Keeping it practical: critical components of effective pre-service teacher training

Across the African continent, most governments’ stated intent is to reform and democratise the education system, yet the difficulties of training and retaining adequate numbers of teachers remains a significant and growing challenge, especially in rural area 1. Sub-Saharan Africa needs to recruit 15 million teachers by 2030 to meet education targets2. South Africa, the wealthiest and best resourced African nation, needs to double its output of teachers by 20303. The quality of teachers must also drastically improve if we are to lift woeful learning standards.

One of our biggest challenges is that decisions are made in our education system in the belief that it is functional; that every learner should be equipped with 21st Century Skills to prepare them for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Government reform focuses on adding robotics and coding as additional subjects when the reality is that 78% of learners can’t read for meaning in any language by grade 44, and the 2030 Reading Panel reports that nearly half of our B.Ed teaching graduates struggle to pass the exams set for their Grade 6 and 7 learners. For this to change, we must urgently reflect on our educational priorities.

We can start with effective pre-service teacher education, at the heart of which sits properly structured teaching practice. Too many Initial Teacher Training (ITE) institutions still hold on to the belief that theory makes practice, and that researchers make the best teacher educators. Many student-teachers receive little meaningful support during their Work Integrated Learning (WIL)5 modules (Practicum to those outside SA), and as such enter the classroom having neither received proper feedback nor demonstrated mastery of core teaching competencies6.

Researchers, whilst experts in their field, often lack recent experience in classrooms that enable them to understand the importance of ‘just in time’, or truly practical approaches to teacher education. Our belief is that educational practices and learning theories must complement one another7 – a blend that we hope to demonstrate in our own pre-service programmes which we are launching in 2023.

We aim to create teachers who deliver outstanding learning outcomes because their lessons are both grounded in strong pedagogical principles and well executed. Educational practice is influenced by theories of learning and provides a lens to modify these theories when what is studied and researched is tested in a practical environment.

Without getting the teacher development right, our hopes of improving learning outcomes are doomed. Doubling the number of underprepared teachers going into the classroom is going to create more of the same; class size makes little difference if there’s no content or structure to the lesson. If we can get the development and support right, then we might also be able to lower the highly problematic teacher attrition rate8, another critical challenge affecting our classrooms.

Consistently and effectively implementing feedback, reflection, and practice ensures that student-teachers at least have the fundamental skills when they step into the classroom on day one of their careers, and stand a chance of delivering an effective lesson. Every institution needs to ensure that their teachers receive this kind of practical training; it is a non-negotiable component of any effective teacher training programme backed up by increasing amounts of data9.

So how do we get there? Critical across all aspects of the South African teacher education ecosystem is alignment and collaboration. We want all existing Initial Teacher Training institutions to share best practice, and focus relentlessly on creating teachers that are as classroom-ready as possible. We need to send our best teacher trainers to sit together, learn from each other, and produce guidelines detailing what works. We need to rethink the pathways into the profession to better serve the needs of young people seeking to enter the profession. To support our teacher trainers, regulatory bodies should both encourage and create space for innovation, bringing institutions together to research what works and disseminate learnings. We need to ensure that teaching practice is delivered as effectively as possible, and that every graduate goes on to be an effective and satisfied teacher.

As we prepare to launch our first pre-service programmes, we have sought to learn from innovators and leaders across the sector. In South Africa, we are part of the Teacher Internship Collaboration South Africa (TICZA), a body that seeks to ascertain how the internship model can be used to increase the flow of well-qualified teachers into our classrooms. Pre-service teacher Internships have been shown to graduate teachers with better content knowledge10, and to require fewer resources to achieve success than a similar intervention delivered post graduation11. We have also built a free, online, in-service Continuous Professional Development (CPD) platform (Upskill) to support teachers once placed in the classroom, and ensure ongoing development throughout their career. We see the development of teachers as a continuum, from the moment a pre-service qualification is started to the moment they leave the classroom. Effective CPD keeps teachers in the classroom longer12, and when delivered well positively impacts learning outcomes13.

Whilst what we have written may seem obvious, the quality of our teacher graduates indicates that it remains a massive failing in our system. So, what have you seen that’s working in teacher education? Who is doing it well? Where are the forums to share this best practice? We hope you take the opportunity to reach out and engage with us – we are here to learn, and eventually, hopefully, contribute some well-trained teachers to the system.

Authors: Annie Ndlovu (Dean of Academics), Tom Parry (Director of Academic Operations)

Contributors: Shemanne Davis (Chief Learning Officer)

1 Islam, 2012
4 PIRLS Report, 2016
5 CDE, 2017
6 See Appendix
7 Schunk, 2011
8 Pitsoe, 2013
9 National Council on Teacher Quality, 2020
10 Mohammadi and Moradi, 2017
11 Otara, 2014
12 Darling-Hammond, 2017
13 Mohammadi and Moradi, 2017

Appendix 1: Core Teaching Competencies

  • Commitment to continuous learning
  • Problem-solving
  • Backwards Planning & Purpose
  • Data-Informed Decision-Making & Action Planning
  • Instructional acumen
  • Cultural Context & Inclusivity 
  • Relationship building & Trust 
  • Subject knowledge and pedagogy

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