Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate firstyear student profile characteristics Subethra Pather Faculty of Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, [email protected]
Abstract Research into the characteristics of student teachers prior to them entering teacher education programmes may be helpful in addressing the country’s national concerns about the quality of school education. Such research may mitigate to some extent the high teacher attrition rate and, consequently, the imminent shortage of teachers in South Africa. Considering the diverse nature of the first year intake of trainees and the need to mould them into highly motivated, creative and dedicated educators who will stay the course, the study set out to gain a better understanding of who our first-year teacher education students are. The study utilised a pragmatic approach and reports on quantitative data gleaned via a survey. A 138-item questionnaire was used to collect data from 195 firstyear teacher education students. Key findings indicate that students’ parental education, financial circumstances and pathways to tertiary education are crucial elements that influence academic success and retention. Introduction One of South Africa’s greatest challenges is providing quality education to sustain the country’s human resources. In this regard teacher education plays a pivotal role as Wolhuter (2006) states: ‘any education system stands or falls by the quality of its teaching profession, and therefore, by implication, the quality of its teacher education programmes’ (p. 124). To ensure an output of good quality teachers the university requires superior quality teaching programmes. Moreover, stringent selection process of students entering teacher education programmes is crucial to producing graduates who will enhance the quality of school education and thus education in general. This in turn will have a ripple effect on providing the key to achieving a long overdue economic, social, moral, political and value reconstruction of society (Wolhuter, 2010, p. 6-7). The Council for Higher Education (CHE, 2013) adds that South Africa’s social stability greatly depends on the establishment of an educated, trained and employable workforce. South Africa’s national concerns about the quality of school education are exacerbated by the high teacher attrition rate and the imminent shortage of teachers in the country. These concerns have resulted in the government directing its focus on teacher education institutions for solutions. Hence many studies have focused on the quality of newly qualified teachers (Bertram, Appleton, Muthukrishna, & Wedekind, 2006). Other studies have focused on student teachers’ perceptions of teaching and learning and pedagogical knowledge to understand and improve the quality of teacher education (Fajet, Bello, Leftwich, Mesler, & Shaver, 2005; Heller, Wood, & Shawgo, 2007; Pather, 2012). However, there have been limited studies that centre on the character or nature of the students entering teacher education. In redirecting attention 1 Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate first-year student profile characteristics, refereed paper.
to this aspect of teacher education, researchers would assist to empower academics and curriculum planners to create an inclusive university experience that could enhance students’ commitment to their studies and careers. This paper provides a profile of the nature of students entering teacher education and the need to plan tailor-made academic support programmes to enrich teacher education students’ first-year experience and strengthen their commitment to teaching as a profession. Background: Current teacher profile in South Africa Latest statistics, by the Department of Basic Education, on teachers in South Africa indicate that there are approximately 440 000 teachers employed in the country (DBE, 2012). The Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa: 2011-2025 reveals that although 89% of these teachers have a professional teaching qualification, only 18% of them are graduates; that is, have a four-year degree or equivalent (DBE and DHET, 2011). In addition to the perturbing statistics on teacher qualifications, the age and experience of South African educators indicate a concern for the future supply and demand in the teaching profession. A large percentage (42%) of teachers is in the 45 and over age group, while only 5% are under the age of 30 (DoE, 2009). This implies that not many young students are: choosing teacher education as a profession or pursuing a career as a newly qualified teacher. An added concern is teacher attrition. Currently, the attrition rate in South Africa has stabilised at around 5-6% per annum (DoE, 2009, p. 22). According to Crouch and Perry (2003) high attrition rate peaked with the redeployment and rationalisation of the teaching staff by the new democratic government in 1997/8. The process resulted in resignations, dismissals or acceptance of early severance packages. The problem was further exacerbated by the closure of teacher training colleges and thus fewer institutions offering teacher education programmes. Such a trend also resulted in teacher education being offered mainly in the richest provinces (Welch & Gultig, 2002). A subsequent effect of teacher attrition is the replenishing rate of teachers in schools. According to Gordon (2009), the low replenishing rate implies that South Africa will need between 20 000 and 30 000 new teachers over the next decade, taking into account that the rate of graduates from teacher education institutions in South Africa is far lower than required in the profession. South Africa is not alone with regard to the teacher shortage crisis. Pitsoe (2013) indicates that this trend seems to be global: two-thirds of the world’s countries experience severe shortages of teachers with a global total of 10.3 million teachers needed to be recruited between 2007 and 2015 to address this shortfall. In order to try and meet the urgent need for teachers, the focus of attention has shifted to teacher education students. Much needs to be done to try and ensure that students do not drop-out of teacher education programmes and that they stay committed to the profession. Wolhuter, van der Walt, Potgieter, Meyer, and Mamiala, (2012) maintain that not much research is available about what exactly inspires, motivates or drives student teachers to involve themselves in teacher education programmes. In addition, there is a gap in the literature with regard to understanding who our teacher education students are, what qualities they bring with them into the profession and what attributes could be enhanced to ensure that they stay and succeed as newly qualified teachers. A significant percentage of final-year 2 Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate first-year student profile characteristics, refereed paper.
teacher education students indicate that they have no plans to enter the teaching profession (Bertram et al., 2006). Critical to issues raised, this paper focuses on understanding the key characteristics of firstyear teacher education student profiles. The examination and understanding of first-year student profile characteristics would bring about awareness to academics and first-year curriculum planners of who their first-year students are so that they could provide appropriate support to their first-year intake and thereby create a more inclusive first year experience. It would also assist lectures to improve programme delivery to be more effective for an inclusive student population. McInnis and James (1995) warn that many universities and academics are not adequately aware of the increasing diversity of the student population or how this may impact on their academic delivery, staffing and institution. They caution that institutions may have to deal with higher dropout rates and low throughput and graduation rates which will have financial implications. They add that the increasing student diversity has an impact on academic staff as they will have to accommodate students who need additional academic support. This implies that lecturers become more creative and innovative in their teaching and planning of programmes for a more diverse student population. In addition this results in financial and planning constraints as more time and resources are required for staff to prepare adequately for the diverse student population. In this regard if teacher education institutions in South Africa wish to address the issue of teacher supply, it is imperative that they understand the nature of students entering the teaching profession. Wolhuter et al. (2012) assert that many students enter teacher education, but opt for the profession only as a choice of last resort. Pitsoe (2013) agrees with Wolhuter et al. and adds that teaching has become a ‘stopgap’ profession. This mind-set of teacher education students has resulted in many prospective teachers not being intrinsically inspired to enter the profession (Wolhuter et al., 2012). This has a negative impact on the quality of the teacher who exits from teacher training institutions and subsequently enters the teaching profession as an uninspired teacher. This paper explores these issues by foregrounding student profile characteristics as a strategy to enhance retention and improving on the quality of students’ first-year experience. The study includes the following profile characteristics: gender; age; race; first spoken-language; prior schooling experience; parents’ educational background, pathways to university and preparedness for first-year university. Literature review Much of the literature reviewed for this study focused on student diversity and its influence on first-year experience and retention, with particular reference to student pre-entry characteristics. Many international studies reviewed have attempted to understand higher education diversity and the changing profiles of students by focusing on the following cohort of students: first-in-family (first-generation students); mature-students (over 20 years) entering higher education; full-time students employed while studying; and experiences of students from low socio-economic backgrounds (James, 2002; McInnis, James, & Hartley, 2000; Terezini & Reason, 2005; Tinto, 1993). Many of these studies acknowledge the importance of understanding student diversity and its influence on academic outcomes. McInnis (2003) cautions that the increasingly diverse student population makes it difficult to propose a single profile of a typical first-year experience. This challenge highlights the need for higher education institutions to profile the first-year students accurately, in order to 3 Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate first-year student profile characteristics, refereed paper.
estimate and respond to the diversity experienced within the rapidly changing mass higher education system (James, Baldwin, & McInnis, 1999). Smit (2012) suggests this challenge requires a change in thinking, ‘We need to thoughtfully consider the readiness of higher education institutions to respond to students, and cultivate the will to learn in our students. We need to find ways to research the full texture of the student experience and to value the pre-higher education context of students’ (p. 369).
Harvey, Drew, and Smith (2006) attribute first-year persistence and success to the diverse nature of students’ prior experience and expectations. They conclude that various student characteristics as well as external and institutional factors contribute to persistence. Fraser and Killen (2003) add that this diverse nature could have either a negative or positive influence on students’ first-year experience which may ultimately contribute to students’ decision to persist or drop-out of university. Although Gregory (2012) highlights that there is limited African research on the issues of student persistence, there are many Western persistence models that could help to understand the phenomenon in African universities (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1975). Yorke and Longden (2008) reveal that understanding persistence is multifaceted. They caution that there are more complex factors that influence student persistence; some of which are external to the university environment. In Tinto’s (1975) model of student integration, he advocates that the fit between student and institution plays a key role in the likelihood of persistence. Tinto adds that the degree of goal and institutional commitment a student feels, and the subsequent persistence, is shaped by congruency between the student’s motivation, ability and the institution’s academic and social characteristics. This study makes use of Tinto’s retention model of student integration to focus on first-year students’ pre-entry characteristics and its influence on initial commitment to study. Hence Tinto’s model provided the perfect vehicle to interrogate the following two research questions: Who are our first-year teacher education students? What pre-entry factors do they bring with them into first-year teacher education? Methodology The survey reported on in this paper is part of a more extensive and complex mixed methods research design which is placed within the pragmatic approach (Wheeldon & Ahlberg, 2012). A case study research strategy was applied to the study. The study focused on first-year students’ pre-entry profile characteristics, at a University of Technology in Cape Town South Africa. The study was bounded by first-year teacher education students. The bounded time was for one academic year. All 300 first-year students registered for one of the three B Ed undergraduate programmes (FP; ISP; FET)1 were mailed the survey that included a selfaddressed envelope. A total of 195 students returned completed survey: a response rate of 65%, which according to Bryman (2008) is an acceptable response rate that guaranteed a minimal risk of bias in the findings as well as a greater likelihood that the findings are valid. The pre-entry survey consisted of 138 items with a level of measurement at a nominal and ordinal level. The self-administered survey requested the following information: students’ 1
FP: Foundation phase programme specialising in teaching Grade R – 3; ISP: Intermediate and Senior phase, Grade 4 – 9; FET: Further education and training specialising in Grade 10 – 12. 4 Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate first-year student profile characteristics, refereed paper.
background characteristics including demographic, parental and socio-economic information; also included in the survey were questions on their pre-entry academic experience; career aspirations and university expectations. The survey, which forms phase one of a more extensive study currently in progress, was designed to provide an overview of pre-entry profile characteristics of first-year teacher education students entering the teacher training programme. This survey provided the backdrop for the qualitative strand of the study. The quantitative data collected and reported on in this paper addresses the above two research questions. Descriptive statistics was produced using SPSS version 22.0 to analyse the data. The presentation of the results from the descriptive statistical analysis was illustrated in tables, cross tabulations and figures. In this paper the data analysis would be structured under the two research questions and discussed under the main theme of student diversity with the following three sub-headings: demographic factors; socio-economic factors and pre-entry academic factors. Data analysis and discussion Who are our first-year teacher education students? Demographics factors The demographic factors take into account the age, gender, race and home language of the sample. From the total sample of 195 respondents the gender ratio for male and female participants was approximately 1:3 with a total of 45 males and 150 females. The findings reveal that the majority of the male respondents, 57.7% preferred the FET programme while the majority of the female respondents, 48.6% preferred the FP programme. The age of participants from the total sample ranged from 18 year of age to 45 years old with the age mean for the entire sample being 21years of age (sd= 4.478, N=195). Just over 50% of the sample population represented a younger than 20 years student population while the balance represented 20 years and over age category. These results indicate that there is a growing number of mature students who are returning to pursue formal education. The growing diversity in the student population was also evident in the racial composition of first-year students. A majority of the students in the sample were identified as Coloured participant (54%), with African participants representing 26.7%, White participants making up 17.4% and Indian only 1.5%. The shift in diversity in student population of 82.6% being Black2 was not met with the same shift in the diversity in academic staff. According to Swail (2004), race can be a factor related to retention at institutions that are lacking diversity in student body, faculty and institutional leadership. An interesting finding reveals that certain race groups appear to dominate particular B Ed programmes. For example, from the total sample: the African participants (36.5%) dominated FET, while the White participants, (73.5%) dominated FP. Finally a majority of the participants in the sample were English firstlanguage speakers (52.8%), with IsiXhosa being the second largest and Afrikaans the third largest, 23.6% and 21.5% respectively.
Black includes African, Coloured and Indian race groups 5
Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate first-year student profile characteristics, refereed paper.
What pre-entry factors do they bring with them into first-year teacher education? Socio-economic factors This section summarises the quantitative data from parents’ education; parents’ employment type; financial support; mode of transport; family support and student pathways to tertiary studies. The overall trend in parents’ education reveals that the majority of parents: 83.6% of the male parents and 87.7% of the female parents do not possess a tertiary qualification. This implies that many of the first-year students were first-generation students. Many studies reveal that a lack of parental tertiary education deprives the first-generation students of the crucial cultural capital associated with education and the academic institutions, resulting in some students being advantaged and others disadvantaged. As Thomas and Quinn (2007) remark, these students ‘did not enter the university on equal terms’ (p. 56) and may struggle with transition. However the findings disclose that parents of the FP participants showed the highest level of completion rate amongst the total sample of participants’ male and female parents: 43.7% and 58.3% respectively. In this regard the finding of parents’ employment type clearly signpost that the parents of the FP participants had the highest number of advanced and intermediate skills jobs while the male parents’ of the FET participants had the highest number of entry level jobs. The FET participants also had the highest number of female parents that were unemployed. The implication of the participants’ parents’ qualification and type of employment has an impact on financial support. A majority of the participants, 93.9% were unable to fund their first year of university study. From the three programmes, the findings indicate that the majority of the FP participants: 58% had their studies paid for by their parents. In contrast, close onto two thirds, 71.1% of the FET respondents relied more on external sources to fund their first-year study. As stated by Thomas and Quinn (2007), the financial barriers that accompany the lack of parental tertiary education make the lives of the first-generation students all the more difficult. Lack of finances resulted in many students being compelled to take on part-time employment. Swail (2004) states that working while attending university, paying tuition through loans or grants, and being financially dependent or independent are all factors related to undergraduate retention. A majority of the total sample population, 71.2% rely on public transport to commute to university, with 18.8% making use of their own cars and a small percentage of 9.9% of the participants, walking to university. Of the total sample of 36 participants, using their own vehicles to university, the percentage of participants within the three programmes is as follows: 66.6% FP participants; 19.6% ISP and 13.8% FET. The high percentage of students using public transport could have negative consequence to both the university and students. The public transport system in South Africa is fraught with high levels of unreliability, inefficiency and escalating costs. A substantial number of students are faced with using more than one mode of public transport, for example, taxi, train and/or bus. The reliance and use of public transport could have emotional, mental, physical and financial consequences to the student which could influence academic performance and retention. Finally the types of support received by the participants from their immediate family reveal that a majority of the nature of support was intangible (61%). For example, participants accredited their families for the following intangible support: emotional; encouragement; positive re-enforcement; personal advice and companionship. The nature of the tangible 6 Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate first-year student profile characteristics, refereed paper.
support (31%) was mainly: financial; informational and assisting with registration. The type of support offered by the participants’ parents could be influenced by their tertiary or lack of tertiary education. The findings disclosed that the majority of participants in the sample were first-generation students (67.7%). According to Kim and Sax (2009) parents that did not obtain a tertiary education have difficulties in offering academic guidance or support to their children. This could have a negative influence on first-generation students’ academic performance and retention. Pre-entry academic factors This section will focus on: type of schooling; year of school completion; Grade 12 results; first-generation students and student pathways to university. From the total sample, 79% of the participants attended urban schools while only 21% attended rural schools. The results also show that a majority of the FP cohort attended fee-paying schools: ex Model C3 schools while the highest number of participants from the ISP cohort attended no-fee schools. The findings also disclose that the majority of participants, 57.9% completed Grade 12 in the year 2010 and 2011. Of the 2011 cohort, the 26.2% of the total sample could be referred to as school-leavers as they entered university directly after completing Grade 12. Of the 2010 cohort, the 31.8% of the participants could be regarded as gap-year students as they entered university a year after completing matric. Participants who completed prior to 2010 and made up a substantially high percentage of 42% could be referred to as mature-students. The data on participants Grade 12 academic performance reveal average scores for English languages and mathematics across all three first-year undergraduate B Ed programmes. A majority of the participants from the total sample obtained a D symbol for English home language and also first additional language. However the results of participants who completed Grade 12 mathematics literacy revealed a high frequency in the upper scores, the A, B and C categories, while the participants who completed mathematics in Grade 12 showed a high frequency in the lower scores, D, E and F. In order to enhance students’ teaching and learning skills for the above compulsory teaching subjects, academic staff would have to appropriate intervention programmes. Student pathways to university reveal that only 26.6% (N=51) of the total sample were school leavers who entered university directly after completing high school. However, a large percentage of 34.4% of the participants were employed in full time jobs and 39% were unemployed prior to entering university. Tones, Fraser and White (2009) states that many of the students entering university from full-time employment are mature-students, predominately from low socio-economic status. They add that these students have more family and home obligations which could create barriers to their studies. Taniguchi and Kaufman (2005) state that these circumstances of trying to balance study and home commitments could create a challenge to successfully completing their studies. Conclusion There is limited research available on pre-entry profile characteristics of first-year teacher education students and this study contribute to this gap. This study confirms that as a student 3
Ex Model C schools refers to schools classified as Whites only school during the Apartheid era in South Africa. They were well resourced schools with qualified teachers. 7 Crisis in teacher education in South Africa: the need to interrogate first-year student profile characteristics, refereed paper.
population becomes less homogenous, the increased diversity brings with it varying student experiences and ability. The findings thus support previous research which underscores the importance of understanding student diversity and its influence on academic outcomes and persistence. In terms of the latter, a more robust means of undertaking profiling of first-year students will assist in shaping the institutional experience which contributes to persistence (see for example Harvey et al., 2006; Yorke & Longden, 2008). This is an important consideration in the academic planning process. The findings of this study confirm the extent of diversity, and as such curriculum planners and academics must, as a matter of policy, consider diversity when devising the first-year curriculum and support programmes for first-year students. For example, curriculum planners should consider the large majority of students that make use of public transport and the high number of students that are involved in part time employment when developing the first-year timetable. In addition, academic staff needs to take into account the substantial number of mature students entering university after a long period of absence and the low pass rates in key subjects when planning delivery of lessons. A consideration of these characteristics of students is especially important as a ‘typical’ firstyear student or first-year experience is difficult to define in a rapidly growing heterogeneous student population. Future research will include a qualitative approach to obtain a deeper understanding of how students’ pre-entry characteristics (identified in this study) influence their social and academic integration and their subsequent commitment to their goal. Lastly, the instrument devised for this research must be subjected to further testing, and factor analysis, before it is introduced as a standardised means of undertaking profiling prior to each academic year. References Bertram, C., Appleton, S., Muthukrishna, N., & Wedekind, V. (2006). The career plans of newly qualified South African teachers. South African Journal of Education, 26(1), 1-13. Bryman, A. (2008). Social research methods (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. CHE (Council on Higher Education). (2013). A proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa: The case for a flexible curriculum structure. Report of the Task Team on Undergraduate Curriculum Structure, Pretoria: Council on Higher Education. Crouch, L., & Perry, H. (2003). Educators in HRD Review 2003, HSRC Press: Cape Town. DBE (Department of Basic Education). (2012). Education Statistics in South Africa: 2010. Published by the Department of Basic Education, Pretoria, February 2012. DBE & DHET (Department of Basic Education & Department of Higher Education and Training). (2011). Integrated strategic planning framework for teacher education and development in South Africa: 2011-2025. Technical Report. Preoria, 5 April 2011. DoE (Department of Education). (2009). Educator profile report 2004-2007. Directorate: Education Planning, Provisioning and Monitoring, Pretoria, March 2009.
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