|The Experience of Training: A Study of Students at the National Teacher Training College in Lesotho (CIE, 2000, 39 p.)|
This is a very small sample and we should be wary of drawing too many firm conclusions from it. The evidence comes mainly from student written data - the survey and diaries - and had there been more time to conduct individual and/or focus group interviews a clearer picture might have emerged. However, the findings of the companion studies confirm the general direction of the results. Together they present a quite worrying picture of how some students are experiencing the DEP curriculum and, if substantiated, call for some serious rethinking of the curriculum and of how it is taught.
The following are some of the main points emerging:
· On the whole, students are pleased to be at the college and say they still intend to be primary teachers. The overall impact of the course so far has been to make them aware of the complexity of the teacher's task and of the hard work involved. It does not appear to have had much effect on their attitudes towards teaching in general.
· Consistent with these expressed career intentions, they value most what they are learning in the professional components of the course and would like this aspect of the curriculum to be enhanced. Midway through the course, they feel they have not had enough practical experience in, or relevant to, the primary schools.
· They valued the bridging course, but in spite of that chance to upgrade their subject knowledge and study skills, many are finding the academic aspects quite difficult, and struggle to understand, especially in Science. One reason may be their relatively poor English language skills, and another their lack of good study habits and skills.
· Good teaching is shown in some cases to help them overcome their difficulties, maths being a positive example. But in too many subjects the teaching seems uninspired, and not matched to their needs, either as college students or as future primary teachers. This is borne out by the classroom observations.
· Teacher educators should be able to demonstrate different teaching strategies and show how these can be applied flexibly, but this does not seem to be happening much. In particular, students are not taught how to work in groups. This means it is unlikely they will in turn be able to use this method fruitfully in schools. Very few tutors are modelling the styles of teaching that should be used in primary classrooms.
· There is a gap here between the rhetoric and the practice. Both the aims of the curriculum, and the expressed views of tutors (Stuart et al, 2000) indicate a learner-centred approach. But there is little evidence from this study, or from the classroom observations, that tutors are 'getting to the level of the student', 'taking account of individual differences', or 'helping those with difficulties'. By the same token, students are not learning to solve problems, or to become creative and reflective practitioners. Examples of professional reflection in the diaries are very rare.
· Assessment practices are not satisfactory from a number of angles. There seems a good variety of continuous assessment methods used, but coordination between subjects is lacking, and tests and tasks are often set at the same time. This results in further stress for students, and probably in poorer achievement.
· More seriously, the anecdote about handing in phoney research papers suggests a climate of cheating. Informal discussion with tutors suggests that students often copy even in exams. The fact that the University Senate has returned exam results several times because of the highly skewed distribution of marks is further evidence. It is not clear whether such irregularities come from the lack of responsibility on the part of students only, or whether tutors also connive in such practices.
· Physical resources appear to be largely adequate at the college, though students still complain about the facilities. Other studies confirm that students do not use enough textbooks in class, nor do they have access to primary school materials. For some parts of the course there do not seem to be enough tutors.
· The curriculum as a whole seems overloaded, compartmentalised and somewhat out of date; students have little study time and little tutorial support while doing their many assignments. A more slimmed down and focussed curriculum, with more attention paid to individual student needs, especially in language and study skills, and with remedial help available in core subjects, might raise student morale, and perhaps make them more ready and willing to cooperate with each other as well.
· One of the saddest findings from this study is that students' perceptions of many tutors are quite negative, though there are honourable exceptions. The evidence here suggests some tutors are poor role models not only in teaching but also in nurturing and supporting student teachers through a difficult and demanding curriculum. Some tutors' standards of punctuality, courtesy, caring, responsibility and professional ethics leave much to be desired. One wonders how far the students will internalise these models and eventually reproduce them in their jobs.