Remarks by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, MP, at the teaching and learning colloquium, University of the Witwatersrand.
18 August 2008
Members of the Academic Community
A 2005 DoE report showed that 36,000 (30%) of the 120,000 students who enrolled in higher education in 2000 dropped out in their first year of study, and 24,000 more (20%) dropped out during the second and third years.
This accounts for 50% of the students who entered higher education in 2000!
Of the remaining 50%, only 22% of them completed their undergraduate degree within the specified three years.
These figures are the backdrop against which teaching and learning programmes have to be planned.
There are several other factors that should be considered.
First, many first-generation students come from schools that have poor infrastructure, inadequate teaching resources, and teaching that may not prepare them for universities. They enter universities with very little knowledge of university life, processes, and demands. They enter a new challenging environment with very little orientation and faced with the demand that they adjust or fail.
Second, many young people believe they can speak and write English well, but discover how limited their command of English is in the first year of university. Several academic development programmes emphasise language skill as a core part of their teaching programmes. English has to be a core part of the learning and teaching enterprise.
Such a perspective does not imply that we should neglect the development of other languages of teaching in our universities. Efforts in this regard are important steps toward addressing past neglect and discrimination, but they are not the total response.
Third, universities are very conservative institutions. They have remained largely the same in their basic assumption for the last century. For many ‘new' students they are forbidding places.
These three factors indicate how important teaching should be in all our universities.
Teaching has been neglected and under-resourced. It has not been seen as important as research and innovation.
Specific attention needs to be given to developing a wide range of responses and programmes to improve teaching and learning at the undergraduate level.
First, the changing character of the student body and new needs and demands in society mean that old practices and approaches may require review and change.
This may also mean recrafting programmes and curricula to ensure they support students in becoming competent and able young professionals.
Many universities have already changed. Geology programmes include environmental education; human rights law focuses on human security and gender. Some universities are exploring a four-year degree structure and rethinking their courses in exciting ways. The first response therefore is support in a context ready to consider and accept change.
Academic development has to be integrated into university processes as part of a changed academic framework. Teaching and learning practitioners must be given influence in practice and policy in all disciplines. Academic development must be given this status in order for them to support the university in overcoming the poor record of the past several years. Now that we all know we are losing thousands of students to failure it is necessary to include teaching and learning professionals in the identification of appropriate responses.
The potential of academic development has been proven in the past twenty years. There is ample evidence of its value and of the importance of teaching and learning. The foundation and other access models in higher education draw on the early success of academic development. They are increasingly accepted as important, but few link them to teaching and learning and the battles practitioners fought to gain acceptance and academic credibility.
Changing the current poor throughput rates and developing programmes that provide students with a full academic experience requires increased support for and recognition of the experience and impact of teaching and learning practitioners in higher education.
Second, survival at university requires more than academic orientation. Development programmes should promote and teach positive values such as non-sexism, non-racism and respect for diversity.
Vulnerable groups such as young women, gay youths, and students with disabilities require focussed and appropriate interventions.
Established university practices such as initiation and ‘traditions of our residence' must be prohibited if they encourage sexism, racism or harm to any group.
Our Constitution contains all the values and principles that a modern society should live by. Institutional vision and mission statements must reflect these principles and ensure they are given practical expression in teaching programmes, disciplinary procedures and open well publicised codes of conduct.
Third, students must take responsibility for their university work. They are at university to study for degrees. Success relies on individual effort and responsibility; students must accept that they are responsible for success or failure. Part of our legacy of a government as enemy has been too strong a belief that a democratic government absolves individuals of responsibility; all have a role to play in transformation.
Last, new practices will only be sustained through ensuring space for new ideas and new practitioners. Preparing the next generation of academics is an important aspect of higher education transformation. Greater urgency must be given to encouraging a new pool of young academics.
These are a few of the imperatives that must form part of our consideration as we reach for a bolder reconstructed role for learning and teaching in South Africa .