The Context of Teacher Education in South Africa

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Limitations of this Research

Any social research, I would argue, has its limitations since the study of the human condition offers few absolutes and the study of teacher education is no exception. Labaree (2000) puts it succinctly as follows, “The technology of teaching is anything but certain, and teachers must learn to live with chronic uncertainty as an essential component of their professional practice” (p.232). By extension, teacher education, as preparation for that technology, is similarly uncertain, and that mediating context between teacher education policy and its implementation in Faculties of Education, the education faculty, is filled with ‘imponderables’.
What I have chosen to do is a case study that focuses on three selected Faculties of Education, and a ‘slice’ of their offerings, the pre-service curricula and the academics who teach these programmes. While findings are illuminatory, they do not claim to speak for all university teacher education faculties, or for all programme levels. In this sense I make no claims of generalisability to other research populations, even if such a goal were appropriate within the research paradigm in which I conduct my research. Qualitative inquiry makes no apology for the fact that it attempts to “pick up the pieces of the unquantifiable, personal, in depth, descriptive and social aspects of the world” (Winter, 2000, p.7). Case study research, by definition, concerns itself with meanings and experiences in a localized culture, and it is the theories generated by the findings that are best generalisable (ibid). As Ensor (2001) points out, the restructuring of university curricula is an ongoing process and changes are being made fairly rapidly – my study can only therefore capture a particular phase at a particular moment. This by no means implies that that this study is not significant, as the section below indicates.
Reliability (concerned with a study’s replicability) in the quantitative research sense could be argued, within that paradigm, to be a shortcoming of qualitative case study methodology. However, as with validity, replicability cannot be defined only in positivist terms and qualitative researchers have argued for a redefinition of these terms, or their substitution. Certainly the same research procedures in a case study, carefully documented, could be replicated, however, one would not expect in a similar study, even where the research population and other circumstances were nearly the same, to generate the same theory. Given the illuminatory power of case study inquiry however, a researcher would be aware of possible avenues to explore and further questions to ask.
My account of pre-service teacher education in three Faculties of Education is based on a combination of documentary and oral sources of evidence. I have already noted the possible shortcomings of oral interview evidence (Yin, 1994).
However, it is through the frank interviews in my study that we are given a window onto the world of teacher education academics. “A basic assumption of in-depth interviewing research”, says Seidman (1998, p.4), “is that the meaning people make of their experience affects the way they carry out that experience…interviewing allows us to put behaviour in context and provide access to understanding their action”.


Structural Changes in Higher Education after 1994

The new democratic government in 1994 faced an array of internal reconstruction challenges across a vast spectrum of needs in addition to the pressures of rejoining an international community and globalising imperatives. In education it had to deal with the disastrous effects of separate development, wastage, the inefficiency of bloated bureaucracies, and an eroded culture of learning to mention a few. Sayed and Jansen (2001:251) point out that the new education officials “had the stamp of political legitimacy but lacked the necessary knowledge base and skills to manage the system”. Given the inexperience of officials and the enormity of the task that lay before them, what has been accomplished in the past twelve years is probably laudable at best and understandable at worst.
Once the protracted process of creating a single Ministry of Education and nine provincial Departments had been completed, the policy machinery had to be set in motion to replace racist legislation with laws in line with a democratic constitution. Thus began a flurry of policymaking that, in education, saw the SAQA Act (1995) establish a National Qualifications Framework for all qualifications, the South African Schools Act (1996) and a National Commission report on Higher Education (1996), which kicked off a major overhaul at every level of the system. The National Commission on Higher Education report (1996) described the structural and governance changes envisaged by the Ministry, in pursuit of a ‘single, co-ordinated system’ of higher education committed to principles of equity, democratisation, development, quality, effectiveness, efficiency, academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

Chapter One: An Overview
‘Down the Rabbit Hole’
Chapter Two: Perspectives from the Literature
“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”
Chapter Three: Conceptual Framework
‘So she went on wondering more and more at every step’
Chapter Four: Research Design
‘Alice’s Evidence’
Chapter Five: The Context of Teacher Education in South Africa
‘The Looking-Glass House’
Chapter Six: Findings
‘Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice Found There’
Chapter Seven: Synthesis
“But how can it have got there without my knowing it?” she said to herself as she lifted it off and set it on her lap to make out what it could possibly be.


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