Evaluation of the Ambassador Programme for Pre-Service Teachers
Duration of Project: 2012 - 2015
Geographical base for project: National
Evaluation conducted by: Eric Schollar and Associates
Evaluation period: 2012 to 2013
The overall objective of the Ambassador programme was to contribute to improving learner performance in schools through the supply of quality graduates in critical subject areas.
The programme was aimed at recruiting, training and supporting outstanding young graduates majoring in Mathematics, Science, English and Technology to commit two years to teaching in disadvantaged schools. The Programme provided training to the graduates to prepare them for the teaching assignment and then provided ongoing mentoring support to the graduates while in the schools.
The graduates filled vacant posts in schools and were paid a salary (as an unqualified teacher) by the relevant provincial department of education. Given the teacher qualification framework in South Africa, the graduates also registered for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) while undertaking their school assignment. At the end of the period they would have had a teaching qualification, and the objective was to retain these graduates in the teaching profession.
Ambassadors were often placed where they were most needed, implying that it was not possible to guarantee that the same Ambassador worked with a specific group of learners over two years. It was also not guaranteed that an Ambassador taught in the subject for which they were trained.
No clear positive or negative effects were notable in the English and Mathematics scores. The evaluation also suggested a weak positive effect on the Science scores. The evaluation findings exemplify that it is not easy to change learner performance within a period of two years.
Learning cannot improve in a dysfunctional classroom/school. All the Ambassadors stated that many of the learners missed classes and school, and that nothing was done about it. So when exam time came, those learners achieved poor results and many failed. This brought the class averages down.
While Ambassadors had excellent content knowledge, they were inexperienced and lack critical pedagogical skills to teach effectively in disadvantaged schools.
A large percentage of learners were performing well below the expected grade competency level, even with extra lessons and support. This made it impossible for Ambassadors to close the cognitive gaps that learners brought with them to the classroom.
There was a lack of clarity on the role of Head of Departments in supporting the Ambassadors and their mentors, and in-school mentors (teachers at the school) varied in terms of the nature of support that they offered Ambassadors.
School principals believed that the Ambassadors should be at their school for three years, rather than two years, so that they could take a class up to Grade 12. When the Ambassadors arrived at school, the principals did not want to give them a Grade 11 class as they had never taught before, so they usually were allocated Grade 10s. As they were only in the school for two years, they did not get the chance to take a class through to Grade 12.
- The two year programme was not sufficient to improve learner performance in participating schools, and should be of longer duration.
- There needed to be a clear compact between education authorities at provincial and district level, school management and the Ambassador-programme management that was translated into an operational integrated delivery plan between all parties, for any (pre-service teacher) intervention programme to be sustainable.
- For Ambassadors to derive maximum benefit from their placement, the pre-selection and preparation of schools was imperative.
- Ambassadors should only teach the subject and grade for which they had been trained over the period of the intervention.
- The Ambassadors should remain with the same group of learners for the same subjects over the life of the intervention programme.
- Ambassadors should not be placed in dysfunctional schools.
- More time should be spent during the initial Ambassador training and the first follow-up visits by the mentor to help the ambassadors gain (practical) pedagogical knowledge and classroom management skills.
- Given the potentially positive influence of the external mentors, the evaluators made a case to increase the dosage of support offered to the Ambassadors with a focus on subject content and practical classroom assistance.