Ready to teach? Reflections on a South African mathematics teacher education programme

  • Iben Maj Christiansen
Keywords: maths


programme at University of KwaZulu-Natal prepares teachers to teach well in the regional
context. In order to determine which aspects to consider in the analysis, I draw on studies of
factors correlated to learner achievement in South African primary schools. First, this
suggests that the consideration of context should play a strong part in our teacher education.
Second, it indicates that teacher actions most strongly linked to learning – deep
representations, feedback guiding learning and challenging learners on their level – only
occur occasionally in KwaZulu-Natal schools, and with limited opportunity to develop
mathematical proficiency. The question I raise is to what extent we prepare teachers to
teach in this way, and with awareness of the context. Third, I briefly consider what other,
perhaps overlooked, competencies our teachers need.
In the light of Bernstein’s recognition of the centrality of evaluation in the pedagogic
device, I have analysed the exam papers in the programme. My analysis utilises a
pragmatically compiled bag of tools. First, I distinguish between the knowledge categories
in our programme: contextual knowledge, curriculum knowledge, content knowledge,
pedagogic content knowledge, and general pedagogical knowledge. Next, I explore the
extent to which specialised knowledge is foregrounded in our programme, drawing on
Maton’s distinction between a knowledge and a knower legitimisation code. Third, by
distinguishing the semantic gravity of the course content, I aim to identify how theoretical
or decontextualised knowledge is linked to the practice of mathematics teaching. This
enables me to consider the extent to which the programmes favour cumulative or segmented
My findings indicate that the programme is strongly founded in a knowledge code, and that
it covers all of the five aforementioned knowledge domains, but it needs further exploration
how well these are linked within and across courses, thus providing cumulative learning.
Teaching for deep representations is strongly reflected in the exam papers, both in the
content knowledge and the pedagogical content knowledge components, but there is
virtually no indication that providing appropriate challenges to learners is important. While
students are tested on their recognition and realisation of assessing learners’ level of
understanding, this is not utilised in teaching students to provide appropriate feedback, nor
is it used to inform the design of activities which can cater for a classroom with learners of mixed ability or varying levels of current understanding. Furthermore, there is no
assessment of the teachers’ preparedness to teach for adaptive reasoning. In that respect, the
programme appears not to prepare the students adequately for quality teaching. I discuss
whether this knowledge mix and what is not taught can be seen as having an implicit
student in mind, thus limiting access to relevant teacher competencies for some students.

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