Regarded by many as a selfless profession, South African teachers face several challenges as the local education landscape faces a significant transition period.
"As the South African education space navigates through this transition, here are several challenges that teachers are expected to overcome daily," says Dr Cleo Karrim, associate director of the Mancosa School of Education (SoE), "While the education space is facing significant criticism at the moment (regarding its lack of innovation and what parents assume are teachers not doing their jobs), it is important to note that South African teachers still have an important role to play in building the future of this country."
Dr Karrim points out that one of the unfortunate realities that South African teachers currently face is rising discipline issues and violence in schools.
"Many parents assume that the discipline issues faced by schools are driven by poorly trained teachers. Certain parents then criticise schools and are sometimes quick to claim that teachers are not doing their jobs. However, the current discipline issues schools face goes far deeper than unruly learners," says Dr Karrim.
The problem facing teachers is that the pace of change in teaching methodology and the traditional classroom environment has not kept pace with technological advancements. "Learners process information differently; however, they are still being taught using traditional methods. This disparity is causing significant frustration as learners are falling behind because information is being presented to them in a way that does not make sense nor is of interest to them," says Dr Karrim, who adds that, until we address this, teachers will continue to deal with such discipline challenges.
Dr Karrim points out that we are far beyond the point where schools and universities still have learners and students who are digital immigrants. However, while this has been the case for the past 15 years, the pace of technological change among young learners far exceeds those of previous learners. This rapid advancement will drive the future of education and teachers need to facilitate this change.
Dr Karrim points out that reframing education delivery will take time and a significant investment in upskilling seasoned teachers who may not have had the benefit of qualifying using technologically based teaching methods.
A leading provider of distance tertiary education, the Mancosa School of Education (SoE) has noticed a need to entrench digital skills into all its qualifications. It has, therefore, incorporated the Estrella platform across all its course offerings.
"Teachers have always been asked to take a few steps out of their comfort zone when teaching learners; this is a common challenge and one that teachers have done well since the country's democratisation. The bigger challenge is encouraging seasoned teachers to take a step back and admit that they must disrupt themselves, unlearn what they assume is the “right way” of learning and innovate within their schools to remain relevant," says Dr Karrim.
She adds that an education environment where gamification and simulated learning environments are horizons that we need to focus on in order to advance academia: "It is becoming increasingly apparent that teachers will play an increased role when designing this future world of learning. Therefore, it is important that teachers' technological skills be as sharpened as those of the learners and students under their care. Upskilling is important."
When it comes to the continental view of education, the South African education landscape is very advanced, with the country ranking very high when it comes to producing quality teachers. However, disparities do exist in the system.
"South Africa is very good at qualifying great teachers. However, a significant disparity exists between urban and rural schools or schools in smaller urbanised areas. Mancosa finds that students who come out of the latter environments are reluctant to go back and face the challenges that are part and parcel of an under-resourced school. We need to increasingly encourage students to return to their communities and give back to the environment where they came from. This is especially true for students whose whole family or community raises money to bankroll their tertiary education," says Dr Karrim, who adds that these teachers often make the most significant difference and have the greatest impact because they are genuinely dialled into community issues.
Dr Karrim admits that the challenges facing the South African education system are vast and too significant for a single party to address. However, tertiary institutions cannot sit back and wait for Government to be the sole driver of reformation.
"It is up to us to develop and produce the teachers of tomorrow. The goal of the Mancosa SoE is to develop teachers who are agile enough to go into a well-resourced school and make a difference while being flexible enough to step into an under-resourced school and anticipate the needs to the learners adequately enough to go beyond the challenges that constrain them. This superpower will redefine the South African education narrative," concludes Dr Karrim.