Worlds of Education

Upholding professional teaching standards matters

published 27 June 2024 updated 28 June 2024
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Countries without professional standards deprive their education and teaching workforce of quality and professional excellence. As part of its theory of change, the South African Council for Educators (SACE) adopted the concept of Professional Teaching Standards to provide a common language and vision of the profession that all teachers can use to define and develop quality teaching, professional competence and excellence in their practice, and professionalism.

Similarly, SACE argues that its Professional Teaching Standards provide a framework to guide the whole continuum of teacher preparation and development, from student selection, pre-service education, provisional registration of newly qualified teachers, induction, full registration and certification to continuing professional development and career advancement. As a result, these standards strengthen teachers’ professional identity and the professionalisation of the teaching profession, as well as enhance the status and public standing of the profession. In this context, the call to action and recommendations put forward by the United Nations High Level Panel on the Teaching Profession on the promotion of professional standards by countries across the globe is very significant. The same call to action is echoed by the UNESCO’s and Education International’s Global Framework of Professional Teaching Standards.

National teaching standards by and for teachers

SACE believes in teacher agency and decisional capital. Teachers’ voices must be heard because they can play a key role in enhancing professional practice and shaping their own professional teaching standards.

South Africa’s professional teaching standards were developed by teachers for teachers through organised labour representation in various Multi-Stakeholder Professional Standards Working Groups. Teacher unions were involved in the working groups every step of the way, from the conceptualisation process to the development of the theory of change, to writing and finalising the standards.

In addition to teacher unions, other stakeholders included teacher educators in higher education institutions, independent/private schools’ associations, school governing bodies, the Council on Higher Education which is responsible for qualifications and programme quality and accreditation in the country, independent experts, and others.

Through their 60% majority in the SACE, teacher unions influenced the formal and unanimous approval of the professional teaching standards for their implementation across the teacher education continuum, from pre-service to in-service.

This inclusive process was fundamental to ongoing social dialogue with the profession, to the promotion of the teaching profession’s values, to a democratic and participatory approach, to achieving common purpose through social capital, to strengthening teacher efficacy and value in the standard setting process, and to promoting ownership of the same professional teaching standards.

Contextualising international and regional frameworks

While the Professional Teaching Standards were tailored to the South African context, they were internationally benchmarked too. An international professional standards study was conducted in the country and produced a report titled, “ Teacher professional standards for South Africa: The road to better performance, development and accountability” by the Centre for Development and Enterprises. The lessons from the African Union’s Continental Framework of Standards and Competences for the Teaching Profession also informed the South African standards.

Notably, South Africa developed and approved its Professional Teaching Standards at the same time as the UNESCO-Education International Global Framework of Professional Teaching Standards. This presented an opportunity to learn from each other’s processes and final professional teaching standards frameworks, resulting in some similarities in the naming, as well as in the number of standards and some content.

However, South Africa chose not to follow the route of classifying the standards according to the traditional domains due to some national contextual factors and experiences.

Nonetheless, the process of advocating, communicating, promoting, and implementing professional standards in South Africa takes the UNESCO-Education International Global Framework of Professional Teaching Standards into account. This ensures confidence and enhances ownership of the professional standards because of teachers and teacher unions’ affiliation to Education International and understanding that professional standards are a global professional phenomenon.

South Africa’s teachers leading the profession

Instead of the traditional professional standards categories, the 10 South African professional teaching standards are based on the principle of “ professional teaching in our hands”. This is reflected in the illustration of the standards reproduced below.

Figure 1: South African Professional Teaching Standards (Source: South African Council for Educators)

The first five fingers underscore teachers’ role in building nations through communities: practitioner-based research communities, professional learning communities, communities of practice and others. These five standards highlight the following:

  • The significance of ethical teaching which is based on the commitment to the learning and the well-being of children;
  • The centrality of collaboration in supporting teaching and learning, along with continuing professional development;
  • The role language plays in teaching and learning;
  • Teachers’ transformative role in social justice and redress of inequalities;
  • Teachers’ professional judgement that is conceptually informed by and responsive to learners’ needs and their contextual factors.

The last five fingers stress that teachers enable learning and underline the following:

  • Teaching is based on teachers’ deep understanding of the subject(s) they teach;
  • Teachers’ understanding of how their subjects are best taught and learnt;
  • Teachers’ interpretation of the national curriculum to plan systematic sequences of lessons;
  • Teaching involves organising, monitoring and assessing learning;
  • The centrality of creating and maintaining conducive learning environments for learners.

Education is a human right and a public good that is fundamental to the development and betterment of every country and of the world. Developing and promoting professional teaching standards is an important step towards ensuring the quality of education South Africa provides its citizens. We hope it will also serve as an example to other countries and will help bring us all closer to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for everyone everywhere.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.