Ground-breaking seminar heralds promise of education reform

A move towards the professionalisation of teaching is a bold step in the right direction, and could unlock change in the education sector.


It’s not surprising that the National Education Collaborative Trust (NECT) puts the professionalisation of teaching front and centre for education reform to be successful in South Africa. This is the context for the extraordinary gathering of educational role-players in Centurion last month. It seems that differences are being cast aside so that real reform can happen.

In a seminal moment for teaching in South Africa, teacher unions, universities, government and civil society met to ramp up the process of education reform in South Africa.

The South African Council of Educators (SACE) is working on standards that will spell out requirements for entry into teacher training, induction and maintenance of teaching certificates. They are also to implement a strong disciplinary code, and a strict regime of continuous professional education.(CPD) The result – and the proof will be in the eating – will be a high quality professional body that will enforce the educational and teaching standards, and the codes of behaviour necessary to effect real change.

These new standards will ultimately elevate the profession – not perpetuate the negative perceptions that have beleaguered the sector, but proactively, positively and in practice.

At the seminar, Rej Brijraj, CEO of the SACE reiterated the critical importance of finding a common understanding of professionalism and to identify simple, achievable steps that can be made to professionalise teaching.

Professionalisation in action

So how does SACE propose to professionalise teaching?

SACE’s proposal will see teachers with degrees of equal standards only provisionally certified once they complete their initial practical training, with full accreditation dependant on confirmation from employers that they have met the practice standards on the job.

This bold move will see SACE strengthened as the custodian of the teaching profession. And it is important that SACE packs the punch required to do the job. Says Rej Brijraj: “Act 31, 2000 defines SACE as a legal statutory entity, which gives us the sole power to register teachers – and deal with the misconduct of teachers and promote their professional development. We need to live up to those standards if we are to raise the bar”

Professionalisation: In South Africa and beyond

Countries such as Rwanda and Singapore are lauded as examples of systems that have prioritised the professionalisation of teaching, and where it has paid huge dividends for society.

In Rwanda, teacher professionalisation has been elevated to a national project. Singapore is touted as one of the world’s best-performing school systems. In Rwanda the nation has made sure that teachers lead the much needed healing process.  Our teachers should be at the forefront of upholding the South African values imbedded in the constitution. According to the McKinsey Report, which studies the characteristics of school systems that consistently produce students that perform in international benchmarking studies, the quality of teachers and first-rate instruction are the cornerstones of Singapore’s success.

 But that’s a global view; it’s not difficult to find examples of effective well-respected professional bodies within our borders. There are great examples of how professionalisation has been put to work in South Africa. The Health Professional’s Council of South Africa (HPCSA), the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), to name but two of numerous examples, are proof positive of the fact that South Africa has the capacity to produce professional bodies that are easily the equals of their international counterparts.

What do all these professional bodies have in common, and how does professionalisation work?

  • Firstly, professional bodies standardise the quality of academic entrance into the profession. Clearly different universities have differing criteria and even standards. For effective professionalisation teaching, SACE is going to have to engage with universities that offer teaching degrees with a view to establishing:
    • The number of students becoming teachers and;
    • the quality and the curriculum of the tertiary teaching degree.
  • They have a period of on-the-job training to ensure that members are competent in practice, not just academically.
  • They have systems of continuous professional education which keeps members up to date in terms of subject matter and methodology.
  • They have and they enforce strict ethical and disciplinary codes, where the ultimate sanction is deregistration.

Beyond perceptions

Setting standards of ethics and certification is crucial in a system that is burdened with hawkish and sometimes misinformed rhetoric and comparison to other professional governing bodies.

The move toward teacher professionalisation could see standards of ethics and qualifying certification in place that will bolster not only the profession, but will change the negativity that pervades our society regarding education at large.

Prof. Yusuf Sayed, South African Chair in Education and Director of CITE, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said at the seminar: “Teachers, globally, are important in ensuring equitable and quality education for all and key to building peaceful, just, tolerant and cohesive societies.” Simply put, teachers are a socialising factor on the mind sets of learners. It is possible then, to drive holistic reform through education – not only economically but on a social level.

John Volmink, an academic in the field of education and chairperson of the NECT’s task team to investigate the professionalisation of teaching, points out that “teaching is not a high-status profession, and in the eyes of many, it’s a sort of semi-profession, that leans heavily towards being more of an occupation”. But this has not always been the case, and it is not so in countries like Singapore and Rwanda or in comparison to thriving local professional bodies. The reality of the matter is that teaching for some time, has lacked tangible and courageous leadership of a governing body freed from the purse-strings and the influence of its major stakeholders.

It will be important then for SACE to both step up to the plate and strongly and independently create the conditions for a vibrant, high level and admired profession. They also need to assert the importance of independence of funding and influence to be an effective and constructive partner in education reform.

Let us hope that this seminal meeting of the role-players delivers on the extraordinary goal that the NDP has set:  That by 2030, 90% of our learners will pass maths, science and languages at the 50% level.

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