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close this bookTeacher Education for Transformation: The Case of the University of the Western Cape, South Africa (CIE, 2002, 73 p.)
close this folderChapter 3: The curriculum of the HDE programme
View the document(introduction...)
View the document3.1 Conceptualisation and organisation
View the document3.2 Education Theory
View the document3.3 Teaching styles and methods
View the document3.4 Teaching resources and course materials
View the document3.5 Language of instruction
View the document3.6 Teaching Practice
View the document3.7 Assessment
View the document3.8 Quality Assurance
View the document3.9 Conclusion


The history of UWC has impacted significantly on the conceptualisation and design of the teacher education programme. This section describes and discusses the key features of the curriculum of the HDE programme.

3.1 Conceptualisation and organisation

The pre-service teacher education diploma runs over one academic year and is geared towards training student teachers to teach in secondary schools (Grades 8 to 12). At the time of writing, new nomenclature for programmes was being instituted by the South African Qualifications Authority, and the Higher Diploma in Education (HDE) would soon change to be called the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). The term HDE is, however, still used in this paper.

Students enter the pre-service teacher education diploma in two ways. The majority first do a three year Bachelors degree and then follow this with a year-long teaching diploma. Many, however, make use of the so-called ‘non-degree’ route, where students without a matric exemption are allowed to enter a four-year teaching qualification. In the non-graduate qualification, some Education courses are followed prior to the teaching diploma itself. In 2000, 170 students came in through the post-graduate route, and 95 through the non-graduate route.

The programme is structured in the following way for all students, regardless of their entry route. Students do two subject methods, these being the secondary school subjects which they are then qualified to teach. All students also complete a generic Education Theory course, which provides a backdrop to thinking about a range of topics in education. In addition, all students spend ten weeks doing Teaching Practice. The format and timing of the Teaching Practice has changed over the years, but since 1995 has taken the form of students spending an entire term as one blocked period in a school.

The so-called ‘theory-practice debate’ has influenced the format and timing of teaching practice in the Faculty of Education over the last ten years:

Over the past ten years or so the faculty has shifted from those approaches to teacher education that emphasise (largely decontextualized) subject content and teaching strategies and techniques. It has moved away from the view that theory must first be learnt and then applied to practice, that good teaching comes about mainly by learning a body of content and an appropriate set of skills and strategies for applying these. It has inclined towards the view that good teaching develops through the practice of practising teaching and within the context of a clarification of the concept of professional competence ... [with more attention to] a reflective stance in respect of one's teaching and learning ... and an appreciation for those contextual matters that impact on teaching, learning and education (Jantjes, Small and Smith, 1995: 151).

The teacher education curriculum at UWC has many roots in the resistance to apartheid education of the 1980s and the politics of reconstruction and development of the 1990s. But how does the curriculum compare with other conceptions of teacher education more broadly?

Gore (1995) argues that pre-service teacher education can be located within two broad perspectives, one emphasising technical rationality and the other emphasising reflectivity. She equates the first perspective with teacher education which trains teachers in a set of narrowly defined competencies. The second perspective introduces more deliberately the notions of morals, values, purposes and social goals into teacher education.

Liston and Zeichner (1991) have tracked reforms in teacher education in the United States in recent years and have placed these within four distinct traditions. The first, the academic tradition, emphasizes the teacher's role as a scholar and subject matter specialist. The second, the social-efficiency tradition, emphasizes the acquisition of specific and observable skills of teaching that are assumed to be related to pupil learning. Performance is here assumed to be the most valid measure of teaching competence. The developmentalist tradition has its roots in the child study movement and is based on the assumption that the natural order of the development of the learner provides the basis for determining what should be taught, both to pupils and to their teachers.

The fourth tradition, the social-reconstructionist tradition, defines schooling and teacher education as crucial elements in a movement towards a more just society. Programmes here are linked by:

the common desire to prepare teachers who have critical perspectives on the relationship between schooling and societal inequities and a moral commitment to correcting those inequities through their daily classroom and school activities (Liston and Zeichner, 1991: 33).

A slightly different conceptualisation of teacher education is presented by Diamond (1991) who also distinguishes between four approaches to teacher education: competency-based, personalistic, language and learning, and perspective transformation.

A competency-based approach centres on the prior specification of competencies that teachers should acquire in order to perform certain tasks. Personalistic teacher education tries to facilitate personal growth and insight in the prospective teacher. A language and learning approach encourages teachers to talk and write about their experiences, and so to generate knowledge, understanding and meaning. This is in some contrast to the fourth approach, perspective transformation, which seeks to go beyond teachers' existing experience to enlarge awareness of personal and social constructs and, in so doing, to develop the capacity for self-direction.

To a large extent lecturers at UWC have the autonomy to design their own courses, and it is likely that different components of the pre-service programme contain elements from all the above traditions. However, perhaps because of the history of UWC itself, or the mission of the Faculty of Education, many courses within the Faculty would probably identify with the ethos of Liston and Zeichner's social-reconstructionist tradition or Diamond's perspective transformation approach.

The objectives of the programme (Student Guide 2000) shows that three out of the four aims are skill-based. That is to say that the student teachers are expected to develop skills in managing classroom environment, designing teaching and learning resources and teaching specific subject area. The fourth aim is the only one that is knowledge-based. Therefore it is pertinent that the whole programme should be orientated towards practice rather theory. One way this can be achieved is to give more emphasis to subject method courses. However as it was rightly pointed by one of the lecturers interviewed, subject method courses are more expensive to run than Education Theory courses. The Education Theory courses have been described as very ‘cost effective’. In order to produce future teachers of high calibre it would be necessary to consider the pedagogical (the teaching and learning) effectiveness of the programme alongside its cost effectiveness. Another way a skill-based objective can be achieved is to give greater field experience to the trainees. In other words the teaching practice period should be of a reasonable length to allow for experiential learning to take place.

3.2 Education Theory

The shift in the Faculty thinking to issues of professional competence, reflection and contextual education have impacted heavily on the conceptualisation and design of the Education Theory component of the programme. During 1995 extensive curriculum renewal took place and by 1996 there were no courses under the rubric of traditional theoretical or foundation disciplines. Six cross-curricular modules are offered, under the heading ‘Preparing to teach in the South today’. The themes of the six modules are congruent with the aim of the HDE programme, to train teachers to be transformative agents of society. They are: Conceptions of Teaching and Learning (Module 1), Organising Learning (Module 2), Managing Classrooms (Module 3), Teaching a Diversity of Learners (Module 4), Orderliness and Chaos (Module 5) and Education and Development (Module 6). Within these modules lectures are presented on themes such as the new national curriculum, teaching in large classes, critical thinking skills, teaching for diversity, environmental contexts and the policy process.

In 2000 a new component was introduced, called Contemporary Challenges in Education. This course was another attempt to bring a greater awareness among student teachers of their future roles and responsibilities as teachers. The course includes topics such as language and learning, HIV/AIDS education and inclusive education.

In addition, in order to expand the skills of the student teachers a number of optional extra courses are offered in the faculty. These include a sexuality education course which is run by a local non-governmental organisation (the Planned Parenthood Association), a first aid course and a course to help develop teaching and learning materials. In addition, students are encouraged to enrol for a computer literacy course. The level of computer literacy of students is generally very poor and a large number of students enrol for this course. All of these course, however, have to be paid for in addition to the normal fees, and given the poverty of most of the students, many of them cannot afford to do these courses.

3.3 Teaching styles and methods

Reorganising the course materials into new themes and titles does not in itself ensure the realisation of the set targets for the course. An important issue is the delivery of the course content. This includes the teaching styles and methods employed by the individual lecturers. Interviews with some of the lecturers regarding this issue show that a variety of teaching styles and methods are employed. It is evident from the interviews that the styles and methods employed by the lecturers are largely determined by the class size. For the Education Theory courses there is a tendency towards using less interactive, one-way lecture methods. The reason given was because of the large number of student teachers attending these courses. One lecturer indicated that there could be as many as two hundred student teachers in one lecture session and poor facilities in the lecture hall has inhibited this lecturer from using more interactive and participatory approach.

Subject method course lecturers have smaller classes and are able to employ a variety of teaching methods to deliver the course content. The smaller number of student teachers attending these courses enables greater contact with the student teachers. However the limiting factor is time. With one practical and one theory lesson per week (a total of about three hours contact time), subject method lecturers find it difficult to deliver the contents of respective courses effectively. They feel that there is insufficient time for effective collaboration and interaction to take place between student teachers and lecturers. Effective collaboration and interaction are important ingredients for the internalisation of the stated aims and objectives of the whole programme.

Another important issue with regards to teaching styles and methods is the knowledge, skills and experience of lecturers conducting the various courses on the HDE programme. The lecturers have a major responsibility to initiate awareness and reflection among student teachers on the programme. They would need to have the necessary skills and experience to do this within the short span of the course and the little contact time that has been allotted to them. Interviews with several Education Theory and subject method lecturers shows that all have had at least three years of teaching experience at schools, with most having had much more. Lecturers show an awareness of the realities that exist at schools and the problems and challenges that future teachers in South Africa will face. The lecturers also indicated in the interviews their efforts to keep abreast with recent developments in Education generally and in their respective field of expertise, through conference attendance, collaboration with colleagues from other institutions, use of the Internet, etc.

3.4 Teaching resources and course materials

The following extract from the Course Outline 2000 of the HDE programme clearly spells out the responsibilities of the student teachers on the programme:

The course is based on a conception of learning which is different from that which you experienced at school or even university in your undergraduate study. It places the responsibility for learning on YOU, the student. You are expected to spend a substantial portion of your study time on independent learning (Course Outline 2000, p.8).

Due to the emphasis on independent learning the course designers of the Education Theory component of the programme have provided student teachers with course materials in the form of compulsory readings and exercises appropriate to the particular module theme. The modules have been put together by the lecturers of the respective courses.

As the student teachers are expected to spend a major portion of their learning time on the modules, the organisation of the modules must be clear and easy to follow. All the six Education Theory modules are organised differently according to the taste of the individual lecturers who have put them together. For an outside reader, there appears to be a lack of uniformity and consistency in the organisation of the modules. For instance, one module may give student teachers a brief summary of the various sections in the module, the questions they need to reflect upon and suggested further reading. This overview at the beginning of the module will help to give student teachers a clear idea of what to expect in the readings and the area they need to focus on. On the other hand, other modules only state the general aims and contents page at the beginning, with no clear indication of what the student teachers need to focus on in each reading and very little guidance in the form of questions for the student teachers to reflect on. This may distract student teachers from the need to read carefully and focus on the vital message in the readings.

One of the criticisms that can perhaps be levelled at the course, and particularly the theory courses, is that students do not have to read outside of the course readers in order to pass the course. This is due to a number of factors which include the fact that the university library has an inadequate collection of books on education, particularly more recent books. In fact, no new books were bought at all in education over the 1998-1999 period due to severe budgetary constraints in the library budget. In addition, due to the large classes, students were not required to write assignments for the theory classes and thus were not forced to read anything other than the course reader. In addition, no prescribed books were used due to the poor financial position of most of the students. It was generally assumed by lecturers that students could not afford to buy books. A number of lecturers have expressed grave concern about the fact that many of the HDE students pass through their university years without ever having had to read a whole book for their coursework and that this practice is continued in the HDE course. This results in a student teachers who are used to having all their notes given to them in the form of handouts and with poor skills to actually search for relevant material and a poor wider general knowledge. This will inevitably lead to difficulties in teaching according to the new curriculum, in which teachers are permitted and encouraged to use resources that they find for themselves. In addition, they should have a wide general knowledge in order to make the links between their subject method and other subject methods and between what they are teaching and what is happening outside of the school.

3.5 Language of instruction

All readers (except for the subject methods of Afrikaans and Xhosa) are in English, and English constitutes the dominant language of instruction and, most importantly, of assessment in the HDE programme. Student teachers need a fairly good command of the English language to be able to comprehend, appreciate and assimilate the lectures and course materials. However this is not always the case, as indicated by one of the senior subject method lecturers interviewed, who said: “Increasingly students are not proficient in the English language and lack the knowledge about the language.”

There are now eleven official languages in South Africa and using English as the medium of instruction can be problematic to a large number of students following the HDE programme. While one might argue that the HDE programme favours students with a better command of the English language, lecturers are aware of the problems faced by student teachers. Readings are selected to take students’ command of English into account, and examination questions are mostly marked without penalising students for grammatical or stylistic errors. This raises its own pedagogical dilemmas, as lecturers often find it difficult to distil students’ conceptual understanding from their poor use of English

3.6 Teaching Practice

Teaching Practice is at the core of any pre-service teacher training programme. It provides the hands-on opportunity for student teachers to experiment and experience real classroom situations. It opens the way for student teachers to put theory into practice, and to reflect on their practice. The Teaching Practice Guide of the HDE programme clearly states these aims in its opening comments:

Pre-service teacher education aims to ensure that future teachers gain insight into teaching, schools and classrooms before they engage in the serious and professional practice of education. The teaching practice programme has been designed to enable students to observe and make a close study of, school as a formal institution of education and to experience the complexity of classroom behaviour (Teaching Practice Guide: p 1).

For their Teaching Practice, all student teachers spend about ten weeks in a local school. There, under the guidance of the teachers at the school, they are expected to plan and teach at least two lessons a day, to observe the classroom practice of other teachers and their peers, and to participate in the life of the school. They are also required to keep a journal, and to complete a number of assignments relating their field experience to their studies at the university. During this time, university-appointed supervisors visit the school three or four times, but on the whole the student teachers are under the guidance of the teachers in the school.

Over the years the school-based component of the diploma has undergone many changes towards restructuring and reconceptualisation. Jantjes, Small and Smith (1995) have outlined in some detail the restructuring that has taken place, and have linked this to new conceptions of the role of Teaching Practice. The 1970s, they argue, was a time when teacher training at UWC was dominated by competency-based models and Fundamental Pedagogics, with the emphasis in Teaching Practice being on student teachers' classroom performance rather than on developing the ability to reflect on or discuss school life beyond the classroom. During the late 1970s and 1980s student uprisings all over the country focused attention on the oppressive nature of South African education. Jantjes, Small and Smith (1995) describe the impact of this on the UWC pre-service teacher education programme. A two week period of school observation was instituted early in the year and, instead of being assessed on classroom performance only, student teachers were expected to write an assignment on the social environment at the school.

To enhance the possibilities for student teachers to link the different aspects of their course, a model of continuous teaching practice was implemented in 1992 and 1993. This model expected student teachers to spend one day a week at school, and four days at university, the argument being that this would give them more opportunity to plan their lessons and reflect on their experiences at schools.

The system of continuous teaching practice was short-lived. Part of its demise derived from the unpredictability of the timetable at schools where student teachers were doing their Teaching Practice. Often student teachers could not find out a week ahead of time what they would be expected to teach on their day at school. While this is clearly an untenable situation for school pupils, student teachers and teachers alike, many teachers seemed to accept it as the way schools ‘are’, and criticism was levelled at UWC for introducing what they saw as an ‘impractical’ programme.

In 1994 the Faculty changed its model to sending student teachers to a school for the entire second term. The motivation here was that opportunities would still exist for student teachers to reflect on practice and link their school-based experience to their university courses, but that the model would be more practical and manageable than the continuous model. As a bonus, it was argued, student teachers would be able to become part of the staff for a full term and so participate in all aspects of school life, like doing administrative work and assisting with tests and examinations. In 2000, the block period was shifted to the third term. The reason for this was the strong feeling that student teachers needed more than one term at university before being sent out to the schools.

One of the main issues raised during interviews with several lecturers was the block arrangement of Teaching Practice. The one-block ten week period has, according to some lectures, its pitfalls compared to a split Teaching Practice period. Being placed in only one school can limit the student teachers’ experience, as school environments and cultures differ greatly. This is particularly true in the case of South Africa, which is undergoing a transition in every sphere of life. If the student teachers are to be aware of the great diversity in school environments and cultures then, it is argued, they must be given the opportunity to do their Teaching Practice at two or more sites. Robinson (1999) found that student teachers on Teaching Practice report both positive and negative experiences. The placement of student teachers in a second school, it is argued, could open the way for improvements for student teachers who have not done well in the first school for whatever reason.

Over the years the cohort of schools with which the Faculty works has also changed. Whereas in the past students chose to go to the school which was closest to their homes or to the campus, schools close to the campus are barely used any longer, as many of these schools teach through the medium of Afrikaans. Many more schools in the former African (Black) areas are now used as Teaching Practice schools, as these are the schools which offer Xhosa and where many of the students say they feel most comfortable. The large number of students with Xhosa as one of their teaching subjects means that even primary schools have to be drawn on for Teaching Practice sites.

It is important to note, however, that former Black schools tend to be attended for Teaching Practice by Black students only, while the former White and Coloured schools are attended by both Black and Coloured student teachers. Attempts by the Faculty of Education to expose student teachers to different racial experiences are largely constrained by the fact that so many student teachers have Xhosa as their subject method, and that this language is taught in very few schools formerly for Whites and Coloureds. To compound the problem of ongoing racial separation, very few (if any) of the Coloured students in the Faculty even speak, let alone teach, Xhosa. Few of the Coloured and White lecturing staff have sufficient command of Xhosa to do proper supervision of Xhosa lessons, and contract lecturers, teachers and even student teachers themselves are often called on to help university staff with this task.

With regard to assessment, there has been a move from summative assessment of the student teacher's classroom performance during Teaching Practice to continuous and formative assessment of the student teacher's professional competence over time. Professional competence is understood as including good teaching, knowledge of the subject, ability to critically reflect, involvement in extramural activities, enthusiasm and seriousness about the profession of teaching, and a collegial relationship with the staff, peers, pupils and the community.

New kinds of assignments have been introduced into the Teaching Practice programme. These include journal writing, close observation of teachers in subjects other than their own and peer evaluation. All these assignments embody the interest in notions like the teacher as reflective practitioner, inquiry-based learning and action research. The interest in reflective teaching is part of an ongoing interest and commitment in the Faculty of Education to developing the autonomy of learners in an educational system with a history of rote activity. Many members of staff were drawn by the possibilities for professional growth suggested by reflective teaching: analysis of moral and ethical issues in teaching, taking responsibility for action, and examining practice with a view to improvement.

Teaching Practice requires careful planning and implementation and the Teaching Practice Guide shows the meticulous planning that has to take place before Teaching Practice can be successfully implemented. This handbook gives detailed information about the expectations of the Faculty of Education of its trainees while on Teaching Practice.

An issue of significance that emerged from the interviews with lecturers is the system of mentoring of student teachers by teachers at the school. During Teaching Practice the student teachers are under the guidance and supervision of two subject teachers (mentors). The mentors’ assessment of student teachers’ teaching accounts for 30% of the final mark. It is thus obvious that the mentor plays an important part in the professional development of the student teacher. Some of the lecturers interviewed expressed concern about the ability of some mentors to give the appropriate guidance to student teachers, especially in reflective practice and in employing teaching and learning methods that they are not familiar with. While lecturers are strongly encouraged to liaise with the mentor teachers, and even to conduct workshops on the expectations of Teaching Practice, in reality this usually does not happen.

The Teaching Practice supervisor is the person responsible for the overall assessment of the student teachers under his/her supervision. Two issues emerged in the interviews concerning the appointment of Teaching Practice supervisors. The first was the training of the lecturers at UWC to be Teaching Practice supervisors. Lecturers felt that supervisors need training in negotiating with schools, especially with the co-ordinating teachers and mentors. Subject method lecturers also raised the concern that frequently supervisors are not subject specialists and therefore are not able to guide or assess student teachers effectively. In fact, supervisors are responsible for all the student teachers at a particular school, no matter what their subject. This is particularly problematic when student teachers are teaching in Xhosa, which most of the supervisors cannot understand.

The second issue raised in the interviews with lecturers was the relationship between the Teaching Practice supervisor and mentors at school. The supervisors only visit the school three or four times during the duration of the Teaching Practice. There is not sufficient time for dialogue between the supervisors and the mentors for effective collaboration to take place. The lack of communication between supervisor and the mentor may affect the professional development and assessment process of the student teachers during Teaching Practice.

A further concern expressed is that, due to staff shortages, the Faculty makes extensive use of contract supervisors from outside the Faculty, particularly for the supervision of the large number of Xhosa method students. While an attempt is made to introduce these external supervisors to the Faculty’s approach to teaching and learning, there is little control over how these supervisors are actually working with the student teachers when at the schools.

3.7 Assessment

The assessment method varies greatly between the various components of the PGCE programme. The most common methods of assessing student teachers include examinations, tests, portfolios, and assignments in the form of essays with exams being the dominant mode for large classes. In fact there is a heavy emphasis on examination as evident from the allocation of 50%-60% of the assessment in most courses to examinations. One weakness of the programme is that given the intake of the students there is limited opportunity for developing academic skills through essay writing. In fact, is some of the theory papers, multiple-choice questions are still the preferred assessment mode.

A closer look at one of the test papers (Module 2 Education Theory 401 march 2000) shows that a great majority of the questions (4 out of 5) requires student teachers to remember and apply knowledge. There is a lack of questions requiring them to use higher thinking skills of analysing, synthesising and evaluating. This is in contrary to the aim of ‘producing thinking teachers’ as expressed by the Dean of the Education Faculty.

A major problem of assessment is the lack information given to student teachers about the type of assessment they will undergo during their training. There is no Assessment Guide and the Student Guide 2000 only briefly mentions about examinations. There is no mention of assessment in any of the other documents including the Course Outline 2000 and course modules. However the Teaching Practice Guide does spell out clearly the type and criteria for assessment during teaching practice. A similar overall Assessment Guide would be beneficial to the student teachers as it will help them to focus their efforts towards achieving the aims and criteria set out.

With the drop in student numbers on the HDE course, there is a move back toward setting assignments rather than tests for the theory courses. These require students to search for information and also to show that they can apply the theoretical knowledge that they have gained in this course. In addition, exam papers focus on essay type questions which aim at evaluating to what extent the student teachers are able to make sense of and apply the knowledge and concepts that they are taught in the theory classes.

3.8 Quality Assurance

One method of quality assurance employed on the HDE programme is the use of external examiners. The lecturers give mixed opinions about the effectiveness of external examiners’ feedback. One of the main concerns is that there is no consistent format of feedback from external examiners. This has resulted in different lecturers having different levels of feedback. Some lecturers indicated that a more uniform system of feedback from external examiners should be developed to optimise the benefits from such quality assurance methods.

A concern raised during the interviews with lecturers was the use of external markers. Due to the large number of students in certain courses it has often been necessary to employ external markers. However some lecturers felt that the markers do not undergo proper training. They expressed doubts whether this system will ensure consistency in the assessment process of student teachers.

Another important form of quality assurance is student evaluations. All lectures are expected to ask students to evaluate their courses but there is not always sufficient control that this is actually done.

A further, and very important, form of quality assurance is that of course reviews. Lecturers meet at intervals of 1 to 2 years to look at their courses and to discuss changes. An extensive review process of the HDE programme was held during 2000 and a number of recommendations for improving the course were given. These included doing more research into students’ backgrounds and developing the relationship with schools. At a curricular level, the recommendations included improving communication between subject method and Theory lecturers, enhancing academic skills development amongst students, improving teaching materials and addressing students’ fears and anxieties about Teaching Practice. In addition, course committees are in the process of being set up to review all sections of the course on an annual basis. These will comprise the lecturers concerned, student representation, experts from the field and academics from other universities.

3.9 Conclusion

The HDE programme was designed to produce professional teachers who are able to take on the numerous challenges facing teachers in present day South Africa. The programme aims to produce enthusiastic teachers who will strive to become professional teachers through a process of lifelong learning. There are many factors determining the success of the programme and it is hoped that this analysis will help in highlighting some of these factors. Generally the lecturers interviewed were optimistic that the quality of graduates produced through this programme is good. They also felt, however, that there is much room for improvement.

In subsequent sections of this report other perceptions and experiences of the programme will be presented. Data from student teacher and lecturer questionnaires, as well as from student teacher interviews will complement the information presented thus far, and will provide further detail on some of the issues raised in this section.