Government moves to balance theoretical learning with vocational, occupational and technical learning in basic education

02-08-21 USAf 0 comment

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has ignited a conversation among universities providing teacher education to inspire a rethink of initial teacher education and training, with a view to overhaul the approach to basic education provision by balancing theoretical education with vocational, occupational and technical education.

At a recent meeting of education deans from South Africa’s public universities, Dr Moses T Simelane (left), Chief Director: Curriculum Implementation and Monitoring at DBE, explained that this consideration was prompted by recognition of a fundamental problem in basic schooling. He said the current schooling curriculum is predominantly inclined to academic or theoretical learning. It does not make sufficient provision for vocational, technical, and occupationally oriented learning, and this leads to numerous other challenges, namely: limited learning choices in the schooling system; curriculum that does not sufficiently respond to demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a misunderstanding about the value of post-school learning opportunities in the technical, vocational and occupational fields.

In acknowledging this fundamental problem, DBE had come up with what they called a Three Stream Model (TSM): Re-thinking Initial Teacher Education & Training for the Vocational Stream, which he presented to Universities South Africa’s Education Deans Forum (EDF) at their recent second seating for 2021.  

The idea was to stimulate a discussion among education leaders towards re-conceptualising initial teacher education and training to upskill new cohorts of teachers and equip them to deliver vocational, occupational and technical subjects in future.

Conceptually, the proposed model is intended to yield specific results in each of the three streams. Academic or theoretical teaching, provided in formative and general basic schooling, is meant to prepare learners for general, formative, well-rounded post-school education and training (PSET) studies. Academic teaching, which prepares learners for professions such as accounting, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, commerce or academics, is the predominant model in the current basic school system and is offered in both ordinary and special-needs schools. Vocational teaching, broadly aligned to a specific vocation or profession, prepares learners for professional learning and work through universities, universities of technology and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, such as technical, agricultural and art high schools. Vocational Training graduates can become mechanical, medical or electrical technologists, engineers, teachers, artists or craftsmen, beauty technologists, catering, agriculturists, physical trainers or sports specialists. Occupationally-oriented teaching, which is specifically aligned to an occupation, on the other hand, skills learners to deliver work in occupational trades such as bricklaying, plumbing, boilermaking, carpentry, catering, hairdressing and cosmetology.

Articulation Framework

According to Dr Simelane, the Three Stream Model is underpinned by numerous principles. First, the Model is both systemic and specific. Secondly, it is learner focused. Thirdly, it should meet the needs of South Africa’s economy; promote life-long learning and facilitate redress, equity, and inclusiveness. Furthermore, the Model must ensure programmatic rather than institutional articulation; ensure accessibility to post-school education and training; eliminate dead ends for learners/students and must promote the value of learning outcomes achieved through different routes.

“The various pathways signify the portability potential between the programmes, or between the Streams themselves,” Dr Simelane said. “In other words, by design, we have even allowed not only vertical articulation but also horizontal and backwards and maybe diagonal Articulation. Our objective and views are that learners who take the Occupational stream, in particular, should, after completing, say the National Senior Certificate qualification, be able to articulate even into the world of work, where their skills can be honed further. Or, if they so wish, they could also articulate into PSET (Post School Education and Training) institutions”.

Instilling appropriate approach to teaching

Dr Simelane said the Model urges educators to deliver teaching in such a way that it unlocks learner potential to identify their own individual orientation and to make informed decisions on their preferred learning pathways. It however encourages careful streaming of learners and warns against channelling them purely according to their ability levels or socio-economic status. The Model also cautions against too early specialisation.

Provided that it is implemented as conceptualised and that it follows credible and fair procedures and practices to valid learning, it is envisaged that the TSM will change perceptions and raise the status of technical and vocational education and training.   

Phased implementation is underway

In essence, the Occupational Stream in the proposed model was introduced as a pilot project in Schools of Skill in 2017 with a view to implementing this approach fully in these specialised schools in 2021 while piloting it in the rest of the system from 2021. Schools of Skill are schools for learners with special education needs which have always been offering mainly a skills-focused curriculum.  The implementation has since begun in 74 Schools of  Skill and examples of such schools include: Belvedere Skool (Gauteng); Tugela Pre-Vocational School (KwaZulu-Natal); Oom Paul School of Skill (North West); and Mitchell’s Plain School of Skill (Western Cape). Of the 105 pilot schools that were selected and submitted to DBE from the nine (9) provinces, 95 from eight (8) provinces except from the North West, are participating in the pilot in Grade 8 this year.

Dr Simelane said the DBE’s next step was to work with Higher Education institutions to ensure sufficient capacitation for implementation, that would benefit everyone. Key priority areas included crafting teacher training and development objectives, providing teacher development and support to the existing cohort of teachers to offer subjects in the TSM, and developing human resources provision anda funding model, ensuring that DBE and provincial education departments were sufficiently resourced to implement the TSM.

Receiving this message at a recent virtual meeting were 38 attendees who included Deans of Education as well as officials from other sub-sections of the education sector including representatives of government departments and non-governmental organisations.  The meeting was facilitated by the newly elected Chairperson; Professor Chika Sehoole, Dean in the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Education.

In wrapping up his talk, Dr Simelane shared some of the challenges around the Occupational and Vocational Streams, which include human resources provision. He mentioned a national vacancy rate of 5.8% noted by the DBE, as at February 2021. “The Occupational and Vocational Streams present initial teacher education and training and reskilling challenges. One of those is about striking a balance between education acquired from vocational education and training schools and from industry to enhance their pedagogical skills.”

He also posed questions to the Education Deans Forum, which, he said, if properly addressed and responded to, would give some level of comfort to his department in terms of programme implementation effectiveness in this regard. The questions that he posed include the following:

  • How do we build a sustainable teacher training and development model for the Three Streams Model Curriculum?
  • Are there universities that have started delivering the qualification for TVET college lecturers with a technical and vocational specialisation?
  • What are the existing programmes for technical and vocational?
  • What are reasonable time frames for developing new teacher qualification programmes, from approval and accreditation?
  • When can the system expect the first cohort of teachers with specialisation?

Deans of Education speak up

In response to the second question above, a discussion ensued amongst deans from institutions already offering an Advanced Diploma, and these included the North-West University, the Durban University of Technology, the University of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela University, the Vaal University of Technology, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the University of the Witwatersrand.  It emerged, however, that these courses were not catering for new teachers, but rather for those who already in the system with intent to upgrade their qualifications.

Dr Simelane said it was inspiring to learn of the developments within institutions, especially the universities of technologies’ introduction of the Advanced Diploma programmes. He added that continued engagement between DBE and DHET through the EDF “will l help us all work as one system. Different parts of the education system need to work together, to provide different learning pathways to our learners.”

Regarding the other questions posed to them, members of the EDF felt that they needed time to study and digest the TSM further before they could address these other matters. Some members even expressed reservations on the Model. 

By way of further commentary, Professor Azeem Badroodien (right), Director at the University of Cape Town’s School of Education, said: “The Three Stream Model has been a long time coming. It was said, right up front — at least five years ago — that this would be a serious problem for initial teacher education programmes across South Africa’s universities. Now the argument is that it will be provided primarily at the universities of technology, and they do have advanced diplomas in place already.” Professor Badroodien said the model had implications beyond just advanced diplomas. He believed this necessitated a serious discussion about how the university sector would embed teacher education programmes that produced these kinds of teachers for the new system.

“I think that we are going to have to spend a lot of time speaking through the challenges, not only tied to what now confronts the university sector but also in terms of the bodies of knowledge that are embedded in these programmes and how we make them sustainable, over time.”

Dr James Keevy (left), a Policy Researcher and CEO of JET Education Services echoed Prof Badroodien’s sentiments, adding that an independent evaluation would be important for the Three Streams Model. “This is an incredibly complicated intervention that affects the whole system — not only Post-Secondary Education and Training (PSET). So, to do this well, we need to make sure that it is research-informed.”  

A TSM Masterplan is being drafted

Dr Keevy asked Dr Simelane whether DBE would commission an evaluation of the Model, and if yes, by when. In response, Dr Simelane specified that an implementation plan which would be referred to as a Master Plan was being drafted.  Approval of that plan would lead to a formal process unlocking the programme and dictating the way forward. The DBE would share details of that formal process with relevant parties in due course.  

At the same EDF meeting, Dr James Keevy, in his capacity as a representative of the Teacher Internship Collaboration South Africa (TICZA), updated the EDF on progress made to plans of establishing teacher internship collaboration within South Africa.

Other DBE updates to the EDF included one on the strengthening of History as a subject in South African schools – within the context of a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) work started back in 2019.  The EDF was also apprised of the project of Migration of Early Childhood Development (ECD) from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the Department of Basic Education (DBE).  Members also heard of the South African Council for Education (SACE) Teacher Professionalisation Process built on five pillars, namely: Professional Teaching Standards (PTS); Initial Teacher Education; Newly Qualified Educators; Experienced Educators; and SACE Recognition as a Professional Body by SAQA.

The next EDF meeting is scheduled in August 2021. The EDF is one of eight communities of practice within Universities South Africa (USAf).

This group aims to foster research in the broad field of education towards continuous improvement to 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. External stakeholders are often invited to EDF meetings to lead discussions on issues deemed to be pertinent to the Education discipline.

Khutso Moleko, the writer, is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.