News from the South: WERA 2018 and International PhD-Programs in Teacher Education – Mutual development and exchange of ideas

Christian Kraler and Maiko Stuerz (University of Innsbruck) from the European Doctorate in Teacher Education (EDiTE) and Irma Eloff (University of Pretoria) from the African Doctoral Network in Teacher Education (DNTEA) presented a paper on strategies, ideas and findings on international PhD programs in Teacher Education at the WERA 2018 conference. The World Education Research Association conference “Reimaging Worldwide Education Research” took place between the 3rd and 5th of August in Cape Town, South Africa.

The presentation “International Doctorate in Teacher education. Lessons learned and considerations for the future” was an outcome of an ongoing and expanding collaboration between Prof Dr Irma Eloff from the University of Pretoria and the Department of Teacher Education and School Research, University of Innsbruck. Prof Eloff visited Innsbruck in May 2017 and was guest professor at the department during summer term 2018. Irma Eloff is Deputy-chair of the Council of the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (South African Academy of Arts & Sciences). She serves on the UNESCO International Task Team for Teacher Education and is founding member and lead facilitator of the continental African Deans of Education Forum (ADEF) and. The ADEF is currently planning the African Doctoral Network in Teacher Education (DNTEA). Its aim is to generate knowledge in teacher education to support Global Goal #4 (SDG4) and to leverage the potential of doctoral networks for indigenous knowledge creation in Africa, by African scholars. The DNTEA will have a strong focus in and on Africa, whilst taking a globally connected approach.

At the WERA Conference Prof Eloff, Christian Kraler and Maiko Stuerz presented ideas based upon (1) the ongoing research collaboration between Pretoria and Innsbruck and (2) experiences drawn from EDiTE and the planned DNTEA project. The need of international continental based PhD programs in teacher education derives from the idea to see school as a societal subsystem that mirrors society in its substantial structure in a self-similar way. In a world of globalisation, acceleration, economization, diversification, pluralisation and strong movements of political ideas, people and goods ““The importance of the role of the teacher as an agent of change, promoting understanding and tolerance, has never been more obvious than today. It is likely to become even more critical in the twenty-first century. The need for change […] places enormous responsibilities on teachers.” (Delores 1998, p. 141f). PhD-programs like EDiTE and DNTEA explore and research these issues with a strong emphasis on dissemination and the implementation of ideas.

Main aspects of the presentation and lively discussions where:

  • (Importance of a theoretical framework) International PhD programs in teacher education with focus on fundamental principles facilitate frameworks that foster collaboration between different learning, teaching and research cultures (eg. in EDiTE: Transformative Teacher Learning for Better Student Learning within an Emerging European Context or in DNTEA: UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all).
  • Despite of mostly short term funding policies, the alignment with long-term continental strategies support sustainability (human resources, curricula, implementation of ideas) and the building of institutional networks (that might change after a first project phase).
  • International programs in Teacher Education face multiple (partially contradictory) national and institutional regulations (especially because of usually extensive and complex national bureaucracy-driven regulations in the field of formal education).
  • Even within an international and inter-institutional program, sometimes problems (legal, technical, administrative issues) are more likely to be solved bilaterally than with a project wide approach.
  • The value of institutionalised, well-prepared and planned direct personal interaction of all project members can never be underestimated.
  • Supervision and Co-supervision shared between supervisors from different countries and institutions might lead to challenges but foster mutual understanding and enrich the PhD candidates’ academic experiences in the end.
  • Content or subgroup specific social media and platforms foster continuity in communication and the constant exchange of ideas. They are an important pillar of self-organisation.
  • A feasible period for an international PhD would be 4-6 years (including planning process).
  • One crucial factor for success and sustainable effects is creating strong networks on different levels of an international PhD project (project network, PhD-students network, supervisor-network, local project management network) supported by adequate software solutions. Keeping them alive is worth the effort and needs systematic planning.
  • At least some aspects of the project should be implemented funding independent to ensure continuity in times without project specific financial support.
  • A content wise focused program with an overall goal (compatible with strategies of international organizations or institutions) lifts conceptualizations of teacher education and teacher identities beyond the national level.

One of the most motivating aspects to experience was that the collaboration between members from EDiTE and DNTEA serves as a problem solving machine and idea generator. The different cultural and structural backgrounds of the two programs enrich the discussion and give hints to future directions.


Left to right: Christian Kraler (Austria) and Maiko Stürz (Austria) from EDiTE, Therese Tchombe (Cameroon), Irma Eloff (South Africa) and Alois Chiromo (Zimbabwe) from DNTEA