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A collective impact approach contribution to strengthening education

Connected schools – a holistic approach: Insights from the Trialogue Business in Society conference 2023

Almost half of all teachers graduate via distance education institutions. A number of independent programmes have been established to offer extended student teacher internships, for learners from distance education institutions, with the intention of improving aspects such as teaching quality, pass rates and retention of teachers in the profession. This case study outlines how a collective impact initiative, the Teacher Internship Collaboration South Africa (TICZA), seeks to add value to the sector through collaborative processes, knowledge-sharing and measurement practices.

Distance learning, a key pathway to teaching

Forty-five percent of public-school teachers are scheduled to retire in the coming decade and will need to be replaced. In fact, if South Africa is to reach the targets set out in the National Development Plan (NDP), universities will need to increase the number of teachers they graduate by at least 50% within five years and double current production by 2030, according to Nic Spaull, author of the 2022 Background Report for the 2030 Reading Panel – a growth from 26 000 in 2018 to 50 000 per year. This exponential rise is necessary to “avoid large increases in class sizes or unqualified teachers being recruited to fill vacancies”.

Aspiring teachers in South Africa can pursue one of two pathways to qualify: they can either complete a four-year BEd degree or, alternatively, complete another threeor four-year Bachelor’s degree, followed by a one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). About 15 000 qualified teachers graduate from higher education
institutions (HEIs) every year, half of whom complete their degrees through the College of Education at the University of South Africa (UNISA) through open and distance learning (ODL) programmes.

Value of practical experience
All South African initial teacher education (ITE) programmes include a practical teaching component, consistent with education theory and best practices worldwide. Teachers in training (also variously referred to as student teachers and pre-service teachers) spend time in classrooms working directly with learners and observing and being mentored by experienced educators. Through these “student teacher internships”, trainees are able to develop and deepen a core skill set, from subject command and application to instructional techniques, classroom management, lesson planning, effective communication (often with multilingual learners), resource use and relationship-building. They also gain first-hand insight into the responsibilities and requirements of the job and, importantly, begin building their own professional identities, according to researchers Dan Zhan and Xu Liu.

Conversely, says Professor Sarah Gravett, student teachers with very limited practical experience can struggle to overcome the “theory-practice divide” when entering employment. This underpreparedness can lead to poor performance and even attrition from the profession altogether. As described by John Gilmour of the Global Teachers Institute (GTI) at a Trialogue webinar held in September that focused on TICZA, “the dropout rate of teachers coming out of universities, going straight into schools, and then looking quickly for alternative ways of earning a living, is way too high”.

The dropout rate of teachers coming out of universities, going straight into schools, and then looking quickly for alternative ways of earning a living, is way too high”

The case for extended student teacher internships
While student teacher internships feature in all ITE programmes, these vary considerably by structure and duration across HEIs – and are relatively short overall. BEd candidates, for example, only spend an average of four to six months in student teacher internships, referred to as both Work Integrated Learning (WIL) or teaching practice (teaching prac). The four to six months of WIL or teaching prac is divided between the four years of a BEd
programme. At UNISA, the single biggest producer of education graduates in the country, students generally complete around five practical weeks each year, depending on the module. Student teacher internship periods drop to between six and eight weeks for those completing a one-year PGCE.

Taking into account both the current challenges in teaching quality and evidence of the value of practical experience, a number of programmes have been established to facilitate extended student teacher internships. According to Zahraa McDonald of JET Education Services (JET), speaking during the Trialogue webinar on TICZA, in practical terms extended student teacher internships mean that “a student teacher would be spending a lot more time in a school than an average BEd or PGCE.” Extended student teacher internships represent a departure from prevailing practices, in which student teacher interns often only spend time in classrooms during specific times of the year. Such efforts to change and improve ITE are timely given that plans are under way to meet growing demand for new teachers and could be become a viable approach for an auxiliary pathway for ITE.

As Trialogue’s Managing Director Nick Rockey explained, the education sector is “characterised by multiple initiatives, most of which are operating in isolation but have very similar agendas, for example, around teacher development, early childhood development (ECD), supplementary maths and science programmes, bridging programmes and bursaries.” There are a number of obstacles impeding greater collaboration, including that implementers, NPOs and donors alike set their own organisational priorities, employ different methodologies, develop and apply intellectual property (IP), and rely on unique ownership and branding for visibility and evidencing results. One effect of this disparate approach is that the important work of addressing major systemic challenges can be reduced to “simplistic, linear processes that are symptomatic in nature” and end up with a narrow focus on specific challenges. Further, government departments with a mandate of responsibility for upwards of 17 million school learners and university students, are simply unable to effectively engage with large numbers of small initiatives with solutions that are not necessarily holistic and are therefore “difficult to scale or systemise.

Taking a collective impact approach
A new collaborative partnership (TICZA), has been established to explore how such interventions could strengthen both teaching quality and long-term educational outcomes. TICZA was initiated by Trialogue, JET and the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and formally launched in 2021. The GTI was also involved in conceptualising the initiative and Bridge Innovation has since joined as a convening partner. Its membership cuts across the education sector and includes stakeholders from multiple government departments, HEIs, non-profit organisations (NPOs), the private sector and implementing organisations.

One of TICZA’s first activities was to undertake a Sector Mapping Study in 2021, which confirmed that a variety of programmes were offering extended student teacher internships throughout the country. Although each had unique features and characteristics, most also shared common goals. Yet, to date these programmes have not been well coordinated or formalised as a recognised practice.

TICZA’s members have now set a goal that is both targeted and ambitious: to achieve systemic change in ITE through demonstrating the value and impact of extended student teacher internships, which, if implemented, will lead to a new generation of high-quality effective teachers for South African public schools. Many organisations, programmes, networks and individuals have worked to improve South African educational outcomes in the past – and continue to do so. What sets TICZA apart is the deliberate decision by its conveners to adopt a collective impact approach.

Putting collective impact into practice
TICZA’s stakeholders and spheres of control, influence and impact in an infographic.
Sphere of control is the Convening group: The Berthe centre, Bridge, JET Education Services, Trialogue.
Sphere of influence are the strategic partners, implementation partners, and internship implementers. Sphere of impact is the beneficiaries.

Strategic partners are funders, unions, NPO networks, Research institutes. Implementation partners are government partners, the Council for Higher Education, Department of Basic Education, Department of Higher Education, EDTP-SETA, Provincial Education Departments, and South African Council for Educators. Internship implementers are higher education institutions and NPO implementers. Beneficiaries are school stakeholders: interns, teachers and mentors, and learners.
The collective impact model and methodology, was developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer and
originally published in a 2011 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. According to Kania and Kramer, the collective impact model shares features with other types of networks, partnerships and collaborations. However, initiatives adopting this methodology are distinguished by five key features. These, as purposefully embedded in TICZA’s structure and operations, are as follows:

A common agenda. All of TICZA’s membership is active in the education sector, invested in ITE and interested in alternative teacher education pathways (ATEP). However, taking on a collective impact approach meant going beyond complementary values and parallel programming. Rather, as described by Rockey, partner organisations came together to debate and define the problems facing the sector and co-create a new vision for the future. Thereafter, TICZA members “actually repositioned heir organisations to chase that agenda”, focusing their energies and resources on goals set out together, according to Rockey.
Shared measurement. Understanding progress is a core dimension of the collective impact approach, and one of TICZA’s earliest endeavours was to develop a two-part theory of change (TOC), for both the initiative as a whole and its specific programming. This TOC maps out activities, outputs and anticipated outcomes in members’ shared journey towards an ultimate vision of an improved standard of education in South Africa. This was followed up with accompanying monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework, enabling data collection and tracking of results across multiple implementing organisations.
Mutually reinforcing activities. All TICZA members have additional mandates, programmes and activities but adopting the collective impact approach has meant coming together, bringing unique and diverse skill sets and building capacity to reinforce the common whole.
Continuous communication. Given the numbers and diversity of TICZA’s membership – and the commitment required in terms of adopting a common agenda and fundamentally shifting their own organisational operations to accommodate this – there is a need for ongoing regular engagement. This, however, can be challenging based on how many stakeholders are involved and the imperative of ensuring that everyone is informed and given ample opportunity for input and feedback.
Backbone support. Crucially, the success of a collective impact also depends on a central organisational structure and support. In addition to the hundreds of hours invested each by the founding and member organisations in coordination, planning, implementing agreed activities and reflecting on lessons learnt, TICZA has effectively built a staffed organisation that exists solely to support this process.
Results achieved thus far
TICZA is now nearing its second year of formal, structured operations and has made steady inroads into its five-year plan. These have been channelled into four internal work streams, with notable advances made in each area. The first of these – critical to the collective nature of the initiative – was to set up platforms for collaboration.
A robust Steering Committee (SteerCom) champions the common agenda, oversees agreed activities and ensures accountability. In addition to 13 voting members, SteerCom meetings have included up to 50 participants and observers, from implementers to government officials, the South African Council for Educators (SACE), trade unions (the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa and the South African Democratic Teachers Union), universities and funders.

Additional platforms include a series of community of practice (CoP) sessions focusing on information-sharing, learning and reflection; and an Innovation Lab, which consists of multi-day design process workshops. These are ultimately intended to advance programme redesigns, in line with TICZA’s common agenda.

The second work stream focuses on knowledge production, with the goal of at least two outputs annually. To date, these have included a literature review on teacher internships and other alternative ITE models; a survey-based scoping study outlining the current state of ATEP in South Africa and, most recently, Training Better Teachers: An implementation brief for improving practice-based initial teacher education.

Thirdly, TICZA is committed to supporting young researchers through the sector capacity development work stream. In 2021, grant funding in the amount of R35 000 each was provided to two postgraduate students, one undertaking a comparative study of university education curricula; and the second researching the behaviour of embedded interns and novice teachers in rural contexts. In addition, an outcomes-mapping exercise was undertaken to assess and document the abilities and ambitions of different stakeholders with an interest in internships in ITE.

Finally, the fourth work stream of tools and resource development has thus far focused on the TOC and M&E framework. Notably, TICZA’s TOC includes two key components: one that focuses on the implementation of extended student teacher internship programmes in general; and a second specific to TICZA’s collaborative activities.

Three Working Groups have also been established: a Mentoring Group; and HEI and NPO alignment group; and the Supporting Schools group. The Working Groups were set up in recognition of the fact that in a context of multiple initiatives previously working in isolation, there is limited opportunity to entrench or formalise broader practices, and definitions and practices vary substantially. The Working Groups function to extract learning and good practice, and provide guidance and standardisation, assisting all implementers and organisations involved.

Challenges encountered
TICZA’s collective impact approach, although not the only model of this kind, represents a relatively new formation within the South African education sector. Reaching this point has not been without challenges – as is to be expected for an organisation involving so many stakeholders, each with its own past experiences, priorities and interests, plans, structures, methodologies, resources, limitations and constraints.

Together, TICZA members have anticipated these challenges and as Rockey explained of both the organisation and collective impact approach, “this is not a slam-dunk, it takes time and effort”. For this reason, TICZA has been proactive about identifying problems and risks it faces, developing mitigation strategies, analysing issues as they happen, and even maintaining a live register to track high-level risks. Some of these challenges include the following:

Commitment and longevity of participation. Long-term, ongoing engagement and “continuous communication” with a multi-party initiative of this kind is in itself demanding and resource intensive. In a sector characterised by constrained time, funding and human resources, joining and remaining a TICZA member has proven onerous for some stakeholders and there has been attrition along the way.
Independence and IP. The adoption of a common agenda as required by the collective impact model can be very difficult – particularly with the expectation that entire programmes and organisations should be redesigned accordingly. Members must eschew some of their own best practices and this can be uncomfortable, although TICZA has worked to ensure that the benefits of membership outweigh the risks for all participants. TICZA has also adopted the key principles that participation and information-sharing is voluntary.
Monitoring and reporting on progress. Some members have expressed concerns that adopting and reporting on a shared M&E framework will cast implementers in a “bad light” if planned targets are unmet, and alignment and adoption of the instruments developed has been slow. However, TICZA has worked to position a minimum effort, maximum benefit approach to M&E, which will collect core indicators with the minimum possible adjustments to existing frameworks and programmes.
Next steps
Looking to the next three years, TICZA plans to consolidate and expand on the foundations developed in 2021–2022. In McDonald’s words, much “intellectual, emotional and very practical work” has gone into the conceptualisation of TICZA and activation of its collective impact model.

The activities outlined in the TOC will continue to mature, including raising awareness of the organisation and its
evidence base confirming the value and impact of extended student teacher internships, as well seeking out and aligning funding streams; collecting and reporting on results using shared indicators; new workplans and activities in the key areas of mentorship, implementer alignment and school support; and an exciting array of new knowledge products, practical tools and publications that will be freely available on the new TICZA website, planned for 2023. Finally, work is under way to commission and conduct an external evaluation and TICZA is currently in the process of appointing a service provider.

Looking to the longer term, as mapped in the TOC, TICZA ultimately aims to achieve its objectives and embed best practices of extended student teacher internships throughout the South African ITE system, so the initiative itself is no longer needed.

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