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Before WSoE: The history of JCE

In 2001, the Johannesburg College of Education was incorporated into Wits University but the College had been involved in the preparation of teachers since shortly after the turn of the last century and its relationship with Wits University dates back almost a hundred years.

As the Johannesburg Normal College, it was opened in 1909 with an enrolment of just 67 students and a lecturing staff of 3, using 4 rooms in a downtown building in Eloff Street. From its early years, growth of the College was quite rapid. Increasing numbers required re-location of teaching venues to Plein Square, also in the city, and (much later) to Hoofd Street in Braamfontein. In 1936 the institution changed its name, to the Johannesburg Teachers College, and again, in the 1940s, to the Johannesburg College of Education.

The relationship between JCE and Wits University has been a long-standing one. In 1919 an agreement was reached whereby students of the College would attend academic courses at the recently formed University College of Johannesburg (now Wits University). Furthermore, the first Principal of the College, Reith Macgregor, was appointed the first Professor of Education of the University College. In the 1920s and 30s, there were a number of calls for the relationship to become even closer. In 1933, for example, the eminent Wits scholar Prof R Hoernle – referring to the cordial relations that existed between the two institutions – stated that Wits ‘would like nothing better than to see the College become an integral part of the University’. From the perspective of national education policy, the idea was far ahead of its time. In was only in 1996 that the release of the White Paper on Higher Education legislated the incorporation of colleges of education into universities.

From its early years, a feature of tuition at the College was the close integration of formal studies with practical school experience. This ensured that teaching theory was always fully informed by classroom praxis, an approach that continues to characterise initial teacher education at the Wits School of Education. Under the leadership of, successively, Professors Reith Macgregor, Thomas Williams, Reginald Lighton, Conrad Linder, Harold Holmes and Napier Boyce, new approaches to teacher education were developed and new programmes were introduced to make the best use in the field of the combined expertise of Wits and JCE.

Prof Conrad Linder decided in 1962 that a new enlarged campus was sorely needed. Long negotiations with the Provincial Government, ably facilitated by Dr Mary McLarty, resulted in the securing of a site in Parktown – the site now of the Wits School of Education. Negotiations were long and complicated: by 1968 the property had been expropriated; JCE officially moved to the campus in 1978; and building continued into the 1980s.

Through the decades, JCE and Wits continued – as far as national and provincial education policy allowed – to forge ever closer links. The final few decades of the life of JCE were interspersed with many challenges. Increasingly, efforts to maintain sound liberal teacher education came up against intellectually repressive apartheid regulations. At Union in 1910, white education including teacher training, had been a Transvaal provincial competence and this racial demographic was maintained and indeed reinforced during the apartheid years. Attempts by the College (strongly supported by Wits) to open its courses to students of all races were stubbornly resisted by the authorities.

What the relationship with Wits University did, once JCE began to offer a Bachelor of Primary Education degree to Wits students, was to gradually create a crack in the whites-only façade.

 

By the early 80s, although the College students remained all white, the B.Prim.Ed students came from all races. These demographics would continue to change steadily with the demise of apartheid.

In 1991 JCE underwent complex amalgamation with the former Pretoria College of Education. From 1996, severe rationalization of the colleges sector placed the future of the College under a cloud, and the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty tested morale to the limit. That JCE managed to maintain its purpose, spirit and excellence of service during this unsettling period is a tribute to the Rectorates of Professors Napier Boyce, Rod Conacher and - for the last 13 especially fraught years - Graham Hall. After 1999, the gradual decline in student enrolment was reversed, and the number of new students increased substantially. For the teaching profession, this was encouraging since a dramatic rise in the output of qualified teachers was urgently needed to meet the demands of the ensuing years.

Legally and administratively, the incorporation of JCE with Wits was completed in 2001. Specifically, the Johannesburg College of Education and the Wits School of Education to form the Wits School of Education. The Wits Education Campus is ideally equipped to provide quality tuition to thousands of students.

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