Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE): How it continues to paralyse our school system

2014-12-10 12:20

My understanding of a high quality education is it has to emancipate learners against any chains of mental and social slavery. Apart from the bureaucrats’ and politicians’ role in providing the strategic direction needed for the effective running of our school system, much success of our school system rests on the shoulders of the most important machinery, teachers. If we have teachers who: do not love their learners, do not have the necessary pedagogical skills, do not master their subject content and do not have strong classroom management skills, unfortunately the effects thereof will bring our school system to its knees; signs of which are already evident. In light of the foregoing argument, I am propelled to ask: are PGCE students the thorns or roses in the school system? Is one year enough to grasp all that the teaching profession requires from you to become a great teacher? It is these two questions that have taken away my appetite and brought back hunger and worry in my life as someone who is insanely passionate about the teaching profession.

When I ask why this qualification exists, those I ask say is to enable students with a first degree and have subjects that match our curriculum at school to enrol for a one year teaching certificate before they can become professional educators.  The reason why everyone has suddenly become an expert in education is because, not only our Basic Education Department, nationally and provincially, but also universities, send the wrong message to the public that it takes just 6 months to become a good teacher if you can just prove that you have the subjects that you can ‘kill’ our nation with. Can I become, as the education student, a medical doctor or chattered accountant within a year after completing my teaching degree? Can I become a pilot just because I have geography and driver’s licence? Why we can never be as globally competitive as other countries that spend far less than we do in education is because we treat the symptoms of education instead of treating the real problems—we think one year is enough to become a top quality teacher.

Do not get me wrong, I am for fellow students who opt to first do their B.Sc. degrees, inter alia, before they can do their PGCE, because they want to hone their subject knowledge skills. The biggest problem that I have is when our Faculties of Education across South Africa take every student who wants to do PGCE just because they have the subjects that are taught at schools and qualify to do it. Many students that I ask why they do PGCE tell me that they only do it for job security and also because they are not employable. Here I do not blame these poor students but the faculty officials who seem, I am convinced, to take little effort in ensuring that students who come from other faculties and want to do PGCE do so with good intentions.

What makes the PGCE stream even more detrimental is the fact that where I studied students are required to spend just six weeks in total at a school before they can graduate—this is not even the average of what the mainstream education students spend in their four years of study. If universities say a student is ready to go to the classroom and teach after just one year (6-7 months if you exclude the holidays) in the field of education, how do they test that the student is fit to be a teacher, by just looking at the relevance of their subjects? How do you fully understand the complexities of education in a year? How do acquire pedagogical (knowledge about teaching), epistemological (knowledge about knowledge) and managerial knowledge (knowledge of classroom management and discipline) in a year—what even Education students themselves take time to master in their four years and beyond?

Our education system is likely to remain in the state of paralysis that it currently grapples with until we solve this impasse of PGCE qualification. Universities need to reconsider the period that PGCE students take to complete their studies in Education; a way to restore dignity in our profession for our children’s sake.

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