SA girls aspire to greater academic heights at university than boys, says a new analysis of international education data. File photo: Thomas Holder

Durban - The pupils of younger teachers do better at maths, new research from the University of Stellenbosch suggests.

The research, which investigated which teacher characteristics had a significant impact on pupils’ academic performance, also found that younger teachers did better in maths and literacy tests than their older counterparts.

A possible explanation was the difference in teacher training: older teachers would have studied at teacher colleges, whereas younger teachers were likely to be university-educated.

This was at odds with the argument that reopening teacher training colleges would improve the quality and quantity of South African teachers, research author Paula Armstrong, an educational economist, said.

She made use of data from an earlier study, the often-cited Sacmeq III, to show that the maths scores for pupils of teachers aged 19 to 29 were higher than those of the pupils of older teachers.

“This may say something about teacher training, given the movement away from teacher training colleges in 2000,” Armstrong explained.

This was important in the context of South Africa’s education system.

Teachers were an important resource and there needed to be understanding of how best to use them.

The apartheid government located most teacher training colleges in the former homelands. Enrolment at these colleges was high because opportunities in the formal economy were restricted for black South Africans. Admission to a teacher training college was one of a few ways in which people living in homelands had access to tertiary education.

In 2001, the colleges began to be formally incorporated in traditional universities and universities of technology.

The suggestion that teachers trained at universities were better able to teach than those trained at the colleges had important implications for the teacher training landscape.

Teachers’ unions have long called for the reopening of colleges, and in previous studies it has been argued that primary and high school teaching were not given the attention required.

Teachers at schools considered university education to be excessively theoretical and abstract.

“Teachers and lecturers trained in teacher training colleges feel that universities and universities of technology lack the ‘hands-on’ practical guidance that was provided by colleges,” Armstrong’s research explained.

There was a strong belief that reopening the colleges might improve the quality and quantity of teachers, but the evidence presented by Armstrong suggested that might not be the case.

Another explanation for the difference in the performance gap between older and younger teachers was that the younger teachers could relate better to pupils.

Anecdotal accounts from teachers also suggested that younger teachers were likely to be more familiar with the current curriculum, or even that younger teachers were more willing to “teach to the test” to appear to be performing well.

The Mercury