DBE seeks to strengthen collaboration with universities to achieve a more effective basic education system

Published On: 22 March 2022|

During their first sitting for the year in February 2022, education deans from public universities heard pleas of senior officials from the Department of Basic Education to join hands in strengthening the basic schooling system. The bureaucrats spoke to programmes targeted at teachers and principals to meet South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) objective to produce learners functionally skilled and adequately prepared for higher education.

The Education Deans’ Forum (EDF) is one of eight active communities of practice within Universities South Africa (USAf). The aim of this group is 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 policy makers, emerging issues pertaining to the Education discipline.

In the pursuit of their mandate, the EDF often invites policymakers from the departments of basic and higher education and training to update members on government’s new policy considerations and developments.

Advanced Diploma in Leadership and Management

Mr James Ndlebe (left), Director: Education Management and Governance Development, underlined a need to continuously develop each teacher level in schools by way of capacitation through interventions ranging from short courses to diplomas and degrees. To that end, he invited universities to help develop appropriate materials.

He next spoke about a qualification specifically suited for school principals, namely the Advanced Diploma in Leadership and Management. He said this offering was a continuation of what used to be an Advanced Certificate in Education: School Leadership (ACE:SL), which is aligned with the NDP goal to improve human resources in the education system and school management. Mr Ndlebe said while this advanced diploma had set a standard for principals’ appointments, the principals still needed induction and mentorship material as part of ongoing capacity building. He requested universities to identify gaps in the current training offering and find ways to close those gaps.

He emphasised that “this is not a prescription of the Department of Basic Education, but an agreement that was made in consultation with the Department of Higher Education and Training, participating universities and other stakeholders,” further stating that although they wished to see all universities deliver the qualification, they were pleased that some, such as the North-West University, Stellenbosch University, University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg and the University of Pretoria, had either developed modules or begun administering the two-year advanced diploma.

He mentioned that putting this qualification firmly in place required an institution to consult the provincial department of education, and the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP-SETA), as funders, and to sign an agreement stipulating the envisaged number of intakes.

Reacting to Mr Ndlebe’s presentation, Professor Mbulungeni Madiba, Dean of Education at Stellenbosch University, inquired about the cost of this programme.  Mr Ndlebe responded that the DBE could not prescribe the cost of the programme per student, given the uniqueness of each institution and the dynamics involved.  He also mentioned that certain factors needed to be built into the cost, but that those are negotiated with the relevant provincial department.

New subjects mismatched by short supply of teachers

Mr Seliki Tlhabane (left), Chief Director: Maths, Science and Technology, and Curriculum Enhancement, explained in detail, that the Department of Basic Education has developed and introduced new subjects in its response to the demands for the skills for the changing world. He indicated, however that the shortage of suitably qualified teachers to teach these new subjects works against the efforts of government to prepare learners for the world of work. He indicated that teacher preparation, particularly the Initial Teacher Preparation carried out by universities, must assist in addressing the teacher demand and supply.

To begin with, he said it was crucial for the Basic Education and Higher Education through universities to work together to ensure universities are fully appraised and brought on board to invest in Initial Teacher programmes to serve the demand side of things, right from policy formulation right up to policy implementation.

According to Tlhabane, the department introduced the following new subjects: civil technology (civil services, construction, woodworking); electrical technology (digital electronics, electronics, and systems); and mechanical technology (automotive, fitting and machining, and welding and metalwork). In addition, there was technical mathematics, technical sciences, and engineering graphic design subjects.

He said having studied the education systems across the world, they found that basic education played a meaningful and greater role in equipping learners with skills that rendered them job ready. However, the basic education curriculum offering in South Africa was strongly leaning towards the academic qualification and historically did not offer strong technical and occupational streams leading to an influx of students seeking to pursue studies at universities. He said this was creating undue pressure on universities.

“That is problematic,” he said, referring to a system that does not create a pipeline for learners who are differently gifted and equipped with technical as well as vocational education, to serve national needs for those competencies.  Mr Tlhabane said children who took technical and vocational subjects performed excellently, but the numbers taking these subjects were decreasing from 2018. After assessing the situation, the Department ascribed this to lack of suitably qualified teachers equipped to teach the new subjects. This therefore underlined a need for a clear plan to supply basic education with suitably qualified teachers in schools.

“We are inviting universities to work with us to develop programmes that are going to train teachers through continuous education programmes, continuous teacher development and initial teacher programmes,” he said.

Universities need to be adequately resourced to meet policy changes

In another response to Mr Tlhabane, University of Pretoria’s Dean of Education, Professor Chika Seehole, who is also Chairperson of EDF, lamented a shortage of local lecturers to train students in the desired subjects at his institution. “I have been trying over the past three years. The people with minimum requirements for the posts are from outside the country. They struggle to get visas. We need to build a pipeline of lecturers to fill this space once the ones we have, retire. So, it is a vicious cycle which I think we need to find a way to resolve.”

Dean of Education at Rhodes University, Professor Eureta Rosenberg (right), advised that a long-term strategy written into policy would be vital to avoid hefty investments that may be deemed unimportant, a few years down the line.

“At Rhodes University, we have been wanting to work on skills for unemployed youth, and have been very nervous as a university, as we did not want to move into a space that TVET colleges and community colleges occupy. I think this presentation now is creating an opening for us. But it is incredibly important that a proper investment is made, to enable us, as a small faculty in a small university, to be able to offer technical subjects, purchase the necessary equipment and requisite laboratories. This will need a huge investment. If there is a commitment to that, then we, as a university, would very much like to buy into that because we see that as an important way to help our town and our province, and to develop skills for the future.”

Restoring learning in the schooling system

Dr Rufus Poliah (right), Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, reminded EDF members of the consequences of CoVID-19 in disrupting teaching and learning. He said DBE’s approach to learning recovery and strengthening the curriculum consists of five pillars. To begin with, they seek to develop a clear curriculum standard to use as a benchmark, followed by an assessment of the learning losses. Thereafter, they will design a learning recovery programme and its implementation plan, including a monitoring and evaluation component.

“Our grade 12s have been insulated thus far. We do not think that can prevail for too long. We need to work with higher education institutions to look at how we trim the grade 12 curriculum while ensuring that the core of what the grade 12 learner is required to enter university is still demonstrated.

“Let us work together, share and embrace collective wisdom. That is going to become the driving force.”

Collaborating to achieve reading for meaning

Ms Kulula Manona (left), Chief Director: Foundations for Learning, said it was time to start having conversations, collaborate and plan deliberately towards ensuring that children can read for meaning by the time they reach age 10. She said this is one of the DBE’s priorities and wished to invite universities to the table. “The importance of competent teachers who can teach reading for meaning, inspire children to fall in love with reading, and model reading for meaning, cannot be overemphasised,” she said.

She reminded the forum that reading for meaning was not only a priority for DBE; it is also contained in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It is recognised as a tool for personal development and empowerment by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and, in South Africa, it is an imperative of  government’s medium-term strategic framework to 2024, forming part of five fundamental goals.

To achieve reading for meaning, Ms Manona said the DBE was looking at initial teacher education, targeted induction programmes for newly qualified educators, and strengthening their ongoing Continuing Teacher Professional Development (CTPD).

“I would like us to strengthen our partnership,” she said.  “We need to accelerate developmental programmes which respond to our unique contextual challenges, and we need to plan and work together in tracking progress on the programmes that were developed and set in motion before CoVID-19.

“We need to see how we can, together, very deliberately and pointedly, address reading recovery for the children. We need to know if there are any innovations that the higher education institutions are implementing and thinking through in this area.”

Universities need to play a role in developing ECD practitioners

In her second presentation, Ms Manona spoke about the relocation of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to DBE. She said this change required thinking through programmes to aid the training of ECD practitioners, who cater for children from birth to four years — the pre-primary school system. In addition to training programmes, she said they would have to implement career-pathing with intensive but flexible training opportunities. She invited universities to think about what this may mean for the sector.

Ms Manona said the DBE had worked out desired performance standards to ensure that the ECD workforce is appropriately qualified to deliver quality service. The plan includes obtaining qualifications at different levels, continuing professional development, and guidelines for early learning development for caregivers.

“We know that for a number of years now, NGOs were prominent in the provision of programmes and qualifications for ECD. However, the Department of Higher Education and Training’s development of the Policy on Minimum Requirements for Programmes Leading to Qualifications in Higher Education for Early Childhood Development Educators (MRQECDC) creates a platform for universities to start playing in this space.

“We know that you are already in, supporting us by ensuring that there are those that can be directed towards the B.Ed pathway. But we would like you to think beyond B.Ed because we know that the environment is uneven, and we have a low skills-base regarding many ECD practitioners. We would love to have flexible options for them so that we do not discourage them from getting these qualifications.”

She said what emerges strongly from dialogues with ECD practitioners is that they do not understand the university system. They also feel like there is no way for them to access these institutions, hence the call to start designing programmes that can offer varying career pathways.

“I think these conversations are what we want. We need to look at how we can generate funding for these practitioners to further their studies,” she concluded.

Conversations between government officials and the deans of education are a common feature of EDF meetings, by design. Professor Sehoole, EDF’s Chair, explained it: “We are involved in professional development of teachers, and we do that for both the basic education and higher education systems. That is why it was deemed fit that in this forum, we should always have the DBE, the DHET and the South African Council of Education as partners, to come and share latest developments in relation to teacher education. In so doing, they also benefit from our feedback, our insights and discussions. Thank you, DBE. Your session was a bit long today, but it was worth it.”

Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.