Deficient subject knowledge, poor quality education training


A report on the quality of education in South Africa points out that the training of teachers, both at university and in employment, falls short.

“Despite the progress that has been made in the last 30 years to give more children access to the education system, the quality of teaching in most public schools is still poor and there are huge inequalities in the system,” says the report published at the end of last year. the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust was announced.

One of the biggest reasons for this, according to the report, is untrained teachers who themselves do not have a grasp of the content they are teaching. “The biggest challenge in the education system is teachers’ lack of subject knowledge and the skills to teach children.”

The report also mentions research conducted in 2007, which found that only 55% of gr. 6-teachers with understanding on gr. 4 learners’ level can read. The same investigation found that the majority of the gr. 6-learners who take mathematics are taught by teachers whose own mathematics knowledge is lower than the level of gr. 6-math is.

This reflects the findings in a report by the United Nations education body Unesco, which was launched in Johannesburg last week. In this it is found that only 69% of primary school teachers in sub-Saharan Africa have the minimum qualifications to be able to teach others. Moreover, this is a decrease from the 76% in 2010. Even fewer high school teachers (60%) are qualified to teach at the level and in the subject in which they teach. The report mentions the time and money involved in the training of teachers could possibly be a reason for this.

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust’s report found that teacher training in South Africa at tertiary level is lacking. This finding was made by analyzing the content of education courses at five universities. It is not known which universities’ courses were part of the research.

In-service training, the report found, is also lacking and education is not attractive enough for strong academic candidates to consider as a career. In addition, newly trained teachers are often assigned subjects in which they have not been trained.

The report also found that shortcomings in the national curriculum further contribute to poor outcomes. “The department of basic education has made several changes in the curriculum in the last few decades, without the necessary support for teachers who have to implement them. The department itself has also admitted that the current CAPS curriculum (or CAPS as it is commonly known) contains too much content and too many assessment tasks.”

As a solution to this, researchers suggest that the quality of education programs at South African universities be “significantly improved”. “Many more teachers must also be trained to pay attention to the current overcrowding of classrooms.”

The report further recommends that standardized assessment be introduced, to test new and experienced teachers’ knowledge and skills, with a view to developing appropriate training programmes.

Prof. However, Divya Singh, chief academic officer of the higher education institution Stadio, says the solution to the “national crisis and shortage of skilled teachers” is not that simple. “This includes a comprehensive investment in the training curriculum of teachers to ensure we have a fleet of teachers who are competent to do their job. Bridging opportunities must also be created for teaching students who themselves received deficient schooling, but would like to continue their studies.”

This institution focuses particularly on additional support in mathematics for teaching students whose mathematics skills are not up to standard.

Prof. Irma Eloff, former dean of education at the University of Pretoria and currently a researcher in educational psychology, also says the importance of subject knowledge cannot be overemphasized. However, she believes that to really tackle the lack of subject knowledge, teachers must be taught in their mother tongue.

“Subjects like mathematics have complex concepts that can be learned and understood more easily in your mother tongue. In South Africa, less than 40% of children are taught in their mother tongue. It is these children with their lack of knowledge who become teachers and again struggle to teach others in a language that is not their own. If we can manage that every teacher can learn in his or her mother tongue, we can stop this vicious cycle.”