SA’s low education standards continue to haunt the teaching profession – a new study reveals

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Thabo Mohlala

The lack of teacher training and poor accountability on the part of teachers is one of the fundamental challenges bedevilling the education system in South Africa, according to a new study by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE).

The South African government, according to the CDE study, must move from rhetoric to action” to ensure teachers are accountable, even if this requires the use of “the deadlock–breaking mechanisms provided for by law”.

The report entitled, Teacher Professional Standard for South Africa: The road to better performance, development and accountability, is meant for the development of Teacher Professional Standards (TPS) in an attempt to help deal with the quality of education the country.

Three education experts under the auspices of JET Education Services, Dr. Nick Taylor, Natasha Robinson and Dr. Jane Hofmeyr produced two research papers.

The latter looked at six countries – among them Finland, globally revered for its excellent education system – as case studies from which to draw lessons and provide a template to develop a customised regime of standards for the South African context.

The research was commissioned after Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, a renowned expert on many aspects of teacher policy and development, highlighted during one of her visits to South Africa the importance of TPS. She saw a vehicle that could “guide teacher preparation, professional development and evaluation”.

Darling-Hammond makes a distinction between “professional and bureaucratic accountability for teachers”.

The issue of professional assessment and development of teachers has been a constant source of animosity between teacher unions and the department of basic.

Teachers, with South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) being more vocal critic, viewed it as part of the past education system designed to be punitive and authoritarian instead of developing teachers professionally.

The Integrated quality management systems (IQMS), was one of the last endeavour introduced to evaluate teachers.

Widely considered to enjoy the support of all key stakeholders including teacher unions, it too proved to be a failure.

In the absence of a credible assessment tool, the report noted, teachers did not “keep strictly to school timetables and habitually skipped classes”.

According to the report, the lack of consensus about which system to adopt to ensure teacher are professionally developed and are accountable is the major cause of poor quality of education in South Africa.

“Teacher education and development systems in South Africa are characterised by a lack of consensus on both a formal body of knowledge for framing teacher education and an evidence-base for what constitutes good teaching practice that supports learning gains,” the report noted.

The current department of basic education’s system of accountability for teachers is rooted in bureaucracy and stresses “uniformity” and “standardisation”.

“State and district education departments establish rules and regulations to ensure that schools and teachers meet standards and follow procedures to foster equal and uniform treatment of learners and standardisation of products or services.

The promise that bureaucratic accountability makes is that compliance with these rules will be monitored and those who violate the rules will be identified and consequences will be administered. Teacher accountability is achieved by inspections and reporting systems intended to ensure that the rules and procedures are being followed,” observed Darling-Hammond.

The report identified some of the key factors to consider about the TPS.

These include the fact that:

  • TPS will not secure teacher buy-in if they are centrally designed and imposed by government. Therefore, consultation should be followed by a strategic communication and dissemination system so that TPS are known and fully understood by teachers.
  • Teacher evaluation must support professional learning and not just accountability:
  • Mentoring, coaching and knowledge-sharing among teachers are critical for effective development.
  • Resistance to teacher evaluation can be provoked if accountability overshadows development
  • The introduction of TPS cannot be rushed – for a system to be credible standards need to be evidence-based and properly tested in the sector before implementation on scale.

The report came up with the following recommendations:

  • The South African TPS should be linked to student learning standards, curriculum and assessment to create an explicit relationship between them and what teachers do in the classroom, how they are prepared, assessed and developed.
  • The current TPS processes should be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible in developing generic standards, and in determining more phase- and subject-specific standards, the expertise of accomplished educators and university faculty is essential.
  • Undertaking research must be part of the process of developing and implementing the TPS here. Research that links teaching practices to learning gains must be accessed to underpin the TPS if they are to build the knowledge base of the profession and earn credibility.
  • Teacher evaluation in South Africa should be both formative and summative so that it can appraise teacher performance, strengthen accountability and support professional development.
  • The current centralised Continuing Professional Development System should be rethought in terms of international evidence on what makes for effective professional development and support. The most effective professional learning is job-embedded: it happens in a school after standards-based performance assessment through monitoring, coaching and collaborative planning and feedback in peer groups.
  • Given the lack of basic accountability and the significant degree of wrong-doing throughout the education system, it is essential that government takes bold steps to hold teachers, managers and officials accountable for their personal and professional conduct in fulfilling the basic functions and duties of their jobs.
  • Equally, given the weak institutional functionality and limited capacity of many teachers, managers and officials, who have not been given the training and support they need, government must provide them with high-quality training and meaningful professional support and development opportunities to enable them to improve their performance. Unless this happens, they cannot be held accountable for what they have never been taught or had the opportunity to learn.
  • Sufficient time must be allocated to the whole process of formulating the TPS, consulting widely, disseminating, piloting, refining and implementing them, with Centre for Development and Enterprise sufficient training for teachers, managers and officials so that they fully understand them and can use them effectively. An initial voluntary implementation phase or staggered implementation before the TPS are made mandatory across all purposes has considerable merit.
  • Before the TPS are implemented, the necessary policies and legislation must be in place. An appropriate mandate of the teachers’ council needs to be negotiated with unions and other key stakeholders to ensure it is appropriately constituted and has the necessary powers to effectively implement the TPS.

 

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