/Higher Education and Teaching quality: Challenges and perspectives in teacher education, training and diversity in South Africa – Sibiya Thandeka Patience

Higher Education and Teaching quality: Challenges and perspectives in teacher education, training and diversity in South Africa – Sibiya Thandeka Patience

Sibiya Thandeka Patience
PhD Candidate, Faculty of Psychology and Education, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest

This article emerges from a lacuna relating to teacher education and teaching for cultural diversity by higher education, with a particular reference to South Africa. Teacher education appears to remain one of the least funded areas in higher education, yet teachers are expected to fit into the societal life of society and enhance their obligations to the national agenda and among other things, teachers are expected to be intelligently and professionally prepared for the classroom and to be ready to acclimatize to the changing faces of education, not only in the context of their countries, but for the purposes of globalisation, as well. Literature suggests that, this phenomenon cuts across Southern Africa. This alleged neglection has a potential to negatively affect the prospects of learners meaningfully gaining from education. It goes without saying that the quality of teacher education plays a significant role in valuable and efficient education attainment. The Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) explicitly highlight this consequentiality, particularly SDG 4, stresses on empowerment of people with knowledge, skills, and values to live in dignity, build their lives and contribute to their societies (UNESCO). This article seeks to examine one of the central roles of teacher education, that of training teachers to be change agents within the complex process of education as a tool to transform society, embrace diversity, implement sustainable development goals, address prejudice and bigotry and other forms of injustice, with a long tern agenda to eliminate social vices, for good. The article ends by recommending the Critical Race Theory as one of the solutions to address diversity in education. This subject is explored from different geographical context, to inform the perspectives on South Africa.

What does teacher education and diversity mean?
The underpinning rationale is the conceivable fact that education is a pillar of society, support for development (Sinclair, 2001) alongside that, education is a basic human right, enshrined in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and in the constitutions of many countries, like the Constitution of South Africa of 1996, as one of the basic human rights. Appreciating human rights means overhauling the current institutional model of teacher education that is still grounded on the colonial, western and apartheid legacy, which is outdated considering the evolutions that the country has experienced. Thomas Grenham in his reflection of teacher education among the Turkana nomads of Kenya, profoundly explores the subject of diversity, Griffin, (2012). He acknowledges that he was a cultural outsider or stranger, as he puts it, in an African context. Through the lens of Paulo Freire, he examines the process of intercultural education within the context of the concept of teacher formation, which he terms, interculturation. He explains that this is a process of education that envisions humanisation as a two-way process of interpretation and cooperation between diverse cultures to awaken consciousness. But his description further goes on to say that interculturation is a respectful way by a teacher to acknowledge the dignity of the learner within a particular cultural world view.

According to Collin Brock, in (Griffin, 2012) any formal education programme to be considered effective, should have the ability to take time to discover the fundamental additional non-formal and informal learning content of each student that is relevant to the syllabus. Based on this rationale, teacher education should be cognisance of teacher previous or background formal knowledge or experiences, prior non-formal education and acquired or accumulated informal learning. This is significant because teachers possess deep-seated conceptions that are connected to their experiences of teachers, socialisation, social context, and time at which they are preparing to become teachers.

While having conceptions about certain things, people, or phenomenon, is a normal occurrence, these conceptions sometimes can be misguided, and become fallacies. When pre-service teachers entre teacher education, do not leave these myths at the door, in some way, their training and formation will be influenced by such, hence it is crucial that teacher education curriculum is designed in a manner that challenges, stereotypes, prejudices and other forms of intolerance. However, this seldom happens, which eventually leads to these ideas infiltrating the classroom during in-service. Literature suggests that there are similar trends between teacher education, school curriculum and teacher misconceptions; they all subscribe to political ideology. It is for this reason that educational foundations such as History, Philosophy, Economics, Politics and Sociology of education, should be placed at the heart of teacher education. According to scholars in this discipline, western democracies like England, where society is increasingly becoming instrumental, technical, and managerial in the way education is conducted, educational foundations appear to be neglected and absent from the teacher training curriculum. Accompanied with this approach, is the priority that is put on examinations and management, which disregards cross-cutting issues such as gender, home language, multiculturalism, and special learning among other out of the classroom issues.

The ability of teachers and other educators to approach education from a broader and wider scope, is a discussion that has gained a lot of attention and momentum in the education realms, particularly in countries where there are immigrants. According to (Turner & Figueroa, 2019), the urgency to speak about immigration and its policies, and how they have impacted the lives of pupils, parents, and teachers, has not been more important. Even though, the gravity of this subject has been identified, but education theories and teacher behaviour remain incongruent with reality. In the case of the United States of America, (USA), the recent and continued xenophobic, anti-immigration attacks, which are also present in South Africa, which gained popularity from the 2016 presidential election campaign, has placed teachers in the USA in a practical dilemma, because they are not trained to educate and care for pupils who are victims of anti- Muslin, anti-immigrant, or racist rhetoric.

In situations like these, it is worth noting that immigrants’ experiences are attached to the attitudes of the host society, or contexts of reception, (Turner and Figueroa, 2019). This could be from a classroom mediated interaction, school systems and how society is structured in terms of the distribution of equality and opportunities (Portes & Rumbaut, 2006). Therefore, this could mean lifetime experiences unfolding and rippling across their school lives and society. It is for this reason that some teachers in the USA have committed themselves to proactively intervene in the situation, by creating inclusive learning environments, by leveraging on pupils’ language and culture. These efforts have even extended to collaborating with civil society and law expects to assist undocumented immigrants, particularly for the victims of family separations and detentions.

Teacher Education in South Africa
The case of South Africa is described as an authoritarian approach, guilty of perpetuating traditional, unreflective and teacher centred pedagogy, yet education reforms post 1994, were designed to challenge this approach. Teacher education is blamed to be an authoritarian and reproductive preparation platform for school educators. Harger, (2001) blames this attitude on the prevalence of neo-liberal influences. Post-apartheid has seen tremendous transformations to create democratic forms of education to develop a political culture which would be supportive of the newly acquired democracy and construction, (Harger, 2001). The education reforms have been deliberate in their commitment to educate for democracy. The Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy envisions a teacher who plays more other roles apart from teaching, for example, citizenship, pastoral, community roles and that who practises and promotes a critical and committed and ethical attitude towards developing a sese of respect and responsibility towards others, (Department of Education, 2001, p28). However, in practice, these expectations are farfetched. One of the contributing factors according to Schweisfurth, (2002a) is the personal identity crisis and protection. He argues that teachers are experiencing a dilemma as their personal and professional identities formed under apartheid seem to be under attack under the new democratic dispensation.

While change is good and inevitable, but consequentially, it can also be a nightmare if not managed properly. Scott, (2013) claims that there is an interwoven set of social, demographic, economic, technological, environmental, and political winds of change, that are responsible for the challenges facing higher education, in South Africa. In reference to this claim, it is understandable that teacher education will also get a knock since it is a part of higher education. By nature, higher education is expected is expected to fulfil cutting edge expectations and knowledge development. However, this move is associated with a risk of neglecting the diversity and multiplicity of the nation, which is important when recruiting for higher education realm. Diversity is undeniably one of the key aspects of higher education and ultimately teacher education, however, its conceptualisation and implementation remains questionable.

South Africa exists in a wider context of the African continent. This therefore stimulates the rational that higher education in South Africa should adopt a curriculum and syllabi that ensures that teaching and learning is responsive to the realities and context of life in Africa, according to (Letseka, 2013). Waghid, (2014) argues that this can be achieved by evoking the spirit of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, loosely translated as “I am because you are, and you are because I am.” In a country with close to 5% of immigrant population, it is critical that South African teachers are academically trained to have the ability to transcend pupil’s individual realities and to display empathy.

While teacher education is expected to fulfil certain roles, by being flexible among other actions, it is however, not realistic, because according to (Harber, & Serf, 2006), there is a disjuncture between policy and practice. The department of education policy documents spell out content that is in full support of democracy, and diversity is one of the characteristics of a democratic society. However, studies reveal that there are gaps between what initial teacher education and what teachers teach, it is not in unison. Research reveals that teacher educators avoid controversial topics during lectures, which makes it difficult for in-service teachers to address provocative matter in the classroom.

How can teacher education conceptualise diversity?
South Africa is refutably faced with rapidly changing demographics. This suggests that higher education needs to reform and transform its practices, and research to heed to the call to address issues pertaining to diversity and multiculturism in the country. To conceptualising diversity, teacher education can emulate the approach suggested for social work education in the USA. The recommendation proposes that diversity should be addressed from a broad social outlook, that includes established or structural arrangements, in the process, appreciate the interwovenness of several identities, and integrate an explicit social justice approach. In response to this need, the Critical Race Theory, (CRT) appears to a practical lens to critique and enhance the way the subject of diversity in teacher education is conceptualised and implemented in the curriculum, in the faculty itself, and all the way to the school classroom. The idea is not to design a symbolic curriculum, and recruitment of a mosaic of different faculty staff, just to adhere to the requirements, but a meaningful engagement with the subject, for example, integrating it with the overall ethos of its host institution, and not teach it in isolation as a individual initiative, because diversity speaks to a wider societal context, that in the case of South Africa, includes race, culture, sexual orientation, and social status among others, which also includes immigrants. Hence, the need to teach diversity content in a way that will be beneficial to the institution, students, schools, and pupils.

Through its nature, the CRT is able present itself as a structural approach to addressing challenges that characterise a diverse society, and not just a justice and access seeking approach. It is against this setting that CTR accepts race as a social construct, that does not have a fixed or inherent unbiassed definition, but instead exists primarily to categorise people for purposes of separation and stratification, argues (Ortiz & Jani, 2010). South Africa is a society founded on past racially dominated fallacies, and their legacy still haunts the nation, hence the need to employ such theories to challenge race-based ideologies that are woven in the societal fabric.

Higher education in South Africa is fraught with many challenges, most emanating from the legacy of apartheid. Its rigid structure does not make the process of transformation to be implemented and if it is, it is not conducted in a meaningful way. This becomes a stumbling block for most faculties, especially teacher education. Teacher education in many parts of the world does not play an esteemed role in higher education because of its little contribution to research, hence it being the least funded. It is such shortfalls in its character that contribute to its curriculum being questionable in terns of equipping teachers with the necessary skills to face a society that is characterised by diversity. While teachers are expected to be knowledgeable and professionally equipped to address such natters for purposes of nation building and transformation, the truth is that there is a wide gap between what they learn at university and what they practically face in the classroom. The authoritarian nature of teacher education, imported from the apartheid state, is held responsible for the insufficient curriculum offered by teacher education and teacher educators. It is therefore crucial that teacher education transforms and designs curriculums that integrate theories that dissect theories of race, for purposes of addressing diversity.

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