Nieuwenhuis (2007) defines Education Development Centres (EDCs) as teacher support centres consisting of activities and services that support the school curriculum and contribute to the teacher content knowledge and skills development. In addition, Johnson and Maclean (2008) suggested that an ideal EDC programme should be built on the foundation of an information infrastructure that includes materials, equipment and facilities, and direct services to teachers. However, EDC activities and services are shaped and influenced by multiple factors contributing to the teacher classroom practices. Attention to the EDC programme is further given to areas like: the organisational support to effect changes in teacher practices; the type of activities and services; learning through technology; and teacher perception towards the EDC activities and service.
Looking more closely at the way EDCs function and noting the benefits of keeping EDCs as teacher support centres, this study explored the EDC activities and services guided by the following sub-questions:
What professional development activities and services do EDCs provide;
What is the rationale behind the development of EDC activities and services;
What is the quality of EDC activities and services in relation to the professional development of teachers;
What are the teachers’ perceptions of EDC activities and services?
The main objective of the study was to establish the extent to which activities and services in Mpumalanga EDCs relate to teacher classroom practices. A sample of 16 teachers responded to the questionnaire designed specifically for teachers while two subject advisors who facilitated activities at the EDCs and two EDC managers were interviewed. Currently the approach to professional development programmes tends to be fragmented. Hence, this study sought to improve the quality of EDC activities and services by alerting programme designers and advising against such a practice.
Furthermore, the intention was to provide feedback to programme designers and encourage the promotion of collegial planning in structuring such offerings. The qualitative study approach followed, used the interview schedule as a primary source to collect data to gather as much evidence as possible and was backed by the teacher questionnaire, field notes and personal journal. The basic logic model guided the planning for the evaluation process in identifying elements to be evaluated and indicated relationship between the components: the input (resources that go into the EDC programme); output (activities the EDC programme undertakes to offer); and the outcome (teacher behavioural changes and benefits that resulted because of the activities conducted). This study focused mainly on the implementation processes to yield intended results.
The study identified various factors as significant to deliver quality activities and services to enhance teacher knowledge and develop skills: creation of realistic centre vision, develop quality activities to integrate content knowledge and pedagogical skills, promote teacher collaboration and active participation; and designing coherent activities aligned to the schools improvement strategies to meet teachers’ need. Workshops were facilitated in a reform approach allowing active participation of teachers, for example, simulations in computer lessons and science experiments. However, the inadequate resources and EDC financial constraints limited the quality of activities and services.
Nonetheless, EDC activities and service possessed the quality to enhance teacher knowledge and skills, if they are designed to incorporate the research based key features (Haslam, 2008). Furthermore, the study noted that EDCs play a critical role in shaping the activities and services by designing reform activities, creating pedagogical space for teachers to come together and providing teaching and learning material including technological tools, like Internet, to advance with curriculum changes and spare teachers’ time and cost for travelling to meeting venues.