Teachers Can’t Teach What They Don’t Know

In a recent feature for the website PoliticsWeb, ReSEP member and Stellenbosch University Researcher, Nicholas Spaull, explains the dismal state of teacher-knowledge within the South African schooling system.

Using the 2012 National School Effectiveness Study, Spaull shows that 70% of Grade 5 pupils from no-fee schools could not answer a simple Grade 2 level arithmetic question. To explain this shocking result, Spaull points to results found in the 2007 SAQMEC tests on teacher quality showing that the majority of Grade 6 Math teachers that were tested could not answer simple arithmetic question that was well within the scope of their syllabus. With only 32% of these teachers having the desirable subject knowledge, Spaull says we should not be surprised at the quality of students being produced by the education system. As he puts it:

“The longer it takes to give teachers high-quality training, the longer the children in their care will remain illiterate and innumerate. When maths teachers have such low levels of content knowledge, should we really be surprised when there is virtually no learning taking place in these schools?”

Spaull is sympathetic to the poorly performing teachers, realising that their lack of education stems from inadequate apartheid-era training. He rather puts the blame on the country’s education faculties for not managing to create adequate in-service training programs in the last 20 years to get these teacher to an acceptable level of competence.

 The article was also featured in the 18th of August edition of the  Sunday Times