Academics offer solutions for the challenges encountered during Mathematics Teaching Practice

Published On: 8 November 2022|

South Africa’s public universities face shared challenges regarding Teaching Practice (TP) and giving students the best possible experience. These include lack of communication, supervision and guidance.

However, when correct strategies are put in place, many of these issues can be resolved, leading to better and more confident teachers entering the professional space.

Three educators – Dr Thuthukile Jita, Lecturer from the Faculty of Education at the University of the Free State (UFS); Professor Kabelo Chuene, Senior Lecturer at the University of Limpopo and Mrs Busiswa Mzilikazi, Lecturer in the Faculty of Education of the University of Fort Hare (UFH) – shared their institutions’ TP experiences at the “Our Teaching Practices Best Practice: Why We Think It Works” seminar which was recently hosted by Universities South Africa’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (CoP TLM). The seminar was a culmination of work done on the teacher development project led by Professor Vimolan Mudaly from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Education. This project is one of two projects the USAf TLM CoP has committed to.

Dr Jita (left) shared the results of an internal review undertaken at UFS using data collected from third and fourth year students and the key areas which could be improved upon:

  • Teaching Practice period: Students were not sure how long they would be teaching at a particular school and sometimes the period was too long.
  • Communication: Correspondence between students and staff in charge at the university was sometimes poor. The mentor teachers at schools were not informed of the placements and were sometimes unaware of what the students were meant to teach.
  • Workload: While doing TP, students were still expected to complete university assignments. However, some were in rural areas with no internet connectivity. Completing assignments during school teaching time or after school was also challenging for many of them.
  • Evaluations: The manner in which students were being evaluated needed to be standardised.
  • Transport: Some students suffered financial difficulties in order to get to the schools they were teaching at, as transport was expensive.
  • Staff support: Lecturers and mentors did not visit the schools where students were teaching, to evaluate them.
  • Resources: Sometimes the schools at which student teachers got assigned for TP lacked the most basic of resources.

Mrs Mzilikazi mentioned similar problems at UFH and shared some of the obstacles the university faced: “We had little to no communication with the mentor teachers and were relying on what was submitted by the students themselves. There was also no interaction between the institution and students during WIL (work integrated learning) to check how they were doing and whether, in fact, they attended when they were meant to. Students had to provide a video of a minimum of 15 minutes, covering their teaching experience but the quality of these was often poor.”

She added that budget constraints meant that the marking of teaching portfolios was often delayed due to staff shortages. UFH has no budget to pay tutors and assistant markers and there is no dedicated staffer responsible for WIL.

Dr Jita shared the best practice strategy which the UFS put in place to address student concerns.

  • Communication: Road shows and teacher placement briefings were held with students before school visits. More staff members were employed to handle this and handbooks, focusing specifically on TP, were developed.
  • Workload: Submission of assessment activities during the TP period was removed.
  • Transport & placements: Students nominated preferred schools within a 250 km radius and with a minimum of three students per school. A lecturer was allocated for each school in order to visit and monitor what was happening. Ensuring students selected a school in compliance with the guiding principles allowed the university to strengthen the faculty’s capacity to place, support and assess final year students in a cost-effective and sustainable way.
  • Evaluation: A standardised evaluation booklet was developed and had to be filled in while the student was doing TP at a school and signed there by both the student and the mentor teachers at the school. There was a redesign of rubrics.
  • Staff support: Lecturers were allocated for school visits and to monitor the system. They were assigned a maximum of 20 to 25 students to assess.
  • Resources: Students were encouraged to select functional schools and to borrow resources from the university if the schools they were placed at lacked these.

Thus, Dr Jita concluded: “The analysis of TP every year with data collected on placement and student feedback allows us to identify new process improvements every year. We continue with improvement as we learn from students’ voices”.

Mrs Mzilikazi also gave details of new measures that UFH was planning to put in place, including:

  • Improving communication between the university and principals and mentors.
  • Random visits to schools where students have been placed to provide support.
  • Appointing a designated person to coordinate WIL.
  • Benchmarking the university’s WIL against other institutions’.

The University of Limpopo has found a solution

Professor Kabelo Chuene (right) acknowledged similar experiences at the University of Limpopo. She gave details of the Webinar/Video/Teleconferencing Centre – which was conceptualised in 2018 and was ready for use in 2020 – and which was established to advance teaching and learning and overcome some of the difficulties encountered in TP.

The Teleconferencing Centre, housed in a department of the School of Education, comprises the following:

  • An office for the centre manager
  • A meeting room with eight seats
  • An interactive white board and a television screen
  • Sound amplifying equipment and an overhead projector
  • Other IT necessities for livestreaming and teleconferencing

“The person who spearheaded the establishment of the centre was a coordinator for the Foundation Phase Programme and highly knowledgeable in ICT and its use in education,” Professor Chuene explained.

“The number of enrolled students keeps increasing and the way we interact with them changes — yet we continue to do things the same way we have always done them. This (centre) helped alleviate the problems of large classes and allowed some students to live steam their lessons, a boon during CoViD restrictions.

Observations and reflections

Professor Chuene mentioned added benefits derived from using the TeleConferencing Centre. These included interaction and communication with the world through video streaming and teleconferencing, and managing TP more practically and cost-effectively.

“We soon realised the possibilities of doing TP in schools without lecturers having to physically go in to evaluate the students – we could access the classrooms electronically and evaluate students from the Centre.” According to Professor Chuene, managing TP from the Centre reduced logistical arrangements and financial costs, including transport. It also enabled video-recording what happens in and outside classes at schools before, during and after TP.

Below are the observations and reflections she shared:

  • It is essential that we use ICTs (information and communication technologies) for TP.
  • For continuity, the Centre needs to be managed by the university’s eLearning section who provide the required support. “When our coordinator retired, it was difficult to get someone to fill that role.”
  • A dedicated staffer is needed to focus on developing the use of ICTs for students’ evaluation.
  • It is imperative that the morality and legality of either recording or live-streaming lessons is explored, if the use of ICTs is to be entrenched in accessing classroom activity. This is essential within the context of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).
  • Training, and more training, is needed.

“We, as educators, are beginning to move in the right direction. We cannot continue running TP the way we are doing currently. Students are not always monitored as much as they should be; in some cases principals tell us students are there when they are not. We need more support. We also need to develop some of the ideas presented here even further.”

Professor Chuene concluded by saying that teacher development is the responsibility of every role player in education.

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.