|The Effectiveness of Teacher Resource Centre Strategy - Education research paper No. 34 (DFID, 1999, 257 p.)|
|CHAPTER SIX : Teacher Resource Centres in Nepal|
4.1 Searching for explanations
Why is it that the work of teacher centres in Nepal appear to be making so little impact on schools and classrooms? There are many possible reasons for this lack of transfer of pedagogical messages and resources from TRCs to the schools and classrooms we visited. They may be deep within the cultural milieu that surrounds education and social relationships in Nepal. Perhaps the views of child development and how learning takes place clashes too dramatically with western constructivist philosophies of learning and teaching. What do 'child-centred' and 'active learning' mean? Perhaps teachers are overwhelmingly concerned with feeding their families on a teacher's wage in the face of rising costs of living and expectations. Recognising that these are serious concerns which form the backdrop of any analysis of the situation, the job of this study, nevertheless, is to consider professional education and technical matters.
In regard to professional and technical matters we would suggest that both teacher centre programmes in Nepal (SEDUs and RCs) are based on the assumption that the individual teacher, not the school is the unit to be targeted for change and improvement in the quality of learning. The assumption is that training one teacher to teach their classes better will positively influence teaching and learning across the school. This, we feel, is a flawed assumption. In Nepal there are two fundamental and intimately related reasons why we believe this is so:
· On the side of schools - there is neither a management structure nor a positive professional ambiance in schools for the improvement of curriculum and instruction via teacher colleagues returning from SEDU courses.
· On the side of teachers' centres - the topic of 're-entry' to one's school, including managing teaching and learning target subjects across the school, is given too little practical consideration in in-service courses.
In regard to schools, particularly in secondary schools but also in larger primary schools, there is no management structure for planning and implementing the curriculum across the school. Curriculum planning is confined to whatever individual teachers decide to do in their classes without reference to other teachers or class levels in the subjects they teach. The textbook is the sole curriculum guide.
Many of the schools we visited have classes 1-10. There is a head teacher and a deputy head. There is no one with particular responsibility to oversee the primary section, or the lower secondary section or the higher secondary section.
More to the point of this study only one of the 14 state secondary schools we visited had subject based departments, and it had only three departments - science, computer studies and examinations. Staffing arrangements do not include heads of departments or subject co-ordinators. On the whole there does not appear to be a management plan for the delivery of mathematics, or Nepali or science or English or social studies curricula across the school. Science is particularly obvious in this regard as it takes careful planning of the timetable and room bookings to do any sort of practical work when classes are large and where space and materials are limited. But other subjects, too, have their management requirements and needs for systematic planning over the school term if more active learning approaches are to be realised.
In regard to SEDU and RC programme there is little on courses to do with how teachers can involve their colleagues in considering the messages and resources brought back from TRC courses.
A particular incident in the staff room of a 1-10 'secondary school' illustrates the 're-entry problem. A teacher who had recently returned from a one month SEDU mathematics course for lower secondary which focused entirely on classes 6 and 7 mathematics was not teaching these classes at all. He was teaching class 8 maths and above. The head teacher said that there is no particular reason for this, but that is just the way the timetable worked out. We suspect, however, although we did not pursue the matter, that the trained maths teacher was assigned to teach class 8 because there are district level exams at class 8, that the person having the most recent training, regardless of its focus, would be the teacher most likely to do the best job of preparing students for the exam. (It is important to note that courses touch very little on examination preparation, a topic that is closest to the heart of all teachers.)
During this discussion another mathematics teacher who teaches classes 6 and 7, and who had not been on a SEDU course, started to complain that the class 8 teacher had not shared anything of the SEDU course with him or any other maths teachers in the school. This caused quite a stir as the blow up took place at lunch time with all staff in attendance. The teacher who was on the course said, "I was on the course to learn to teach children, not teachers." To this teacher at least the in-service training course he attended was for him, and him alone. During a lull in the argument, we asked the head teacher if the topic of how the school can benefit from those returning from courses was considered at the 3 day Head Teachers' Management course which he recently attended at the SEDU. He said that it was mentioned but only in terms of the need to consider it. Developing a management plan to do so was not considered.
Another major problem is that teachers have to do a lot of 'restructuring' of the content they engage at in-service training courses in order to use the methods and materials in their classes. One teacher who had been on a SEDU science course, for example, said that he could not do the activities they did on the course in his own classes, "... because the sessions on the course were 90 minutes and the teaching periods in school were 45 minutes." While on the surface this may seem a rather lame excuse for not doing practical work, it reflects the difficulty teachers have in restructuring what they have done on a course for their own teaching situation. He went on to say that practical work on the course was done with only 26 or so fellow trainees, but he has classes of 50 and above. He said that he thoroughly enjoyed the course but mentioned the advantages of space, tables and teaching assistants at SEDUs which he could not replicate at his school. While courses never suggest that teachers can replicate in their classrooms the exact methods used in training, it does suggests that teachers need instruction, and indeed practice, beyond the one practice session they now do as part of current courses. Also, there needs to be more about planning and managing the teaching of a subject over a period of a unit, a term, a year.
The selection of teachers for training on both SEDU and RC courses is very possibly another cause of the lack of transfer of new teaching methods and materials from courses to schools and classrooms. Priority for training is given to untrained teachers for the purpose of up-grading. Senior teachers, those having been trained many years ago, are not selected for courses. Many teachers, headteachers, trainers and SMTs and RPs, as well, expressed the view that was succinctly put by a senior English teacher who had his BEd and an MA in English. He said that he has not gone to the SEDU English course, "... because it is for untrained teachers who are young and inexperienced."
The point, here, is that these courses, which have only recently come on stream within the last 3 years or so, are innovative. They emphasize a more active approach to teaching and learning in classrooms. Senior teachers back at schools are hardly likely to be open to new messages brought back by 'trainee' teachers.
We put this point to a meeting we had with an SMT and a head teacher, himself a science trainer. They agreed that little transfer takes place. So, we offered them the idea of having all same subject teachers in the school, from both junior and secondary levels, do at least some aspects of this new training together. They both immediately said, "But, that would not be possible, the content is so different!", meaning the content (of the same subject) for junior secondary teachers would be fundamentally different from the content for secondary teachers. We replied that we thought the focus of courses was on subject pedagogy, curriculum implementation and the improvement of teaching and learning the subject across the school. They politely nodded, holding the more important knowledge to themselves that in the end it is subject knowledge, presented as discrete facts, as confirmed by the factual, recall style of examinations, that is important. The conceptual themes and skills running through a discipline and more active, thoughtful approaches to handling information, which is the focus of much of the work at TRC courses are not really that important.
Curriculum is in textbooks. Following it together with preparing examinations based strictly on the text is curriculum management. There appears to be little consideration of subject content or methods of teaching and learning between one year and the next. We did, however, encounter an example of where curriculum planning is beginning to take form.
During a discussion about curriculum planning with the headteacher of a very large urban secondary school, he produced an outline of a curriculum plan developed by the 'Municipality Level Examination Committee'. This was the closest thing we had seen to any such planning at all. It was an outline of a year's scheme of work. Chapters from relevant textbooks were divided into 3 'terminal exam' columns with statements of knowledge content objectives under each set of chapters. This was impressive indeed. But, the local SEDU had no part in the development of the plan. Indeed, this was the first time the SMT and the VSO, working in the SEDU for the last 8 months, had seen it. It must be point out that this headteacher is the chairman of this SEDU's management committee and he sits on its co-ordination committee as well. It is difficult not to conclude that this SEDU, at least, is not seen as having a role in local education affairs. Rather, it is viewed solely as a venue for in-service training courses, a role which does not extend beyond the training of individual teachers.
Selecting untrained teachers and pulling them out of their schools to attend courses at teacher centres does not, we think, contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning in schools. Indeed, it may even acerbate the problem. It certainly adds significantly to the teacher absentee problem.
4.2 Follow-up from Teachers' Centres to Schools
The most obvious strategy for aiding the transfer of ideas from teachers centres to classrooms is for trainers to follow trainees back to their schools and support them in implementing new content and methods. And, to the credit of both teacher centre programme plans for 'follow-up' had been incorporated into their designs right from the start. In the Secondary Education Development Project, SMTs and their temporary associate trainers, themselves full time teachers in schools, are suppose to visit trainees in their classrooms. They are supposed to be paid to do this supervisory work on a per visit basis. Guidelines and schedules are drawn up. The problem is that it just does not happen to any significant degree. In a separate study it was found that of 33 trainees receiving the 10 month course at a particular SEDU, a course which included 6 months of 'practice teaching' to include a series of visitations by senior teachers, none of trainee teachers had been visited.
There are several reasons for this. The sheer numbers of schools and trainees to visit and the related problems of transport and accommodation, in themselves, make follow-up an almost impossible task. But we found two other factors that mitigate against successful follow-up in schools. The first has to do with the assumption, mentioned above, about training individual teachers leading to quality improvement in schools. The intended plan for follow-up in both programme calls for SMTs and RCs, and their associate trainers and supervisors from district education offices, to be 'observers'. Trainers are supposed to sit-in on classes of individual teachers who have been on in-service training courses, to check their lesson plans, observe teaching, give feed-back on the lesson and file reports on their performance. Planning forward and developing schemes of work rarely feature in supervisor's style of working with teachers.
Such supervisory practice does not bring in other teachers who teach the same subject. It takes the focus away from a consideration of the subject across the school. The idea obviously has been extended over from the practice teaching component of pre-service teacher training programmes where quality improvement of a school as a whole is not the objective.
A second concern in regard to follow-up in schools has to do with the perceptions of headteachers and senior teachers about their role as curriculum leaders in their schools. The following episode helps to illustrate the point. The headteacher of a class 1-10 secondary school, himself an English teacher and SEDU English trainer, taught a demonstration lesson for us. He had never taught this group of class 8's before.
There are around 40 students in the class. The headteacher does oral English, and he is absolutely brilliant. He uses all the techniques - group response, paired response, correcting and repeating, getting almost all students across the class participating. This is doubly impressive because it is obvious that the students have not done such work before, and the headteacher has to instruct them in how to do every drill. He even linked the oral work with having students do a written exercise based on the language patterns he taught. The exercise was not from the textbook.
After this lesson we congratulated him on this marvelous exhibition of teaching. He said that these are the methods that are taught on SEDU English courses. We asked him if his teachers teach English in this way. He said, "No, because there is no follow-up to the courses. No one comes to observe or supervise the teachers." My research colleagues and I, as we later conferred, were absolutely stunned by this response. We were too embarrassed to ask him the obvious question, 'Why don't you do it?' It just did not occur to him that he, as a SEDU English trainer, and, of course, the headteacher of the school, should be involved in supervising his teachers teaching.
Another small episode illustrates a similar feeling in primary schools. We had just sat in on a lesson of a primary teacher who had recently completed the 150 hours course at the RC. In discussions that followed with the teacher and the head we asked him if he or any of the senior teachers at the school observe 'new teachers'. He said that they did not, that they would rather wait for the new teacher to ask them for help if they feel they have a problem.
These are not isolated cases. The teaching and conditions for learning at the primary and secondary schools, located on the same compound as the teacher centre, whose headteachers sit as chairpersons of teacher centre management committees and whose staff frequently include senior teachers acting as temporary in-service training trainers, are indistinguishable from any other more distant schools.