|The Malawi Integrated In-Service Teacher Education Project: An Analysis of the Curriculum and Its Delivery in the Colleges (CIE, 2000, 75 p.)|
|Chapter 2: The Curriculum Strategy|
· In some ways the different elements of the curriculum strategy are consistent with one another. The Handbooks are a central feature: they set out the objectives, contain most of the content, structure the pedagogy and constitute the main teaching/learning resource. The academic assessment, in the form of terminal exams, is based on material in the Handbooks.
· There is, however, a major discrepancy between the progressive philosophy expressed in some of the general aims, and the more traditional approach that comes through 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, the closed, didactic nature of much of the material, and the transmission mode of teaching that predominates in class.
· 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 straight subject content, and in maths the two are taught together. Only a third of the exam items test content, yet most of the assignments do. There is confusion here.
· The formal assessment methods are consistent with some aspects of the curriculum and not with others. The written exams and assignments are closely matched to the contents of the Handbooks and set up to test the same kinds of lower level skills mentioned in the specific objectives set out therein. In effect, the exams test mainly recall, since many of the comprehension and application questions could be passed by memorising the examples given in the Handbooks.
· On the other hand the aims and general objectives which set out the progressive vision of MIITEP are poorly reflected in the assessment patterns as a whole. 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. The new approaches mentioned as general objectives appear only in the written exams, so there is no assessment of whether the new teachers can or do use these ideas effectively in their teaching. 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.
· Looking at the wider context, other mismatches can be noted. One concerns its appropriateness for the current students. The course was designed for MSCE holders and has not been adapted to the needs of those with only JC. 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.
· The curriculum differs very little from that formerly taught in the colleges to school-leavers with no teaching experience, yet the MITTEP students have all taught for at least 2-3 years. The curriculum makes very little use of this, and tutors often seem to be treating the students as empty vessels into which knowledge must be poured. By the same token, the course tries to cover nearly as much material as formerly, much of it during the 3-month residential block. The need to cram so much into too short a time reinforces the didactic mode of teaching and leaves both students and tutors dissatisfied.
· The minor subjects were not analysed in detail, but it was clear there were unrealistic expectations in some of the practical subjects, given the short time allocated to them. One unit on carving in Creative Arts would have needed a week-long workshop rather than a one hour class! It also appeared that the projects for the four practical subjects required some degree of enquiry and interpersonal communication skills, which students did not seem to be taught while at college.
· Another mismatch is between the resources needed for the kind of student-centred learning envisaged by the course designers on the one hand, and the reality of poorly resourced colleges and schools on the other.
· 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. A recurrent lament in tutor interviews was that they were unable to complete their training role by visiting and supervising their students in schools. 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 the study of the school-based component shows, there is little confidence among any of the stakeholders that the schools can yet deliver effective training.
Chapter 4 will take up these themes again.