperating from a stressful term – which is vital if one is to survive the following term ahead – making resources, preparing for the next term/year. 

A teacher is a true multitasker and not just there to instruct a class of children (in some cases class sizes of up to 30+). Teachers are counsellors, mediators, life coaches, enforcers, trip coordinators, negotiators, cheerleaders, organisers, fund raisers, IT specialists, reality checkers, dream instillers, nose wipers, comforters, decorators, event planners, schedulers, handwriting experts, role models…. the list goes on!

Are our newly trained teachers equipped for the demands that are placed upon them? Are they being trained adequately to give them a sound foundation of what they are going to face in the first few years of teaching? Are they being supported in these first few years to ensure they continue to love what they do and grow as teaching practitioners with vigor and passion?

No amount of content and theory learnt can prepare any teacher for the reality of what lies ahead in a full-time teaching position and this then leads me on to my next point, providing ongoing support for our newly qualified teachers.

Teacher registration

Whilst some schools offer a mentoring programme to ensure the new teacher is continually supported and guided in their new roles, this is not nearly enough and South Africa should consider adopting a programme similar to other countries, such as New Zealand, whereby a beginning teacher programme is adopted. 

Under this system, newly qualified teachers, are employed full time by a school, must teach in a continuous position (i.e. not be a relief or supply teacher) within the education system. They must participate in a formal induction and mentoring programme, being mentored and supported by an experienced and fully certificated teacher for at least two years. The mentor teacher must hold a current full SACE practicing certificate themselves.

Once higher level education training has been obtained (whether it be a full Bachelor of Education Degree or a Post Graduate Diploma in Education), the teacher may apply to SACE for provisional certification, once they have been granted the provisional and practicing certificate they can to look for teaching positions, once a full time position in teaching has been secured, the provisionally registered teacher can commence their two-year mentoring programme within the school of employment.

During these two years of provisional registration that teacher must attend and record all documents set out in a specified criterion to meet the needs of a fully registered teacher. Only after the two-year provisional registration and full-time teaching, can the teacher then apply for full teaching registration. This will not only ensure that the newly qualified teacher is fully supported and guided in their new role, but also ensure that the quality and standard of teaching is second to none.

Continuing support for all teachers

A more guided teaching approach to the curriculum, where a universal port of resources, supplied by the Department of Education, will ensure that teachers are provided with a step-by-step pedagogy to effective teaching; similar to what we see from the Education Endowment Foundation (EFF) in the United Kingdom that was established in 2011 by the Sutton Trust to "Strengthen the link between the pupil, premium and teaching, including through prioritizing the recruitment, retention and development of effective teachers. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement." The EEF aim's to: "raise the attainment of 3-18 year-olds, particularly those facing disadvantage; develop their essential life skills; and prepare young people for the world of work and further study".         

Clear learning progressions in key academic areas will provide guided assistance for all teachers ensuring continuity of pedagogy regardless of demographic areas and income. "All teachers need to ensure that their students develop their expertise that will enable them to engage with the curriculum at increasing levels of complexity and with increasing independence. As students' progress through schooling, they need to be able to engage with increasingly complex texts and tasks."

World-wide we have excellent research and evidence-based education models to draw from in creating a South African curriculum that is on par with overseas models; that provides our learners with a curriculum that is in line with those overseas and that will ensure the longevity of our leaders of tomorrow, today.

- Backwell is a New Zealander whose initial education training and teaching experience was in that country. She is currently principal designate of The Pro Ed House School in Rondebosch, Cape Town.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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