The demand for effective and competent teachers in South Africa remains a critical issue. Quality teacher education programmes are therefore essential to develop teachers who are knowledgeable, with the necessary skills, values and attitudes to teach in diverse contexts (Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), 2011). In order to develop and impart the knowledge and skills required to become competent teachers, student teachers need experience in the work environment, in other words, schools and classrooms. Experience in the work environment is referred to as Work Integrated Learning (WIL). WIL is therefore essential in teacher education and forms part of the programme. This study explored Grade R student teachers’ experiences of WIL during their second year of study towards a Diploma in Grade R programme.
The rationale for this study was to provide strategies to strengthen WIL in teacher education programmes, as well as to determine student teachers’ ability to put mathematical knowledge into practice. The implementation of quality WIL enables student teachers to integrate theory into practice and obtain meaningful and problem-based experiences in the classroom (Du Plessis, 2011). This study was therefore underpinned by the situated learning theory from Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991), which focused on teaching knowledge and skills in authentic situations. The primary research question for this study was as follows: What is the impact of Work Integrated Learning on Grade R student teachers? The following secondary questions were stated to answer the primary research question:
How do Grade R student teachers experience WIL?
How do student teachers apply their mathematical content knowledge to practice?
How can student teachers be supported to strengthen teaching and learning through their WIL experiences? This study was guided by an interpretivist paradigm and used a case study methodology. Non-probable purposeful sampling was used to identify student teachers as participants for this study. Data were collected from Grade R student teachers by using semi-structured interviews, observations and document analysis to allow the researcher to obtain rich descriptive information of their WIL experiences.
Grade R student teachers provided their own positive and negative experiences associated with their WIL practice. These experiences included the support they received from the mentor teachers, schools and university assessors. Student teachers’ experiences were highlighted by comparing their first WIL practice in year one and their second WIL practice in year two, as well as the role of context on their teaching and learning experiences during WIL. The student teachers provided recommendations on aspects where they needed more support in order to improve their teaching and learning during WIL. From these recommendations, teacher education institutions, mentor teachers, as well as assessors, should be able to reinforce strategies to strengthen student teachers’ WIL experiences and their ability to put mathematical theory into a situated classroom context.