At the second meeting of Universities South Africa’s Education Deans’ Forum (EDF, recently, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) was invited to address education Deans on current trends and the status of teacher education in South Africa.
Ms Michelle Mathey (right), Director: Teacher Education at the DHET mentioned the number of Initial Teacher Education students graduating in phased-out ITE qualifications as a concern for the department. In demonstration of this fact, she referred to universities’ data on 2020 graduates. She cited the Policy on Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications (2015) that states the “last entry for students into qualification types for ITE on former 8 level NQF was July 2015. The last intake of the National Professional Diploma in Education was 2014.” She assured the deans that the Department would contact them to ascertain the number of students still in the pipeline, particularly in the case of distance education where students generally take much longer to graduate.
In response to Ms Mathey, Professor Chika Sehoole, Chair of the EDF and Dean of Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria, concurred that this was a serious issue because those qualifications would not be recognised. “That puts students still receiving them at risk,” he added.
He implored the Deans to investigate the matter at their institutions and rectify it. “Imagine one of the graduates applying for a teaching post outside of the country, and it is found that the qualification is no longer in the SAQA database,” he said, pointing at the gravity of the issue.
Recommendations from the Teacher Supply and Demand report
Ms Mathey also touched on the Teacher Supply and Demand Study report of 2020 and requested deans’ inputs on its findings and recommendations. Although the study findings had highlighted a possible shortage of 30 000 teachers in the basic education system by 2030 as the current generation of teachers retired, Ms Mathey mentioned that stakeholders in some quarters had dismissed these findings and the potential crisis they were forecasting. She mentioned that a Phase Two study was on the cards, that would look deeper into the supply and demand issue based on the needs in terms of phase and subject, hoping that the subsequent study would shed more light on the phenomenon.
She said the 2020 study had recommended these actions to mitigate the imminent crisis: (a) increase teacher production; (b) encourage enrolment shift from part-time to full-time; (c) entice more teacher graduates to enter teaching; (d) postpone teacher retirements; (e) attract more graduates without a teaching qualification; and (f) appoint more foreign teachers. However, she conceded that each recommendation presented its share of complexities. For instance, ramping up teacher production would require additional lecturers at institutions. “But what will happen to those lecturers when the supply and demand dip after 2030?” She mentioned that 2018 statistics had shown that only 43% of graduates produced by the system in that year were absorbed into government as teachers. “What happened to the other group? It is envisioned that Phase Two of the Supply and Demand study will provide more nuanced and granular information to answer that question.”
Regarding the recommendation to postpone teachers’ retirement age, Ms Mathey said as feasible as that sounded, few teachers were willing to continue teaching beyond the age of 60, given the situation (widely reported state of ill-discipline) in schools. The proposal to attract more graduates without a teaching qualification also presented its own challenge of negating DHET’s ongoing efforts to professionalise teaching. She added that the South African Council for Educators (SACE) would need to be consulted on this. “Just recently, I read in the press that teachers from Zimbabwe who were not teaching critical skills subjects will not be allowed to continue teaching in the country. In addition, some provinces have not been able to renew the contracts of foreign teachers who are specialists in Maths and Sciences. Thus, all six recommendations require critical review.” This is where the Director: Teacher Education requested the Education Deans’ Forum to consult on the recommendations, to provide their opinion to the DHET and to suggest additional recommendations.
Urging faculties’ representation in Provincial Teacher Education and Development Committee meetings
Ms Mathey requested the Deans to ensure that their faculties are represented in Provincial Teacher Education Development Committee (PTEDC) meetings. The purpose of the PTEDCs is to ensure that a coherent and coordinated approach is taken to the planning for and delivery of teacher education programmes in the province in ways that are aligned to provincial and national teacher education needs, that are sustainable and that lead to stability and quality in the system.
Stakeholders in these meetings include the Education, Training and Development Practice Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP-SETA), the South African Council for Educators (SACE), the Department of Basic Education (DBE), trade unions, universities, provincial departments of education (PDE) across the nine provinces and private institutions offering teacher education programmes.
According to her, such fora yield critical inputs and raise strategic concerns regarding teacher education and development. They also often devise collective solutions. Provincial Teacher Education Committee meetings had also proven useful in resolving challenges relating to placement of students in schools for Teaching Practice. For example, representatives raised the issue of schools refusing to take in student teachers as they had teaching assistants in their schools. As a result, the Department of Basic Education stepped in, committing to write to principals at the relevant schools to resolve this problem. Ms Mathey said universities could only benefit by having their voices heard on these strategic platforms and requested Deans to follow up on this.
Crisis or not, in teacher supply and demand?
EDF members requested Ms Mathey to clarify whether the perceived teacher shortage in 2030 was real or not. In response, she said that in some national forums, it had been stated that there was no shortage of teachers. However, this view contradicted the data in the Teacher Supply and Demand report. She suggested that a national task team be instated urgently to work on this complex issue of not only the supply of the right numbers but also the supply of the right teachers.
In conclusion, Professor Chika Sehoole, Chairperson of the EDF, invited his peers to utilise available resources to undertake their own analysis and assist the system from a more informed perspective.
About the EDF
The Education Deans’ Forum (EDF) is one of nine active communities of practice within Universities South Africa (USAf). This group aims to foster research in the broad field of education towards continuous improvement of teacher education; to promote South Africa’s education interests by providing a platform for deans to discuss matters of common concern in the delivery of teacher education, and, finally, to bring to the attention of policymakers, emerging issues pertaining to the Education discipline.
In pursuing their mandate, the EDF often invites policymakers to update members on the government’s policy considerations and developments or to discuss issues of common concern.
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.