It's fair to describe Tony Lynch as a man, who is always on the go: he spent over two decades working as a process engineer at Mercedes-Benz in South Africa, before taking on a new role with a South African supplier, but was made redundant after just a short time in the course of a downsizing exercise.
But Lynch soon found a way to help himself and just a few months later he took up a position as a vocational instructor at TVET College in Buffalo City, which encompasses several campuses, where he has been teaching electrical engineering since 2008. Whilst still working full-time, he managed to take a degree in pedagogy, write a book on electrical engineering education, and contribute to the national curriculum for the relevant field. “A few years ago,” says Lynch, “our campus manager pointed me to the TRAINME project and suggested that I take part. It was the right decision.”
A continuing education project with multiple partners
The TRAINME project was a bilateral research and development program, which ran from 2018 to 2021 and was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the purpose of which was to provide continuing education courses for vocational school teachers in South Africa. The project partners included the Department of Vocational Education focused on Teaching Technology (BPT)at the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Educational Science (IfE), the Inter-company training center in Eastern Bavaria (ÜBZO), and the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
“In the context of the project,” says Prof. Bernd Zinn, Executive Director of the IfE, “the ÜBZO was responsible for subject-related professionalizatione, whilst our own focus was on subject-didactic and pedagogical-psychological professionalization.” The project was undertaken in the context of Germany's efforts to internationalize vocational training and vocational teacher training in line with the dual system established here: learning and teaching through a close integration of theory and practice. The background situation in South Africa is different, as Gerda Magnus, Senior Director of Programs and Curriculum Innovation in the Vocational Education and Training Department at South Africa's DHET, explains: “We want to make vocational education more popular. School leavers in our country can begin an apprenticeship at the age of 16, but that tends to be the exception. Instead,” she continues, “many stay on in school through twelfth grade instead, but many fail to graduate.” And a university place is not guaranteed even with a school-leaving degree. “So, vocational training would be an excellent alternative for a lot more young people,” says Magnus.
In South Africa, there are currently three different routes that this three-year training can take: exclusively theoretical at a vocational school, theory and practice at a vocational school, or classroom instruction in a vocational school combined with practical phases in various companies. “The latter is the rarest form, which is why we want to expand that path,” Magnus explains. “To do so, advanced training for teachers is important because their backgrounds are often widely different.”
“Now I'm also training the trainers.”Tony Lynch
The participants in the TRAINME project were drawn from the 50 vocational schools in the country that offer training in the fields of electrical engineering, electronics and mechanics, whereby a total of 20 teachers participated in the project. “They really enjoyed it and felt that they learned a lot,” says Magnus. The DHET selected so-called master trainers from among the participants, one of whom is Tony Lynch. “Now I'm also training the trainers,” he says happily.
An appetite for reform
At the start of the TRAINME project, the BPT team from Stuttgart analyzed the situation in South Africa by looking at the current education policy and curricula, conducting interviews and discussions with focus groups, and carrying out a survey involving 300 vocational school teachers. “This revealed an appetite for the type of reforms that will ultimately lead to a stronger dual education system,” says Zinn. “We were also able to define a set of minimum requirements for the teacher qualifications, but one-fifth of the cohort were unable to meet them.” It was also found that there is room for improvement in terms of equipping vocational schools with the latest technologies used in manufacturing companies. “The bottom line,” says Zinn, summing up, “was that this situation resulted in marked disparities in teachers' teaching skills.
Training for the South African project participants was provided in the form of a mixture of e-learning and face-to-face events. “Unfortunately,” says Stefanie Holler, a doctoral student in the BPT who worked as a research assistant on the project, “we were forced to greatly reduce the attendance component due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” The teaching staff used a platform provided by the ÜBZO training center for the e-learning component. “An initial teaching phase, which also served as a pilot run for us, ended in November 2019,” Holler explains. “An evaluation and certain amount of optimization were then followed by the second teaching phase.” The trainees participated in the project whilst still continuing their own teaching activities.
Digitization to be the focus of the project going forward
The project partners now want to consolidate and significantly expand what has been achieved in a follow-up project known as TRAINME2, which began in October 2021 and is again scheduled to run for three years. “In terms of content and the didactic objectives, the focus is on increasing the use of ITC in education and on dealing with the heterogeneity of students,” says Zinn. “We also want to involve local companies to a greater extent.” The same quality requirements that apply to German dual training apply here, particularly with respect to sustainability, digitization, law and safety, as formulated by the German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB).
“We want to make vocational education more popular.”Gerda Magnus
The TRAINME2 project is divided into four phases. To begin with, the project participants will design needs-oriented training modules in collaboration with the relevant South African authorities responsible for the formal standards of vocational education and training. “In a second phase,” Zinn explains, “we plan to test these modules in the tried-and-tested mix of classroom training and e-learning with a group of teachers who already took part in the previous project.” This will be followed by a third phase in which the project partners will continue to train the master trainers in order to disseminate the contents of the TRAINME2 program. A group of new project participants will then work through the educational modules under the supervision of the master trainers. And finally, the fourth phase will focus on evaluation, knowledge transfer, and public relations. “Our goal is to produce a comprehensive transcription of all teaching and learning content and make it freely available in a number of files under a Creative Commons license,” says Zinn. As in the previous project, a textbook and a teacher's guide will be available for each module.