There is a national shortage of teachers in the Foundation Phase – that critical first phase of a child’s schooling – and particularly mother-tongue speakers of indigenous languages.
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University has made significant changes to grow this teacher pool – with the result that their first-year BEd Foundation Phase class has a record 20% of isiXhosa-speaking students, a massive jump from previous years.
In addition to re-curriculating their entire Foundation Phase programme, based on a tried and tested learner-centred philosophy, the University has also moved its Foundation Phase programme to its Missionvale Campus, where it is better placed to reach the schools where strong Foundation Phase teachers are needed most.
These efforts are making a difference: The 25 students in the first-year class of 120 is a major increase from previous years, where only a handful of mother-tongue speakers enrolled.
“The most mother-tongue speakers we have had in any year is five. In the current fourth-year group, there are no isiXhosa mother-tongue speakers,” said Geduld.
Geduld said the Education Faculty had made considerable efforts to market the new degree programme to school leavers throughout Nelson Mandela Bay.
“Because of the huge need for mother-tongue speakers, a conscious decision was made by our Dean (Dr Muki Moeng) to recruit more student, by exposing schools to our new programme.
“We have been marketing, the new curriculum and philosophy which underpins it.”
All too often, the prevailing (and skewed) perception in many communities is that a Foundation Phase teaching qualification is less prestigious than a senior level qualification.
This has negatively impacted on the self-image of Foundation Phase teachers in schools where there is a lack of awareness of their key human development role. This is one of the reasons why “re-imagining” the teaching profession – as NMMU is doing – is so essential in the Foundation Phase.
“At NMMU, we strongly recognise Foundation Phase teaching and all teaching as an incredible profession and a daring profession to be part of,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Prof Denise Zinn.
“These teachers could not have a more important role,” said Zinn. “From mathematical ability to language and literacy to self-concept and self-confidence, the Foundation Phase teacher carries the responsibility of the development of each child.”
Teacher shortages: Statistics
Statistics over the last few years show that the need for new Foundation Phase teachers is far greater than what universities are able to supply.
“In the Eastern Cape, the Department of Basic Education calculated that 923 new Foundation Phase teachers were needed in 2012 to fill the posts of teachers leaving the system. Only 240 were available,” said Dr Geduld.
That same year, there was an estimated national demand for 5505 new African language Foundation Phase teachers, but only 345 graduated in South Africa as a whole. Each year, the need grows.
“The Department has identified Foundation Phase teacher development as an area needing urgent attention.”
Many of the student teachers have funding for their studies through the Funza Lushaka bursary, funded by the Department of Basic Education.
Since 2010, the number of students that have enrolled for the Foundation Phase degree programmes at NMMU has jumped by over 40%, from 262 in 2010 to 374 in 2015. This year, there are 386 students.