|The Effectiveness of Teacher Resource Centre Strategy - Education research paper No. 34 (DFID, 1999, 257 p.)|
|CHAPTER SIX : Teacher Resource Centres in Nepal|
3.1 Teaching In SEDUs and RCs
Sitting in on training sessions at SEDUs and RCs you could be excused for believing you were in similar in-service training courses in the UK. You would likely be comfortable with the instructional styles demonstrated here. There is some lecturing, of course, but much of the time is given to small group work. Teachers are huddled together discussing an exercise in their training workbooks; they are playing with hands-on materials; they are designing charts and 'improvised' teaching aids. Presentations and discussions feature prominently in plenary feedback sessions. And, on longer courses, such as the 150 hours basic training for primary teachers and one month subject specific courses in science, maths and languages for lower secondary teachers, participants observe demonstrations and trial sample lesson plans in live classrooms, if not always given sufficient time.
"Inside TRC courses where active, participative methods are very frequently used"
In-service training courses are well planned and supported with resource materials. There are detailed training manuals prepared centrally in Kathmandu, and trainers are trained in how to use them. For the most part teachers and trainers appear to be having a good time, professionally and socially. In our interviews with teachers they all say how much they like being on these courses. One teacher's comments about her RC is very representative:
"It (RC) is a nice building. There is a chance to talk with other teachers. The new teaching methods are interesting."
Approaches to English Language Teaching on aSEDU Course
What brings us starkly back from our musings of how similar in-service training programmes are around the world are lingering images of our visits to schools. The contrast between teaching methods and conditions for learning at SEDUs and RCs and the teaching methods and the conditions for learning in schools is like night and day.
3.2 Teaching in Schools
We must consider first the context within which teaching takes place. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Although there are a few good looking school buildings, several newly constructed, the great majority are quite basic. Most of the classrooms we visited are stuffed with long benches and matching long thin, communal desks which are frequently broken and not adequate for the numbers of students. Schools are poorly resourced, primary schools considerably more so than the average secondary school. There are very few teaching aids and learning materials. There is no provision for supplementary materials of any kind and libraries, either school or classroom, are practically unknown. It is extremely rare to find anything on classroom walls other than the blackboard, most commonly a dull shade of dusty grey, pitted, resistant to chalk. As an attractive teaching and learning environment most government schools in Nepal, whether secondary or primary, are very unattractive, at least to the western observer. Indeed, it is only the faces of children that brighten most classrooms.
"Classrooms in primary secondary schools. Some schools have better facilities and some worse than these"
3.2.1 In regards to teaching
Rather than give a detailed report of each lesson we observed, it might be best to give a description of a typical lesson. While we did see some good teaching, for the most part there was depressingly little variation among the primary and secondary classes we observed.
The scene was virtually the same in every class - absolutely nothing on the bare walls, students crammed onto immovable desk/bench furniture (commonly 50 and above students in secondary classes, although somewhat less at the primary level); the relevant textbook, perched on students' stack of other texts and copy books, opened to the given page of the day, eyes front and centre. Not a copy book was opened for students to take notes, to write an answer to a question or problem.
"The textbook is the chief resource for both teacher and learner."
The teacher, too, had his copy of the student text, lecturing from it for long periods of time, occasionally moving to the blackboard to reiterate a section of text or to draw an exact diagram from the book. Occasionally s/he asked a question from which s/he expected and got a chorus answer, repeated several times. Once-in-awhile, individual students were asked to stand and recite, but rarely by name. (We checked and found that few teachers knew the names of their students.) Very occasionally, and invariably in the schools which had advance warning of our coming, the science teacher had sent children out to get some piece of equipment or plant to illustrate the lecture. The 'visual aid' was usually a three dimensional version of the example in the textbook.
Courageously one teacher tried to do the collapsing tin due to air pressure demonstration, but it did not work as the tins the children brought were very small and fell through the grid of the kerosene cooker. Obviously this demonstration with this apparatus had not been tried before. There were no questions to illicit the observations of students. Neither was the class encouraged to ask a question. In a few classes, mainly in maths and science, the teacher had a child do a problem on the board - other students simply watching, not having been instructed to try the problem themselves in their copy books.
The lesson closes with the teacher giving homework which either consisted of having the children copy sections of the text into their copy books or responding to questions which required copying sections of the texts into their copy books. ('Copy books' are aptly named. Students transfer neatly what they copy in their copy books into their exercise books as homework.) We looked at the children's exercise books and, in the main, found scarce evidence of them ever having been marked. But, then, why mark books that contain little more than copied texts? We acknowledge that it is too much to expect teachers to frequently mark so many books. But there was no evidence to suggest that exercises or problems were given as homework and that methods for going over them in class and arranging students to check each others answers were employed.
· Class 4 - English on the topic 'her and his'. The teacher has almost all of the 61 children working in a variety of ways. Her own blackboard work is great. She has a couple of pictures of a boy and a girl which she obviously drew herself on pieces of cardboard, and she uses them as puppets talking to one another. She does whole class choral response, but group and individual response as well. She has several pupils come to the board to write a pattern, and amazingly has the rest of the pupils doing the exercise at the same time in their exercise books. After the board work she gives them more written work, and she moves about the class checking it. She even asks the children to "Make one question?" following the pattern she has set on the board. She had obviously planned the lesson and used something more than just the textbook. She knew the children's names. (The teacher said she got many of her ideas and techniques from the 150 hour course she did at the local RC. Before that she was an untrained teacher.)
Comment: By any standard these 2 lessons, these 2 teachers were impressive. It points out how much of the content of RC and SEDU courses is relevant to classroom practice. We keep asking ourselves, why, oh why is so little of it transferring back to classroom teaching and learning?
"Using ideas picked up from TRC courses."
3.2.2 In regard to resources
One of the most 'traceable' resources is science equipment. SEDUs in particular are distribution centres for getting science equipment to schools. Much of it is used by teachers in practical sessions on science in-service training courses at the SEDUs. Much of this equipment and apparatus can also be found in schools, in 'prep rooms', locked in cupboards. And, when you can find the key and open the rusted doors typically there are shelves packed with broken, some workable, completely unorganised apparatus. The dust and grime is thick. In a school that houses a SEDU and where the senior science teacher is a trainer on SEDU science courses there were 2 boxes full of scores of little plastic bottles containing a liquid. He did not know what they were. A set of teachers' guides sat in their plastic wrapping unopened. A globe was still in its plastic wrapping. In another school the science equipment distributed by the SEDU and observed in their boxes by one of our researchers in a previous visit some 4 months ago was still unpacked. This was by far the most common situation we encountered in all the schools we visited.
Besides science equipment there are maths materials and teacher made charts and posters that feature in TRC in-service training courses, and should be traceable to classrooms. We saw very few being used or any evidence from looking back through students' exercise books that they had been used. There were some charts, mostly commercially produced, in staff rooms, scattered about and full of dust. In only a very few lessons did we see any use of material resources. Primary teachers returning from courses are given a white, cloth pocket chart intended to be used for holding 'flash cards' of words and numbers. Several teachers brought these with them to the lessons we observed. They dutifully hung the pocket chart on the front wall by the blackboard, but only one teacher out of the 8 who brought them to the classes we observed actually used it. All the pocket charts were very white, unsoiled by use.
To sum up all we can say is that there is extremely little observable evidence of the transfer of pedagogical messages or resources from SEDUs and RCs to the schools, classrooms, lessons and students' exercise books we visited, either in the way teachers teach, or in the way students are learning, or in the improvement of the general conditions for learning in schools. We saw very traditional teaching, indeed, and little active learning except students memorizing the text.
We must remind ourselves, at this point, that our judgment of the teaching and learning we saw in schools is not based on some external criteria of what is 'good practice' and 'active learning'. Indeed, we feel that chorusing answers, copying notes and memorizing are perfectly legitimate active learning practices - applied in moderation and together with other mind stretching activities as well.
Our assessment of teaching and learning is based on the messages that are being put forward in in-service training courses at SEDUs and RCs, such as students doing paired oral drills, drawing pictures in response to a poem, teachers and/or students using small pan-balances in maths classes, teachers and/or students doing a science investigation, all of which teachers had done at their teacher centres. Of these, we saw very, very few in practice or evidence of them having been happening by consulting pupils' exercise books.