Cover Image
close this bookPrimary Teacher Education in Malawi: Insights into Practice and Policy (CIE, 2002, 144 p.)
close this folderChapter 4: The Intended Curriculum
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1 The Intended curriculum
View the document4.2 Aims, general objectives and underlying philosophy of MIITEP
View the document4.3 Content
View the document4.4 Assessment
View the document4.5 Observations on the curriculum strategy and its coherence


The chapter offers a descriptive analysis of the intended MIITEP curriculum with particular reference to the aims, content, pedagogy, teaching/learning resources and assessment strategies. The analysis is based mainly on the five student and teacher Handbooks and associated documents. It provides a basis from which this study subsequently analyses the teacher preparation programme in action.

4.1 The Intended curriculum

Scrutiny of teacher education curriculum documents from the various programmes mounted over the last decade shows that there have not been fundamental changes in content and orientation, though length and structure have been modified. MIITEP, more than its predecessors, was designed with the intention of training teachers in new methods of teaching and learning. This was a result of FPE and the aims of the revised primary school curriculum which advocated more active and participatory learning methods. Two strands of thinking can be traced within the course which for convenience have been labelled 'traditional' and 'progressive'. Traditional approaches are teacher-centred, based on behaviourist assumptions, and have a relatively closed view of knowledge that sees the teacher as a technician. The progressive perspective contains some elements of interactive and constructivist thinking, is more learner-centred, less authoritarian and expects more of a teacher in terms of adapting the curriculum to the pupils.

4.2 Aims, general objectives and underlying philosophy of MIITEP

The only broad aim set out in the MIITEP documents themselves is to produce 'an effective teacher'. Implicitly, the purpose of the programme is to improve the quality of teaching and learning in primary schools by enabling unqualified teachers to undergo a training programme. In general, MIITEP broadly continues to reflect the list of 24 'National Objectives for Teacher Education', drawn up for the revised curriculum of 1990 (Hauya 1997: 48). These are phrased mainly in terms of 'to promote/develop/foster in the teacher' certain knowledge, skills and attitudes. Attitudinal objectives seem to predominate - over half the listed objectives focus on characteristics such as 'positive attitudes towards community development, appreciation of Malawian culture and values, the desire for continued professional growth' etc. There is also an emphasis on broad skills to enable the teacher to 'teach the primary school curriculum effectively'. It is interesting to note that only five objectives mention knowledge, the main ones being 'the basic theoretical and practical knowledge about the teaching profession'; ' principles of leadership' and 'an understanding of the machinery of the government'.

The predominant aims seem limited to producing a skilled technician who will deliver the curriculum effectively. Educating a teacher is seen as a matter of fostering appropriate attitudes and values, along with developing specific teaching skills. Giving the teachers a sound knowledge base, in terms of either subject specific or professional understanding, is much less prominent. Nor is there any mention of reflection on practice. In one sense the curriculum is oriented towards preparing new teachers for a 'restricted' professional role.

This view is confirmed by material addressed to students in MIITEP Handbook 5, in a brief section on 'ethics' and 'professionalism'. There is an emphasis on attitudes, moral qualities and skills, rather than on understanding that will inform professional judgement. For example a good teacher is 'co-operative, honest, tolerant, responsible and trustworthy'; they can plan lessons, assess pupils and manage a class. As far as knowledge goes, they must 'know the subject matter well', and 'know the conditions of service and code of conduct expected of a teacher'.

There are some traces of alternative perceptions of the teachers and of their training, most clearly stated in the 'Teacher Trainer's Source Book' published by the TDU. This was produced as a resource for the 'trainers of trainers', that is, for those conducting workshops for the college tutors, Primary Education Advisors (PEAs) and head teachers. The introduction in this Source Book notes that 'teaching and learning need to become much more activity-based and participatory' in Malawian classrooms; it suggests teachers will have to become skilful 'facilitators of learning' in spite of lack of resources, and they should integrate subjects and address equity issues. It suggests that the teacher is expected to 'function as an agent of change in the classroom' (p.2), thus anticipating a more 'extended' professional role.

This trainers' book also has sections on the principles of adult education (p.8), on action research (p.53) and on professionalism (p.58). This seems to indicate a more discursive stance, a more interactive view of learning, and a wider professional role for the teacher. Such an approach could and should recognise the prior teaching experience of the student-teachers and address more specifically the problems found in Malawian classrooms.

By contrast with this material for advisors, much of the material in the student and teacher Handbooks seems to be based on a behaviourist view of learning and on an authoritarian view of professional knowledge as something that can be transmitted to students without any problems. It presumes that this store of knowledge will provide a correct set of methods for teaching, which will enable new teachers to deliver the curriculum more effectively. The philosophy espoused in the advisors' materials seems to change as it is translated into learning material for trainees and become less progressive and more traditional.

The introduction to each of the trainees' Handbooks highlights new approaches and suggest teachers should:

- promote active learning
- use local resources
- educate pupils about population and environmental issues
- be gender sensitive
- teach about democracy and human rights
- value practical activities
- should be sensitive to pupils with special needs
- teach about HIV/AIDS
- use local 'cultural capital' especially in science and technology

All these seem to be drawn from a progressive perspective. But in contrast the specific objectives set out in the individual units seem to be drawn mostly from the 'traditional' approach. The objectives for Foundation Studies, for example, reflect very closely the objectives of the 2-year, 1-year and MASTEP foundations course, showing that there has been no change of approach in this area. The English and Mathematics unit objectives are largely framed in terms of being able to teach specific curriculum topics and skills, while the science units are strongly content-based. The objectives cover mainly knowledge and comprehension, with some application in some subject areas and in the methods; no 'higher level' skills are stressed.

4.3 Content

The content of MIITEP training is presented in the five Handbooks. These are based on the subjects taught in the primary schools plus Foundation Studies. Table 4.1 below sets out the number of units devoted to each subject, both in the college and school-based parts of the course. This gives a broad picture of the balance of the curriculum. It also shows that the proportion of time allocated in College closely matches the overall proportions of the text materials.

The overall emphasis is on subject-related studies, and these are confined to those that the trainees will have to teach. Professional studies takes up only one sixth of the whole time. Teaching methods, however, form part of the subject studies. There is no general or personal education, not even communication or study skills, although the trainees enter with low grades in school-leaving qualifications, suggesting they are not proficient students. An analysis of the content shows that it is heavily compartmentalised into subjects; there are few common themes. Cross-cutting topics mentioned in the objectives, such as gender, population, HIV/AIDS, democracy and human rights are tucked away in separate units in Foundations, Science or Social Studies, and do not seem to permeate the course more generally.

Table 4.1: Organisation of Content



No. of units

% of whole

% at college

Core subjects Category A

Foundation Studies












Science & Health Education




Social &General Studies








Category B





Home Economics and Needle craft




Physical Education




Religious Education








Creative arts







Twelve subjects




Considerable differences are found between subjects when the kinds of knowledge presented are examined. The English and Mathematics units, for example, focus on curriculum and pedagogical content knowledge, and the English course is explicitly aimed at skills development. In contrast, science materials are heavily content-based with minimal attention to pedagogical knowledge or skills. The Foundations courses cover rather briefly general pedagogic knowledge and skills, knowledge of learners, of educational contexts and educational aims and values, in that order of priority as measured by unit time.

The following sub-sections give some details of the topics covered in these four subjects. The prominence given to behavioural objectives shows clearly the underlying assumptions about learning on which the course is based.

4.3.1 English

The course begins with five units on curriculum and general pedagogic knowledge; this includes how to write lesson plans, schemes of work and records of English lessons. The rest of the units during the College period are all focused on how to teach aspects of the primary school curriculum, including identifying pupil errors, testing and remedial work. The only exceptions to this pattern are three units on 'phonology' and 'phonetics', and three more in Book 3 on English Study for Professional Purposes. These are the only units aimed at improving the student's own English language competence.

The school-based units recapitulate and expand on selected topics from the college course, focusing directly on how one can use these in one's class. For example, 'oral communicative language teaching techniques' are explained again, and the student is given detailed examples of how to carry these out with the pupils. The zonal seminars cover such topics as making visual aids, songs and rhymes, pre-reading activities and 'wide reading'.

The specific objectives are almost all phrased in practical terms starting with what the students should be able to so, such as:

- teach pre-reading activities
- use dialogue/pair work/role play etc for language practice
- make and use phonic charts for teaching, reading questions
- identify errors in pupils' written work

4.3.2 Mathematics

Almost all the mathematics units concentrate on pedagogical content knowledge, here set out as how to teach the primary mathematics syllabus. The one exception is a unit on the history of numbers. There are no units on lesson planning or scheming. The zonal seminars are devoted to teaching and learning aids which can be bought or made. As in English most of the school-based units are expansions of selected topics already covered, but some new concepts are introduced, using formal language; there seems to be much emphasis on definitions and terminology that the teacher should know, and less on how to make things simple for pupils. There is nothing on the theory of mathematics education.

Almost all the unit objectives in the college period are phrased in terms of what the student will know and be able to teach e.g.

- define subtraction, teach subtraction of numbers with regrouping

- define cash account; teach how to enter transactions and balance the account

- define and classify geometric shapes; teach modelling, naming and drawing geometric shapes.

In the self-study units, the objectives are phrased as: ' should able to teach .........'

4.3.3 Science

The first 9 units look at curriculum and general pedagogic knowledge in the context of teaching science; they review lesson planning and scheming, but also discuss the teaching of scientific skills and attitudes, with use of equipment and resources, and safety measures. The rest of the units, by contrast with other main subjects, focus entirely on content knowledge: physics and chemistry during the college period; biology and health education during the school-based period. While the science is clearly intended to be taught at colleges in practical ways that student teachers could later use in primary schools (if they had the resources) there are no units on aspects of science education, such as children's misconceptions in science or the development of scientific concepts.

The first nine units combine cognitive objectives with practical ones, so that after stating and explaining a topic the students are expected to do something e.g. write a lesson plan, construct a nature table, improvise some apparatus etc.. In the rest of the units the objectives are all variations on the themes of:

- Explain meanings, applications of ...........
- State examples, factors, uses of...........
- Perform activities, on what factors can do.......

4.3.4 Foundations Studies

The first part of the residential course is mainly concerned with general pedagogical knowledge, comprising the technical and professional skills of writing lesson plans, formulating objectives, drawing up schemes of work and keeping records, as well as introductions to different kinds of teaching methods and how to improvise and use various kinds of teaching/learning aids. The second part focuses on the knowledge of learners, such as child development and theories of learning, combined in some units with more general pedagogic knowledge, for example, how to handle children with different learning abilities. Four units follow on testing.

Books 4 and 5 are more school-related, focusing on practical concerns, such as management and administration of schools, keeping records, school and the community relationships, professional ethics and conditions of service. Other units look at general pedagogic knowledge, mainly classroom management skills. Information about the classroom tends to be stronger on rhetoric than on reality i.e. saying what 'should' happen in good practice, rather than focussing on problems and how to deal with them. There are no suggestions for carrying out enquiry-based work into one's own classroom.

The zonal seminars deal with administering tests, working with colleagues, and policy matters; the last two suggestions take up the issues of gender, and population and environment, in an apparent nod towards the general objectives.

The specific objectives for each unit are typically phrased to emphasis theoretical rather than practical knowledge, even when skills are involved e.g. in studying learners students shall be able to:

- define

intelligence, maturation, individual difference, motivation etc

- state

how each factor of x influences y

- explain

uses of concepts like transfer, discovery, concept learning in the learning process

- discuss

child development etc how learning takes place, aspects of child development, what children at certain stage can do etc, how to handle children with learning difficulties

Only in the unit on resources are trainees asked actually to make things. Even the units on tests are phrased as: 'explain/describe the types, purposes, advantages, and ways of constructing tests', rather than in terms of designing exemplars. Such objectives can all be achieved on a formal level, through learning by rote the information given in the text. The relationship between theory and practice seems rather tenuous. It is left to the trainees to bring the two together.

4.4 Assessment

The official documentation states that candidates will be awarded a certificate if they pass English, Mathematics, Science and Health Education, Foundation Studies and Teaching Practice plus one other subject from Category A (General Studies, Agriculture, Chichewa and Home Economics) and one from Category B (Music, PE, Creative Arts, R.E). A formal written assessment is set by MANEB and marked by tutors under their guidance. The regulations are set out below:

Table 4.2: Assessment





End of residential block

Written examinations in all subjects


During school-based training

12 assignments
(1 per subject)
In Category B subjects:
4 projects


Grades include course work assignments, projects and TP

End of course

Final exams in main and category A subjects


A Teaching Practice (TP) grade is given during the residential block, for a lesson taught in the demonstration school, but the main grade is given during the field-based part of the course. A moderation team from different TTCs including staff from MANEB and TDU visit a sample of trainees to check consistency in TP grades.

Within each unit in the Handbooks there are short questions, designed to check recall and understanding. At the end of each unit there is a unit assessment which according to the writers' guide lines should comprise an activity for each of the unit objectives, though this is not carried out for all the units. No other guideline is given to tutors for checking students' on-going learning. In the self-study units there are similar short assessment exercises, with answers given at the end. No reference is made to the MANEB-set assignments and projects to be done during this time.

Principals and tutors in the colleges indicated that there was no assessment policy either at the departmental or institutional level. Examinations Committees existed but under MIITEP they do not seem to function. Tutors are not required to keep any progress records for students. This seems a serious omission and calls into question the quality of the implementation of the course.

4.5 Observations on the curriculum strategy and its coherence

A number of points stand out from this discussion and the more extensive analysis included in various MUSTER background Discussion Papers. In summary these include:

First, the Handbooks for trainees are a central feature of MIITEP: they set out the objectives, contain most of the content, structure the pedagogy and constitute the main teaching/learning resource. Academic assessment is based on the Handbooks. There is a major discrepancy between the progressive philosophy expressed in some of the general aims, and the more traditional approach that is apparent in many of the units. Overall, MIITEP advocates student-centred and participatory learning methods that should produce an innovative, 'progressive' and professional teacher. This contrasts with the tight behavioural objectives, and the closed, didactic nature of much of the learning material.

Second, the place of subject content knowledge in this programme is ambiguous. There is little in the general aims and objectives about teachers having a good understanding of their subject, yet students clearly need upgrading in order to feel confident in the classroom. Analysis shows up important differences between subject areas in this respect. In English students are taught a series of pedagogic skills fitted around the primary English syllabus, while in science they are taught mainly subject content. In maths the two are taught together. There is confusion here.

Third, the aims and general objectives which set out the 'progressive vision' of MIITEP are poorly reflected in the assessment patterns as a whole. The written exams and assignments are closely matched to the content of the Handbooks and set up to test the kinds of lower level skills mentioned in the specific objectives. The exams test mainly recall, since many of the comprehension and application questions can be answered by memorising the examples given in the Handbooks. The emphasis on innovation and on learner-centred attitudes and skills is ignored, in spite of the 20 months school-based training which could have been used to develop and assess these through different kinds of project and portfolio work. The Teaching Practice grades form an almost invisible part of the assessment, being subsumed within the 15% of marks given to coursework. It seems paradoxical that the exams attempt to test pedagogic knowledge and skills, while the school-based assignments test subject content knowledge: the reverse would seem more appropriate.

Fourth, in a wider context other mismatches appear. The course was designed for MSCE holders and has not been adapted to the needs of those with only JCE. In view of the school-based period, when assignments have to be done at a distance, students should have been prepared extensively for self-study and independent learning, but this is not built into any part of the course.

Fifth, the curriculum in shape and content differs little from that formerly taught in the colleges to school-leavers with no teaching experience, yet the MIITEP students have all taught, often for extended periods. The curriculum does not recognise this and often seems to be treating the students as 'empty vessels' into which knowledge must be poured. The course tries to cover nearly as much material as previous programmes, much of it during the 3-month residential block. This seems unrealistic.

Sixth, there appear to be omissions of important issues in the curriculum despite the fact that it is currently overloaded. The most obvious of these include concerted attention to study skills, communication skills (especially in relation to young pupils), basic English (given that many have poor competence in the medium of instruction), gender, and how to manage large classes of 70 or more with few resources (the reality for most newly qualified teachers).

Finally, the change to school-based training remains at the level of rhetoric. Significantly, the colleges have tried to retain an element of the traditional 'teaching practice' within the residential block, even though time is so limited that this gives little opportunity for real skill development. In a school-based course, this aspect should be handled entirely at the school level, yet such a shift of emphasis is not reflected in the curriculum as a whole, especially in the assessment weighting. As we will see there seems little confidence amongst key stakeholders that most schools can support and deliver effective training. If so, a school-based approach needs careful consideration as to how it can meet the needs of trainees.

We now move to consider learning and teaching in the College-based elements of MIITEP.