Understanding life sciences teachers' engagement with ongoing learning through continuous professional development programmes.
Teacher education in South Africa has had to be overhauled in line with the reform of the South African school curriculum since 1996. Both initial and continuous teacher qualification programmes are constantly being reviewed to improve impact on prospective and currently practising teachers. In addition, efforts are being made to scale up non-qualification continuous professional development programmes for better implementation of the curriculum. Despite these endeavours, there is evidence that continuous professional development programmes in particular, are not responding adequately to the needs of the teachers and the education system in general. This is partly due to the failure by the system to differentiate between the needs of different groups of teachers who received their initial teacher education in racially segregated teacher education institutions. This research study aims to determine what teachers of Life Sciences perceive as their development needs, and how these needs are addressed through various forms of in-service teacher education, both formal and informal. Life Sciences is the name of the subject called Biology in the pre-reform curriculum. It is offered only in the final three years of schooling, Grades 10 – 12. The Life Sciences curriculum has experienced at least three revisions in a period of six years since the implementation of the National Curriculum Statement in 2006. Data was gathered in two phases, using mixed methods approaches. During the first phase, data was collected using a teacher questionnaire. The questionnaire dealt with teachers’ content and pedagogical development needs; their participation in both qualification and nonqualification CPD programmes; their motivation (or lack of) to engage in CPD programmes; and the perceived benefits of CPD programmes. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with Subject Advisors dealing with similar themes. During the second phase of the study, intervention programmes in the form of teacher training workshops were conducted and data was gathered through documenting the workshop activities and by conducting evaluations. Findings revealed that whilst a large proportion of Life Sciences teachers were furthering their studies through formal qualifications, they were not necessarily choosing Biological Sciences specialisations. A considerable proportion of teachers in the study were teaching out of their field of specialisation. These limitations likely account for teachers’ low selfconfidence, articulated as a strong need for development in almost every area of the content and pedagogy. Teachers that choose Biological Sciences specialisations in formal in-service qualifications seem to be benefiting significantly. Life Sciences teachers also benefit immensely from ‘hands on’ training in practical work skills rather than using passive, demonstration methods of training. Cluster-based CPD programmes present an ideal opportunity for teachers to learn and share knowledge and expertise in content and pedagogy, yet this platform is constrained mainly to development of assessment activities. Filling vacant posts and increasing the number of Subject Advisors is critical to ensuring that teachers received adequate support from districts.