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Isasa-textThe mentoring programme exposes teaching interns to the excellent resources, role-models and expertise in South African private schools. (Image: Investec)4 July 2013 – Specialist asset manager Investec has teamed up with the Department of Basic Education and private-school body the Independent Schools Association of South Africa (Isasa) to improve the quality of maths, science and English teaching with a unique mentorship programme that sees mainly disadvantaged teaching students shadow top professionals during the full course of their studies.

The Teacher Assist Approach is a public-private partnership in which student teachers enrol at the University of South Africa (Unisa) for a four-year Bachelor of Education degree or one-year PGCE postgraduate diploma. Unisa’s distance-learning model then gives them free time to work at one of South Africa’s top private schools, such as St Stithians, Kingsmead or St Mary’s. At these schools the students shadow and learn from some of the best teachers in the country, with a specific focus on teaching the difficult subjects of maths, science and English.

The professional mentors provide positive role models, strong support and quality supervision. Students also get the benefit of academic camps offering motivation and support to boost their professional and academic development. They gain continuous classroom experience, close mentoring, support, and experience – the rhythms, realities and routines of quality school environments.

Once they graduate, the new teachers are required to work at government schools, thus bringing private school skills and experience to benefit public schools.

Who can apply?

The programme is mainly aimed at disadvantaged students. To qualify, candidates must be:

  • High-achieving school leavers with at least 60 % in pure maths (not maths literacy), science and English
  • Tertiary students aged 22 to 26 with university credits in maths, science and English who have not yet completed their degrees
  • Graduates who want to experience the reality of a top-quality school environment and translate the theory they have learned into practice

The programme aims to not only improve the quality of teaching in the difficult but essential subjects of maths, science and English, but also to broaden teacher recruitment.

“I believe it is the best model,” said new teacher Edward Matabane, who was mentored at the prestigious 60-year-old St Stithians College in northern Johannesburg. “Teaching at the end of the day is about growing people and you can’t learn that from a book, you can’t learn that in a university.”

Roles of the partners

The Department of Basic Education’s contribution is programme management, selection, recruitment and funding the full study costs of 200 FET, senior, intermediate and foundation phase teachers between 2013 and 2020, via its Funza Lushaka Bursary scheme. The department also places the mentored teachers in public schools once they graduate.

“We are working hard to improve supply of young and qualified educators, particularly for gateway subjects,” said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. “Funza Lushaka Bursary programme is one way of doing so, and thus our support for this initiative. This will help us in placing the just over 2 000 new graduates Funza Lushaka has produced over the last three years and in tackling current teacher shortages.”

Through its Isasa Maths & English Programme, the independent schools body selects and places the interns in host private schools for the full length of their undergraduate or postgraduate studies, exposing them to the excellent resources, role-models and expertise in its member schools.

Isasa also provides day-to-day assistance to the recruits, including continuous assessment to ensure those who need extra support are identified and given the help they need.

Investec funds and supports vital value-added elements of the programme: orientation for the newly recruited interns, an academic support programme throughout their distance education through Unisa, as well as training of school mentors.

A priority is retaining graduate teachers. With the incentives provided by Investec and other value-adding elements such as workshops throughout the year, development sessions as well as seminars on technological advancements within the classroom, the recruits are groomed to be more well-rounded, focused and happier teachers.

The programme aims to produce confident and competent teachers, with a strong commitment to maths and science teaching as their lifelong profession. The introduction of teachers with private school experience into public schools will also have a multiplier effect in the public sphere, with the new teachers’ colleagues being exposed to high-quality teaching skills.

International best practice

The Teacher Assist Approach draws from other public-private partnerships elsewhere in the world, countries where, like South Africa, there are large disparities in the quality of teaching, and a shortage of skilled teachers. Alternative models for attracting teachers into classrooms and training them are essential, as many countries have realised, and the private sector has an innovative role to play in increasing teacher supply. Relying only on universities, which offer a traditional academic model with limited teaching experience, will not solve the problem.

In the UK, Teach First is a programme initiated by the private sector in which top graduates spend two years working in under-resourced secondary schools in London and Manchester. Teach First provides high-quality teacher and leadership training, school-based training, coaching and business links.

A new UK government initiative, similar to the South African partnership, promotes on-the-job teacher training as an alternative to university-based courses. It plans to have 500 designated teaching schools operating by 2015. This initiative is sign of a new relationship between state and independent education, with the two working together to ensure trainees learn from the best teachers available.

Similarly, in the USA, Teach for America enlists the energy and commitment of dynamic young graduates with the skills needed to teach in impoverished inner city schools and help eliminate educational inequality.

As both Teach First and Teach for America are highly selective and prestigious, taking part in them is seen as a high honour.

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