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To what extent are we producing teachers who are better able to address the challenges of schooling? 

Many problems beset the South African school system, including, in many instances, poor management and leadership and the inefficient distribution of resources. But, even where institutions are well managed and teachers have access to sufficient resources, the quality of teaching and learning cannot rise above the ceiling imposed by low teacher capacity. This ceiling may be high in a minority of schools, but in the large majority teaching is often ineffective and learners fall progressively behind the expectations of the curriculum with each passing year. While there are undisciplined teachers who don’t make the best use of time, the majority are doing the best they can and would dearly love to be more effective. The cause of poor performance, by and large, lies not with teachers but with the teacher education system that produced them. While there were a number of excellent teacher education and training colleges during the apartheid years, recognition of the generally poor state of the sector, together with declining student numbers after 1994, led to its radical reorganisation in 2000. This entailed closing most colleges, merging the remainder with higher education institutions (HEIs), and making initial teacher education (ITE) the responsibility of HEIs. The question now arises as to what extent the current system of teacher education is meeting the demands of South African schools. Are we producing teachers who are better able to address the challenges of schooling? The purpose of the Initial Teacher Education Research Project (ITERP) is to investigate these questions.

A founding assumption of the project is that norms set by regulatory bodies such as DHET, CHE/HEQC and SACE can, at best, provide a broad framework of formal criteria (number of hours, knowledge fields to be addressed, mix of modules, etc.) but they can neither specify content nor guarantee quality. The quality of professional standards is best evaluated by experts in the profession, and therefore attempts to improve the quality of teacher education must start within the field itself. From this perspective, the research findings are intended to inform the debate about the quality of ITE, commencing within the terrain of initial teacher education, and in particular among campus-based practitioners. Evidence has accumulated over the last two decades to suggest that in-service interventions have had limited impact. This understanding, in turn, has led to a growing realisation that the greatest opportunity for improving the quality of schooling lies with ITE programmes.

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