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International Literature Review on Alternative Initial Teacher Education Pathways



Name of Service Provider: Dr Jane Hofmeyr

Name of Project/Intervention: International Literature Review on Alternative Initial Teacher Education Pathways

Duration of project: 2016



Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in South Africa currently experiences three major problems in delivering high quality teachers capable of effective teaching:

  • an inadequate supply of teachers for the schooling system;
  • the poor quality of some Initial Teacher Education programmes which results in the majority of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) being inadequate to the tasks facing them in schools across the country; and
  • the generally poor quality of distance education and the large part it plays in the total provision of new teachers.

The traditional form of ITE in South Africa follows the international norm – a four-year university-based programme – and is provided by 23 universities, either by face-to-face or distance education.

Internationally, however, increasing numbers of alternative teacher certification programmes (ATCs) have been developed, as countries try to solve their problems of producing enough well-prepared teachers who are able to support higher learner achievement. ATCs have been broadly defined as “anything other than a four or five-year undergraduate program in a college or university”.

No international literature review to identify best practice, which can inform these programmes (and traditional ITE ones), has been undertaken in South Africa to date. This literature review explored and derived lessons from alternative forms of ITE provision internationally and in South Africa and how these may be leveraged to alleviate the three key problems currently inhibiting the production of high quality teachers in the numbers required by the schooling system.

Key Findings

Key findings from the literature reviewed included:

  • ATCs differ from university-based ITE mainly in that they focus on a different source of trainees, often screen candidates for subject matter competence and/or prior teaching experience, compress the schedule for pre-service training and provide a different mix of professional knowledge and skills, typically devoting more time to teaching methods and classroom management than subject competence.
  • Comparative evaluations of ATCs and traditional routes have shown that the differences across ATC programmes and across traditional university ones are greater than those between these two types.
  • ATCs succeed in attracting candidates who otherwise might not have entered teaching.
  • The attrition rate of ATC teachers appears to be higher than traditionally certified teachers.
  • The effectiveness of ATC teachers is influenced by their personal background, their formal training, and the context of their school placement (principal and mentor support, professional community, and availability of materials). The Research suggests that in effective ATCs, school context has the strongest effect on outcomes.
  • Numerous studies have produced very mixed results about the comparative effectiveness of ATCs and traditional routes on student achievement given the many confounding variables
  • There is a lack of strong empirical research on which the endorsement and criticism of alternative certification are based.
  • When the effect of teacher certification alone has been researched, it has been found to be very small. However, among teachers with the same certification status, there were large and persistent differences in teacher effectiveness.
  • Research has found that, overall, students of TFA teachers perform 0.15 of a standard deviation higher in mathematics than those of control teachers and 0.26 higher than those of novice control teachers (with one to three years of experience), although in reading, there was no difference.
  • From the evidence it obtained, the independent Carter Review (2015) found that it was difficult to draw conclusions about whether one route into teaching is any more effective, because they found strengths across all routes, and school-led ITT has brought benefits and provided important training options to improve the supply and quality of teachers.
  • Research indicates that most university-based pre-service programmes fail to achieve the desired quality or economies of scale necessary for most developing country contexts.
  • Research on effectiveness has found that in-service programmes can produce more teachers than traditional pre-service models within a given time frame.


The findings suggest a number of recommendations about ITE for donors, business, alternative ITE programmes, government and universities:

  • Instead of South African teacher education stakeholders and providers entering the same fruitless debate about the effectiveness of traditional versus particular alternative ITE programmes, the international research and increasing convergence in the debate indicates that both have an important role to play in meeting nations’ challenge of supplying sufficient quality teachers.
  • As so many teacher educators and researchers have acknowledged, there are high-quality and low-quality programmes in both routes and although high-quality ITE programmes of both types have been found to positively impact on student learning, in general both types need improvement.
  • Closer work between schools and universities and hybrid partnership models are the way forward to adequately prepare teaching students for the realities of school and classrooms and effective practice that will support learning achievement.
  • Teacher education stakeholders have been urged to adopt a broader conception of teacher preparation that emphasises paths into the profession rather than programmes, and understanding and implementing the elements that make for effective programmes, and how they interact.
  • To this end the research suggests that it is important to recognise the individual paths of trainees entering teaching, which highlights the importance of assessing the skills and knowledge of teacher-candidates early and frequently, and tailoring a package of coursework, clinical practice, mentoring and appropriate placement to fit the needs of different trainees.
  • Both international and local research has found that in alternative ITE programmes, the school context has the greatest effect on outcomes and thus the choice of school training providers or host schools for internships/ambassadors in ATCs is critical.
  • A high level of support in schools, and especially effective mentoring, is essential for interns and trainees

In Conclusion

The research evidence indicates that, as in many developed and developing countries, alternative mixed-mode teacher education programmes that culminate in a B Ed or PGCE are viable options to the conventional teacher education in South Africa, in order to produce greater numbers of and more competent teachers. The great strength is that they provide the much needed school-based learning-in- practice that has been found to be so lacking in most university-based programmes in South Africa.

As researchers have pointed out, the debate about the effectiveness of specific ATCs is fruitless. What matters most in teacher preparation is how to prepare effective teachers. For the sake of the neediest learners, the real fight in all ITE should be about the best way to assess and prepare any given candidate so that all new teachers can be equally successful on their first day on the job.

See the fact sheet of findings and recommendations here.

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