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close this bookThe Education for All Teacher-Training Package - Volume 1 (UNDP - UNESCO, 1995, 162 p.)
close this folderTopic 3 - Focusing on Learning
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Figure

(UNESCO/A. Jonquis)

Introduction

This topic looks at the reason why 'focusing on learning' is a key aspect of the expanded vision of the Education for All enterprise. It will review important factors that affect learning and identify effective ways of assessing learning. This unit will also address the issue of 'quality education', identifying what is meant by quality education as well as examining ways of ensuring its delivery. It will also focus on developing the creative, spiritual and aesthetic potential of children, areas which are not so easily measured.

The provision of more education may simply result in increased enrolments and do little or nothing to increase sustainable learning outcomes. Focusing on learning is important to the EFA enterprise because expanded educational opportunities will lead to meaningful development for an individual or society only if people actually learn as a consequence of these activities. Enrolment does not mean that learning is taking place. It is, therefore, important that particular attention be paid to learning: the process of learning -the key factors involved in it; as well as the assessment of learning. Learning achievement needs to be assessed without incurring the all too common disadvantages of an examination-driven system.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this topic you will have:

understood the reasons why 'focusing on learning' is so central to the Education for All enterprise;

reflected on the meaning of 'quality education' in the context of meeting basic learning needs;

reviewed some of the key factors that influence learning;

considered the importance for teachers of being aware of and understanding the different factors involved in effective learning, effective communication between teacher and pupil, the content of what is taught, the methods used, and the values, attitudes, reasoning ability and skills acquired by pupils;

identified effective ways of assessing learning achievement.

Learning-a lifelong process

Learning is a continuous process.1 What was learned yesterday may not be adequate for today it may even be no longer correct. Almost everywhere, cooking used to be done over a wood or coal fire. Now people are increasingly using piped or bottled gas or electricity and even without consciously realizing it they have been learning new ways of doing things.

1. The section on learning to learn is adapted from material in 'Open Schooling' National Open School, New Delhi, India.

Some 'learning' is in fact only a process of memorizing; being able to recite a poem does not necessarily mean appreciating the meaning of the words. In the same way, a very young child who is able to repeat a multiplication table is not yet likely to understand the processes of simple arithmetic.

This elementary process of acquiring information is but a first step. Reciting the letters of the alphabet is not sufficient in itself Reading involves the ability to differentiate between them and see them as words. Understanding a poem means not just repeating the words but also being able to explain them in one's own language.

Knowledge of the rules of arithmetic is information; it is there to be used in everyday life, in buying and selling in the shop or the market. In fact, learning is much more than just memorizing. It means understanding what is memorized and relating it to actual situations. It means applying what has been memorized; it means using it to analyse situations in order to understand them better.

All this involves learning to learn.

Everyone starts with some knowledge and experience, acquired perhaps through schooling and most certainly through listening to, and talking with, other people.

Learning to learn better and faster can be a matter of having a recognized goal or goals to be reached. Before setting out to reach an unknown destination it will be wise to plan ahead, to ask others the way, look up maps, work out the time it will take...

Integrating new and existing knowledge

Acquiring new information, which everyone does every day, does not automatically add to existing learning and understanding. Just as a variety of vegetables are chopped, ground and slowly blended together by the cook to make a delicious dish, so new information needs to be blended with existing knowledge, understanding and experience. This is a matter of reading, listening, reflecting, questioning and self-questioning, and of consciously seeking links between old and new sets of information.

In brief, learning to learn means moving on from the basic acquisition of new information. It means reading, listening and observing; it means thinking and reflecting about how it can be related usefully and effectively to what is already known and understood, and how it can be applied to reach new goals.

Active learning

When a child comes to school, he or she, even when very young, has ideas about the world around, and these ideas play an important part in the learning experience. The notion of learning as leading to changes in ideas, rather than as a process of putting in place new ideas without considering what is already there, has important implications for how we go about the task of helping learning to take place. If we attach value to the notion of children 'owning' their ideas - that is, working them out and changing them for themselves, and so learning with understanding, then it becomes important for teachers to provide opportunities for these changes to take place in a way that gives each child this ownership. Learning for understanding requires more than the transmission of knowledge. It requires the development of learning skills and the cultivation of attitudes that have an ethical basis and are conducive to learning. In other words, the learners need to be actively involved in the learning process. The task of the teacher, therefore, is to plan lessons and to teach in ways that will encourage pupils to become active and enthusiastic partners. Teaching strategies, activities and materials should be designed and used to encourage pupils to think for themselves. The methods by which pupils are assessed are also an integral part of learning for understanding.

Quality education

When we think of quality education we think of education that will lead students to accomplish a number of things.

Activity 3.1


In small groups, share your definition of quality education with particular reference to institutions in your country which you feel have achieved this level of education. List the factors which you think are reflective of quality of education. Compare your list with the following list.

Some of the factors which contribute to quality education include students learning how to:

· learn;
· think creatively;
· solve problems;
· reason abstractly;

while also gaining sound basic literacy and numeracy skills, and a level of technical organizational skills. Quality education also includes the acquisition of values and attitudes.

Rating excellence

Excellence, though readily recognized, is difficult to quantify and to measure, because testing for excellence is subjective as well as objective. One of the major means of assessing the performance of education institutions has been through the performance of students in tests. However, while students' performances can be objectively tested, test results do not always reflect the effectiveness of the institutions themselves. Moreover, the standard of excellence cannot be determined only on the basis of test scores; the affective area of the curriculum is equally important. Institutions that produce students who have excellent test scores but are poor in work attitudes and have questionable value systems cannot be said to be effective schools. In assessing the quality of institutions, account must be taken of the affective as well as the cognitive areas. The role of the teacher in promoting excellence is of paramount importance. Like students' performance, the teachers' performance cannot easily be rated effectively, especially performance at the level of excellence.

Factors which influence learning

Activity 3.2


Self-reflection. Reflection on what has influenced your learning. List factors or events which have influenced your learning in a positive way, and in a negative way. Now form small groups and exchange lists with your colleagues. Share your stories/experiences which illustrate these factors. Identify common factors.

Your list may have included the following:

· the learning environment - the school building, the classroom and its resources, the community;

· the teachers and their methods of teaching;

· the curriculum;

· learning materials;

· instructional time;

· your own ability and readiness to learn.

All these factors play an important part. The new thrust in technology, however, demands certain priorities. There has to be greater emphasis on communication skills. The need to relate classroom practices and theory to real-life situations is also increasing. Pupils have to be taught how to transfer knowledge gained in classrooms to the world of work. Teachers also have to help students develop creative, analytical and planning skills, as well as problem-solving techniques, since more of these skills are required today. To do this, teachers have to understand how children learn. It is also essential for them to give children a sense of success and the feeling that they can go on learning new things.

Activity 3.3

Individual Activity

Illustrate or describe two different teaching styles. You may wish to consider one of this its teacher-centred and one that is student-centred. List under each what can be effectively achieved. Consider which of the two styles will allow for greater emphasis on ‘process-learning’ ,i.e. an approach requires the active participation of the learners; they seek their own information, they formulate questions, they devise strategies for achieving their goals. Write a recommendation for a ‘role-model’ teacher: Underline his or her key qualities. Now check whether these include a teacher who:

· understands how children learn, and who can help them progressively and at a pace appropriate to their development, while taking into account individual differences;

· lets pupils know what is expected of them;

· provides pupils with opportunities to practise and apply what they have learned, particularly in relation to their own experience; and helps them develop creative and analytical thinking skills;

· monitors and evaluates pupils’ performance in such a way that pupils can learn from their own mistakes;

· helps pupils develop independent learning skills.

Teachers not only need to be properly trained and qualified, they also need to have a positive attitude to their work and their students. Many of the important values of society - respect and tolerance for others, for example, have to be transmitted by them to their pupils. Caring for children - though not measurable, is another essential quality that teachers need to possess. This is often what makes the difference between a mediocre teacher and a good teacher. Read this definition of a good teacher by Noelle, a student:

A good teacher is one who helps build a student's character, not destroy it. A good teacher is someone who takes time to find out the problems facing students which interfere with their performance.

Low salaries and poor working conditions have a negative impact on the status and role of teachers in the community. Our modern society, unfortunately, too often confers respect and status on individuals in proportion to their wealth and subsequent power, and tends, therefore, to pay too little regard to its teachers. The result of all this has been a general decline in the quality of teachers. Some of the better teachers have been forced to leave for better-paid jobs and some who have remained have low morale and little self-respect. This in turn results in these teachers having little respect for education and for their students. The Joint ILO/UNESCO Recommendation for 1988 has acknowledged this:

If education does not command the respect and support of the entire community, teachers will not command that respect and support.... The converse is also evident; as teachers are regarded, so are education and the schools. Respect for teachers engenders respect for the function they perform.

It has also been suggested that greater emphasis on the ethical dimensions of the teaching profession might help enhance its image. If teachers, like other professionals, had to take an oath regarding their work and moral standards they might gain more respect from society.

Activity 3.4


Individual Activity

Go through Reading 3.1, New Roles for Teachers. Reflect on this case-study of teachers’ role in Indonesia and indicate how such an approach encourages appropriate teaching methods as well as buildings teachers’ esteem. What similar contributions could you make in your school?

Comment

Of particular importance is the teachers' work with the community. This approach needs to be used in more schools as it is clearly one way of bridging the gap between school and community, and making learning more effective. Curricula can also be designed to address specific situations in the community. In one African country, teachers and villagers in a rural community, involved in a project set up by UNDP and UNESCO, devised a curriculum that emphasized the practical and self-help. As a result, strategies were developed to improve the quality and quantity of the rice crop and to develop more effective agricultural instruments. In these situations, students learn through doing, experience success and so are motivated to continue learning. They come to see learning as a lifelong, meaningful activity. The curriculum, therefore, must relate directly to practical situations in the community rather than contrived situations in the classroom. Addressing real-life situations is the key to effective learning.

Activity 3.5


Individual Activity

Give examples of how a ‘community experience’ can be used to enhance learning and to make your curriculum more relevant to the pupils.

We also need to pay attention to the scope and sequence of the curriculum. Clearly developed steps and appropriately paced instructional materials have to be included in curriculum reform. The actual instructional time is also very important. Too often actual teaching time is interrupted by national holidays, the weather and also by legitimate school business including activities such as practice for school functions and national competitions. The situation is made worse in countries in which the school year is exceptionally short. The result is that students suffer because the subject matter cannot be covered adequately in the shortened time and because this may lead to the use of unsatisfactory methods such as rote learning.

So far, we have been discussing the teachers, their methods and the curriculum. We will now look briefly at the environment for learning (see also Topic 5). The economic recession facing many developing countries seriously affects the conditions under which their children learn. Many of the children are likely to attend schools with poorly equipped buildings, a very low financial input for teaching/learning materials and a high pupil/teacher ratio. In this situation, the community can provide important support. Relations between schools and their communities can be fostered so that not only do the schools link learning to real-life situations, but the community feels an integral part of the learning process. It becomes a source of funding and also of expertise, providing 'teachers' with the practical experience of various subject areas. Respect for schools and their property can thus be encouraged (see also Topic 10).

Studies have shown that learning materials have a significant effect on students' learning. The quality of textbooks and teachers' guides is particularly important; texts need to be appropriately illustrated, factually accurate and carefully sequenced, with tests and quizzes that can help teachers assess pupils' progress. Teachers' guides which include information on what and how to teach, in addition to diagnostic tests, have been found to be most useful.

Children who come to school hungry and under-nourished have a lowered capacity for learning. Where students are unable to meet basic health requirements a school health programme is necessary. It should provide for:

· regular immunization;

· a school feeding programme;

or:

· nutrition as a topic in the curriculum;

· special health services for children who are at high risk of chronic conditions.

Focusing on health and nutrition as a topic will help to make learning more effective (see also Topic 5).

Activity 3.6


Look at your list of factors which influence learning. In small groups, design a questionnaire to find out how of this factors do, or do not, contribute to effective learning in a primary school. Discuss with your team-mates what steps need to be taken to improve the situation in your school.

Assessing learning achievement

Activity 3.7

Individual Activity

Reflect on your last school year. Think about the number and variety of ways in which you were assessed. List them. Now write a short commentary on each of them. Use the following questions to help you:

· How did you feel these assessments?

· Were they fair?

· Were you adequately prepared for them?

· Were the results used by your teacher to help you to improve your learning?

· After these tests, did you have a clearer idea of your strengths and weakness?

Now look at your reflections. Not only are final results (summative evaluation) needed, as they are often used to decide promotion from one level of the education system to another, or to the world of work, but evaluations which feed back to pupils, teachers, schools and parents what has, and has not, been learned, and why (known as formative evaluation), are also necessary. Such evaluations are diagnostic, providing information to teacher and pupils about the next stage in learning. You may also have referred to the three basic modes of assessment: classroom-based, school-based, external.

Did you write about the usefulness of assessments? Did you include that assessment is also meant to make learning more effective? Was that your experience?

How assessment can be used to make learning more effective.

For assessment to be effective it must be seen as part of the teaching/learning process. Teachers need to use assessment as a way of monitoring their pupils' progress - to find out what has been understood, what has not been, and why. Based on this information, they then plan strategies to correct the situation. They should inform individual pupils about their strengths and weaknesses, indicating clearly to them how they can improve. Teachers should also note that they will have to modify their own approach based on what their assessment of their pupils has shown. Teachers sometimes make the mistake of thinking that it is only their pupils who will need to make changes in order for improvement to take place.

Some of the basic premises upon which assessment activities should be based are:

1. They should result in increased pupil motivation.

2. They should focus on the most important topics of learning.

3. They should measure higher-order learning skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reasoning.

4. They should be appropriate to the level of difficulty of the curriculum and to the reality of the classroom.

5. They should test the cognitive, psychomotor and affective domain. They should include pupils' ability to transfer and relate knowledge to the world outside the classroom.

6. They should provide prompt, relevant and useful feedback.

Activity 3.8


Form three groups. Each should carry out one of this activities described below. Each should record its findings and report its conclusions to the group as a whole.

1. Select two assessment activities, either from a grade 5 primary textbook or from observation of a primary-school class. You may if you prefer choose a national examination. Examine these in light of the above premises.

2. Design an assessment activities, either from a grade and topic of your choice. Remember to pay particular attention to items 3, 4 and 5 of the basic premises, above. Discuss how you would use the activities to motivate your students.

3. In the Philippines, and some other countries, honesty, co-operation and other values and forms of behaviour. Are evaluated and scored. Is this so in your country?

Discuss means of evaluating affective behaviour. List items that would be included for evaluating, for example, politeness, respect for others and honesty, and state how these would be evaluated and scored.

Comment

You need to take special note that for assessment to be of significant value to learning the teacher has to pay greater attention to the use of the results. She or he has to look at why the results occurred and not just record them.

Reading

Reading 3.1. New Roles for Teachers.

As a means of improving quality in primary schools, the Ministry of Education of Indonesia, in co-operation with the Overseas Development Administration of the United Kingdom, the British Council and the University of London Institute of Education, developed the Cianjur Project, also known as Active Learning and Professional Support (ALPS). This project encompasses curriculum revision and development; strategically located practice courses; new class-room practices; a revised interpretation of supervision involving dedicated co-operation of the teacher, head-teacher and supervisor; an emphasis on active learning and greater communication of ideas among teachers. ALPS, begun in the town of Cianjur in 1980, was widely disseminated throughout Indonesia in the 1980s in both public and private schools. It is expected to expand gradually so that 70 per cent of Indonesian primary-school children will be participating in an improved activity-based education programme by the mid-1990s.

Primary schools participating in ALPS must provide children with appropriate activities to assist their learning. Special attention has been given to selecting activities and tasks which require children to think carefully, to use the available classroom resources and to learn to solve problems. Children are being encouraged to be active participants in the learning process.

Teachers play a central innovative role in the ALPS programme. They assist learning by providing opportunities for problem-solving based on real observation. Teachers are encouraged to be imaginative in providing the children with applicable problem-solving opportunities rather than relying on the once pervasive rote-memorization classroom method.

Teachers are also encouraged to use the environment as a resource for learning. Visual stimulation for the children is promoted through the use of wall decorations and table displays using articles from the local environment -plants, flowers, stones and other natural and man-made objects. Visits to ponds and rivers to study ecology and visits to historical sites to learn about the past, as well as exposure to community activities, are encouraged.

Teachers are taught to work co-operatively with the community in providing relevant activity-based educational experiences for the children. As an extension of the concept of using the environment as an educational resource, teachers are encouraged to invite community leaders, local shopkeepers, craftsmen, etc., to visit the classroom, and share their experiences and expertise with the children.

Training seminars and workshops are being provided for teachers, head-teachers and supervisors to promote new ideas and give direct experience in planning and conducting lessons based on the active learning concept.

To promote the desired sharing of ideas among teachers, five to eight schools are grouped together forming a 'club' which then meets on a regular basis. These clubs create new teaching programmes, discuss classroom problems, present innovative ideas for teaching and exchange teaching experiences.

Help and guidance for teachers are provided through Teachers' Centres, where teachers, head-teachers and supervisors hold meetings and participate in courses. Teachers' ideas and work are displayed and discussed and materials are made available for teachers to use in developing learning aids.

The ALPS programme also provides the infrastructure to give help and guidance to local authorities in planning for Indonesian primary schools through observation, monitoring and analysis of the project. Herein lies the basis for further development and refinement of the Indonesian primary-school system, based upon a strengthened innovative role for teachers within a supportive community context.

Source: ERA Monograph III.