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close this bookPrimary Teacher Education in Malawi: Insights into Practice and Policy (CIE, 2002, 144 p.)
close this folderChapter 8: The Colleges And Their Tutors
View the document(introduction...)
View the document8.1 The colleges
View the document8.2 College management
View the document8.3 Classrooms and libraries
View the document8.4 Utilisation of staff and space
View the document8.5 The tutors
View the document8.6 Perceptions of a good teacher
View the document8.7 Views of the college and its courses
View the document8.8 Views of training and knowledge
View the document8.9 Concluding remarks

(introduction...)

This chapter presents an overview of two of the colleges that constitute the institutional base for MIITEP. It comments on their physical condition, the management culture of which they are part, the state of classrooms and libraries, and their utilisation of staff and space. It then explores the tutors' characteristics in terms of their age, qualifications, career paths, and perceptions of good teachers, and their approach to training. This helps in the understanding of why the curriculum is delivered the way it is in the colleges. Data were collected from both surveys and interviews. A questionnaire was administered to all the relevant college tutors in two colleges. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with smaller groups of tutors drawn from the main subject areas and giving a balance of age, gender and qualifications. These interviews were intended to follow a modified life-history format (more details in Stuart and Kunje 2000). The interviews provided insights into the tutors' perceptions, while the survey provided some quantitative data.

8.1 The colleges

Data from two of the six colleges in Malawi gives a flavour of their character. St. Joseph's College is for women only; it was founded in 1932 by the Roman Catholic Church and is now funded by the Government through grants. Management is the responsibility of the church. At the time of fieldwork the Principal was a nun. The college is 15km away from the town of Dedza. It has a mixture of old and new buildings, many dating from the late 1980s, comprising a large assembly hall/refectory, hostels, laboratories and a library. Although students generally were proud of their facilities, the hostels were over-crowded, with some sleeping three to a room. The college stands in a well-tended park-like environment with plenty of open space and net-ball courts. Tutors' houses are strung about 100 metres away on one part of the college campus. Part of the campus is fenced. The college has a primary school about one kilometre away which is used during teaching practice when students are in residence.

In contrast Blantyre Teachers College is situated on the outskirts of the main commercial city. It was built in 1962 as a secondary school teacher training college and it is owned fully by the government. It has classrooms, a large library, laboratories, a large assembly hall, a refectory, a two-storey hostel complex and a separate administration block. The college buildings are becoming dilapidated, and lack many essential facilities; this has been exacerbated by frequent burglaries and acts of vandalism because the college is not fenced. Water supply and sanitation are unsatisfactory. Staff houses are situated 50 metres behind the teaching area. There is a large sports field just nearby. The college also has a primary school about 100 metres away for conducting teaching practice during residential periods.

Both colleges have been receiving their funding irregularly and in inadequate amounts. At the time of the study they had received only about 20% of their recurrent budgetary needs for the year and were receiving irregular tranches of funds following no discernible pattern. The colleges then had to go without essential resources for teaching and learning and for the upkeep of students. For example lack of light bulbs at BTC prevented students from studying at night. Food supplies were a continuous problem. Such conditions inevitably militated against the proper implementation of MIITEP.

8.2 College management

All colleges in Malawi are under the Ministry of Education and they are administered through divisional offices. This means they are subject to bureaucratic regulations and inefficiencies. For example tutors are recruited and posted to different colleges by the Ministry as and when the need arises. Simultaneously provision is made for eligible persons to apply directly to the Principal of a specific college, who will then forward their recommendations to the Ministry. This can lead to anomalies in recruitment and posting. Neither colleges nor principals have much power to develop their own aims or mission statements nor to develop effective medium term planning. The colleges have very limited autonomy apart from administration.

Alongside this bureaucratic arrangement there also exist some elements of collegial organisation and professional responsibility. Tutors are organised in departments led by a Head of Department whose duties include organising meetings, coordinating the work of the department, checking student results and inducting new members of staff. Individuals were also assigned to take up responsibilities such as Student Welfare Officer, Sports master, Teaching Practice Co-ordinator and Examinations Officer. The short length of the residential courses however militates against the building of smooth running organisations. Sometimes the schedules were not followed and departments relapsed into dysfunctional patterns of behaviour e.g. absenteeism, lack of co-ordination and co-operation. Most Heads of Departments were in acting positions and funding to departments was coming in irregular trickles.

The timetable was similar in both colleges mostly because the curriculum was specific regarding the number of hours allocated to each subject. There were six one-hour classes a day with a 90 minute or 2 hour lunch break. One morning each week was devoted to Teaching Practice in the nearby Demonstration Schools. After classes some students went to various activities including sports, clubs and societies and cleaning-up but most chose to remain free. Sometimes discos were held at weekends. In the evening students were scheduled to study in the classrooms but lack of bulbs at BTC made this impossible. At St. Joseph's students were able to study and some tutors were conducting 'catch-up' lectures after supper, though the library was never open in the evening. In the students' view, the residential periods were particularly valuable for exchanging ideas, learning that others had similar problems, and making friends from other communities.

The main complaints from the students were the poor diet, which appeared to be inadequate nutritionally9 and not being treated as adults. For example, regulations required students to ask permission to go and see their families; they had no access to telephones, and had to clean the premises daily. These kinds of restrictions seemed to undermine students' ability to accept new responsibilities and new ways of handling children since they were treated as children themselves. In some cases bureaucracy dictated that students returned to their various districts to collect their pay, thereby missing a number of days of course work. This is the context in which students were to learn how to teach under MIITEP.

9 The nuns at St. Josephs raised chickens both for fund-raising and for supplementing the diet.

Colleges suffer from the budget system under which they operate (Kunje and Lewin 2000). This falls within the cash budget system imposed by the Treasury which releases money according to macro-economic circumstances and the conditions attached to external general budgetary support. The situation is further complicated by the policy of decentralisation which has placed colleges under divisional offices which themselves have to wait for allocations to filter through from central government. The result is that month by month college administrations generally have little idea how much they will receive for non-salary operating expenditure and cannot therefore manage their affairs efficiently. Credit may or may not be extended by suppliers, utility bills may or may not be paid, preventative maintenance is unlikely to happen, and much time is invested in resolving repeated cash crises. Without stable annual budgeting backed by real cash flows it is difficult to see how the situation can improve.

8.3 Classrooms and libraries

The classrooms in both colleges were furnished with traditional heavy wooden desks or metal tables and chairs all arranged to face the front where there is a blackboard. Such furniture seemed cumbersome to move around for group work though it was possible to pre-arrange it when a room belonged to one particular department or tutor. There were also pin boards along the walls but the few displays on them did not seem to have been prepared by the students. This was understandable because there were few materials around to allow for that, yet students were constantly reminded to be creative and resourceful. There was little evidence that the MIITEP 'Teaching and Learning Using Locally-Available Resources' (TALULAR) philosophy was being put into practice. Laboratories were designed in the traditional fashion with built-in benches facing the blackboard in rows and others built-in along the walls. The equipment and apparatus present were old; consumables and glass apparatus were absent. At BTC there were only three glass beakers and the electric sockets had been vandalised, making the labs almost unusable. Old student-made models and dusty nature corners attested to the lack of involvement by the current cohort in creativity or preparing their own teaching and learning aids as MIITEP professed.

Libraries had small stocks of old books and magazines. The opening hours for the libraries were not synchronised with students' needs because the persons manning them went off duty when students were free. The tutors set little work that required the use of the library and therefore the libraries were mostly underused.

8.4 Utilisation of staff and space

The utilisation of teaching staff is different in the two colleges, though in both the tutors had considerable marking to do for earlier cohorts, as discussed in Chapter 7. At St Joseph's staff average load is about 12 periods per week with a range from 8 to 18. Mathematics and science lecturers are most heavily loaded, and senior staff have the least teaching loads to compensate for their administrative responsibilities. In addition to teaching lecturers are required to supervise teaching practice two hours each week at the nearby demonstration schools. Each lecturer has at most 20 students to supervise in the three months period a cohort stays in college.

In contrast to St Josephs, lecturers at BTC frequently combine two classes into one and so teach 6 or 7 one hour lectures per week on average. Some do more and some less. The most heavily loaded teach 13 hours per week and the least loaded teach 5 hours per week. Just like at St. Josephs each lecturer at BTC is also required to supervise teaching practice two hours per week. According to the lecturer-student ratio at this college each lecturer has 24 students to supervise and each student has to be supervised once during the entire three months period.

At St. Josephs there are 19 rooms which are meant for curriculum delivery. This figure includes classrooms, laboratories, lecture rooms and the library. In a day each classroom can be used for a total of six hours giving a maximum of 30 hours per week. Available teaching space at St. Josephs is utilised less than half the maximum possible time. Occasional combining together two classes for teaching, non-use of some special rooms, and under-use of others account for this situation. Rooms like the language laboratory, the audio-visual centre and the library are very underused. In essence there is enough teaching space at the college to allow more than double the number of teaching periods. This means that the college can accommodate more than double the current number of students. The main constraint to this would be the amount of boarding space in the hostels which is limited to 300.

BTC makes a slightly more efficient use of its teaching space since it has less room in relation to the numbers of students. BTC could accommodate more students and make fuller use of teaching space if boarding facilities were expanded. However lack of adequate funding has meant that the site is not maintained and very run down. The rooms are not used during the night because there are no lights.

8.5 The tutors

Staffing levels in the colleges vary. As Table 8.1 shows there were 175 tutors in the six colleges in 1999 and this gave student:staff ratios ranging from 11:1 to 21:1. The pattern of staffing does not reflect the application of standard student:staff ratios, because of the on-going responsibility to supervise the teaching practice and mark the work of earlier cohorts.

Table 8.1: College Student/Staff Ratio

College

No. of staff

Student capacity

Staff: student ratio

BTC

26

540

21

LTC

32

540

17

Karonga

28

300

11

Kasungu

28

600

21

St. Joseph

23

300

12

St. Montfort

38

450

12

Total

175

2730

16

In the two sample colleges overall women comprised 36% of the staff (30% at St Joseph's, 40% at BTC). In this small sample there were as many women graduates as men. At the time of the survey both colleges were headed by women, one in an acting capacity. However in both colleges most of the other posts of responsibility were held by men with women having pastoral roles like warden or student advisor. For example, there were only three women Heads of Departments but five out of the 6 pastoral posts were held by women. At St. Joseph's, albeit an all-female college, the only senior management posts held by women were the Principal and Head of Foundations Studies - both of them were members of a religious order.

The tutors have a variety of qualifications ranging from certificates to graduate level degrees. Table 8.2 below shows the number of tutors and their qualifications in teachers' colleges from 1991 to 1996, the latest data available across all the colleges on qualifications.

Table 8.2: Number of Tutors and Qualifications

Qualifications

Number of staff


1991/92

1992/93

1993/94

1994/95

1995/96

Local Graduates

52

44

45

71

63

Local Diplomas

131

145

148

233

207

Other

8

9

12

19

17

Total

191

198

205

325

289

As shown above the majority of the tutors have diplomas obtained after two to three years of training post secondary schooling. In addition the majority of the tutors are concentrated in the 41-55 years age range with very few under 40 years of age. Table 8.3 below shows the age distribution of tutors in 1999 in 4 colleges.

Table 8.3: Age Ranges For Tutors

College

Age Range


20-25

26-30

31-35

36-40

41-45

46-50

51-55

56+

Total

BTC

0

0

3

8

5

8

6

3

33

LTC

0

1

3

7

11

7

3

-

32

Kasungu

0

1

4

3

12

5

2

-

27

Karonga

0

0

1

2

9

12

4

-

28

The mandatory retirement age is 55 years and pensions become payable after 20 years service on resignation. Some staff have resigned to take up other forms of employment after 20 years service. Mostly these join private secondary schools as teachers and various NGOs as trainers. Over 12% of the tutors will reach mandatory retirement in the next few years. Apart from retirement and resignation the system also loses staff due to transfers to other posts, promotion and death but dismissals are rare. Data from three of the six colleges show that over half of the tutors have served for more than 20 years and are therefore eligible for retirement or pensionable resignation. In the mid 1990s the government was actively encouraging those eligible to retire.

It is worth noting that the great majority of tutors began as primary teachers before becoming tutors: 90% of the survey sample had taught in primary schools for periods ranging from 1 - 17 years. Of the interviewees, 17 out of 20 had gone through primary teacher training. Nearly half of the sample - mainly men - had also taught in secondary schools for periods ranging from one to twenty two years. Typically, a tutor's first qualification was a Teaching Certificate, upgraded later to a Diploma either in primary education or in secondary school teaching. A few had been specially trained as tutors through the Diploma in Primary Teacher Education, which ran for 2-3 years in the 1980s. Otherwise they had had no preparation for being a tutor, and had to draw on on their own primary training and experience once they became tutors. They received no formal orientation, though there was apparently quite a lot of informal induction from colleagues. The only continuing professional development was short workshops organised by the MoEST about changes in curriculum, apart from a very few who got scholarships to study overseas.

In sum, tutors appear to be a group who have had relevant professional experience but who were academically under-qualified for their job, having hit a ceiling at diploma level. Those who had done the Primary Teacher Education Diploma had clearly made good use of it, but without any continuing professional development to update their knowledge and skills, the ideas seemed to have become rather dated. Those who had taken subject-specific diplomas in secondary education were less well prepared. For the few who went further, the courses were not always as useful or relevant as they should have been, particularly when the training was overseas. This raises important issues about what kinds of further study is most appropriate, and the need for structures to become supportive of change. In interviews it became clear that a majority of tutors were not satisfied in their jobs and their morale was low. Most indicated that if they could get another job they would leave lecturing.

Thus the task of implementing the new MIITEP curriculum was given to a group of staff who were relatively 'old' in career terms, few of whom had been given the opportunity to study at undergraduate level or beyond, and whose working environment was deteriorating. However, many still had a very conscientious approach to their job, and evidenced strong commitment to their students. Some of their professional perspectives are summarised next.

8.6 Perceptions of a good teacher

Tutors' perceptions of a good teacher are a reflection of the tutors' training as well as their involvement in the previous courses. In interviews good teachers were overwhelmingly described in terms of classroom skills and of personal and professional attitudes. The 'knowledge base' of teaching figured far less prominently. Such comments as, 'knows the subject', is academically sound; knows what to do,' only came from about 15% of the comments (in both survey and interview data sets). Even among these, descriptions of meaningful knowledge such as 'understanding learners' needs' or 'can interpret curriculum' occur very infrequently. There is no mention of 'pedagogic content knowledge' and no one specifically mentioned 'knowing how to teach the subject'.

Instead the discourse is predominantly about skills, which to some extent reflects the teacher education curriculum. The respondents refer mainly to general skills such as 'uses a variety of teaching methods' and 'is well prepared'. Where specific, they tend to emphasis technical skills like planning lessons, writing schemes of work and keeping registers, making and using teaching and learning materials and monitoring pupils' progress. Interpersonal skills such as helping individuals especially slow learners, keeping pupils' interest and good communication, certainly figure in both data sets but less frequently. Only a handful of comments concerned 'active and participatory learning' or involving pupils in their own learning.

Among the professional and personal attitudes, the most common characteristics of a good teacher relate to commitment: 'dedicated' 'hardworking,' 'interested in the job' and 'enthusiastic'. Other professional aspects include being well organised and working co-operatively, and a group of comments around 'calm, patient coping with stress' suggests some of the problems faced by teachers in Malawi. Many others refer in some way to relationships with children: good teachers are loving, friendly and interested in learners; they should be ready to help them, to listen and to encourage, and to be concerned with their own. Another common phrase especially at St. Joseph's, was that a good teacher is 'exemplary', meaning dresses well and behaves well, is punctual and acts as a role model for pupils. It is interesting that the tutors describe teachers in terms of discrete skills and attitudes: they do not use holistic images such as parent or facilitator. Though there is much stress on concern for children, the skills are more suggestive of traditional transmission teaching than the learner-centred, active participatory methods advocated by the revised primary curriculum and ostensibly, by MIITEP. Many of those interviewed seemed to see their role as akin to that of a secondary school teacher dealing with adolescents. Students were not regarded as future colleagues and peers, but rather as empty vessels to be filled.

8.7 Views of the college and its courses

Respondents appear quite satisfied with the college courses and with their own role in them. Nearly all of them disagree that 'most tutors do not know how much about teaching primary pupils' and 70% think that 'college courses are well designed to prepare students for primary teaching' despite evidence to the contrary from our other data. Most disagree that there is too much theory in the college course, and 70% do not think that the subject courses are difficult.

In interviews the complaints concerned mainly the length of the course. Tutors felt that they had to cram far too much into a short time and they wanted to return to the older form of a one-year or two-year residential training. Otherwise over 80% were satisfied that most of the curriculum did not need much revision. However 20% thought assessment needed a complete rethink, and 30% said the same about language.

Tutors in both colleges put the blame for low student achievement squarely on the students themselves, their poor language skills, low academic level and lack of motivation. Shortage of time, poor facilities and large teaching groups are seen as being only partly responsible, with St. Joseph's putting more emphasis on these factors than BTC. Notably few think poor library facilities are important, yet the libraries appeared inadequate and not friendly to students.

Tutors do not hold clear positive views about learner-centred teaching. They believe in teaching facts, and think a good memory is useful. Perhaps that is why they ask their students a lot of questions. They say students learn best in small groups and by asking questions, but few seem to organise their teaching that way. The tutors sound satisfied -perhaps even a little smug - about the curriculum: the college courses and their teaching are fine and if the students find things difficult it is due to their limitations. What might be considered surprising is that nowhere in the interviews or other data from tutors did they suggest ways of coping with the student problems they diagnosed. This perhaps reflects a perception of their own role as itself professionally restricted, and a lack of sense of agency which would have enabled them to try to change the situation.

8.8 Views of training and knowledge

Tutors had a predominantly technical view of training which appeared shared by most interviewees. This can be characterised as: 'we tell the students what to do, let them practice it, and they should be able to do it'. Learning to teach often seemed to be treated as quite unproblematic: 'when one has enough content plus teaching strategies one can dissiminate it'; 'they need residential training so we can shape them by our instruction and example'.

The evidence suggests that most tutors hold a 'transmission' or 'banking' view of professional teaching and learning rather than a 'constructivist' one. They seem to believe that there is a fixed body of public knowledge, including facts, definitions and teaching methods, which students need to learn before they can be considered trained. There was a common assumption that there is one right way to teach. One said, 'students should do it the way I taught them' and another, referring to mixed messages from teachers in the field, explained, 'we tell them this is the truth': A further assumption is made that such 'knowledge' can be applied directly in practice to any situation. Such comments form part of a wider picture. Students are not being asked to reflect on what they have seen or done, so they can be helped to understand it better and to improve but to learn 'the right way'. Teaching is not viewed as a professional activity, where teachers must learn to use their own judgement as they respond to difficult, unique situations. 'There is one pathway at the school that the teacher should follow.......' it was said.

Few tutors seemed to be interested in educational innovation. Most disagreed strongly with the statement 'Young lecturers have better ideas about teaching than old lecturers'. The professional atmosphere in the colleges appeared neither intellectually stimulating nor challenging. Asked in interviews to mention a book they had read recently, only four tutors could quote a title and author, and two just a title. Three others referred to textbooks they were using. One vaguely remembered a statistics book, another quoted resources from a workshop. Two said they 'didn't read these days'. There seems little support or incentive for them to develop their own knowledge and skills. This may be because of a combination of the tutors' low level of education, the physical and intellectual isolation of the colleges, the shortage of relevant books and journals, the tutors' workloads, and perhaps the lack of incentives in the form of opportunities for further study.

8.9 Concluding remarks

The overall impression of the colleges obtained from the data is of a system in an advanced state of deterioration with staff working under very difficult conditions achieving what they can. Although the colleges rehabilitated in the 1980s have good buildings, equipment and teaching/learning resources vary from barely adequate to totally unsatisfactory. A combination of policy neglect, lack of maintenance, erratic and minimal funding, unstable staffing, and indifferent leadership appear to have resulted in impoverished institutions with low morale and poor quality learning environments.

Several points stand out. First, there is a pressing need to invest in restoring the colleges' infrastructure and, in some cases, the plant. Laboratories are largely empty of relevant equipment, libraries have few recent books, there are few other learning resources, furniture is insufficient for student numbers, and basic services are often lacking. Some of the colleges do not at present offer pleasant living conditions or effective working environments. If MIITEP or its successors are to use the colleges as an institutional base, money must be spent on improvements.

Second, the general budgetary system for the colleges simply does not work and makes any kind of regular functioning difficult if not impossible. The system is relatively small, its costs are not excessive, and the procedures needed to ensure a regular flow of funds to allow normal functioning are easily imaginable, given the will to ensure this outcome.

Third, partly as a result of the irregular patterns of finance, and MIITEP scheduling and changes in policy, patterns of utilisation of staff are not very efficient and some practices have developed (e.g. doubling group sizes for work load not professional reasons) which would seem undesirable. Many principals have been acting and therefore lacking in authority, and have been in post for relatively short periods without a clear brief to develop a strategic plan or the wherewithal to implement any plan that might have emerged. Under these circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that management appears to have lacked purpose and effectiveness, not least because the task is exceedingly difficult without attention to the two points made above.

Fourth, college capacity is under-utilised in the sense that teaching space is not fully used. The main constraint on increased enrolment, (aside from the recurrent cost of supporting it) lies in boarding facilities. These effectively limit how many students can be admitted. Current arrangements also tend to exclude those with childcare responsibilities from residential status, with consequences for female recruitment.

Fifth, college lecturers as a group are relatively old and many are within a few years of qualifying for retirement. Their numbers have been dwindling. This creates an opportunity to renew the cadre which will only be grasped effectively if it occurs within a medium term plan for the development of teacher education, and those selected have appropriate skills and potential to develop with the assistance of a coherent staff development programme. The latter is conspicuous by its absence, though it is clear that current staff could benefit from focused attempts upgrade their knowledge and skills to reflect the many recent developments in the field of teacher education of which many are unaware.

Sixth, the perceptions lecturers have of good teachers, their view of the curriculum, trainees and the nature of the training task rest uneasily with much of the rhetoric of MIITEP. This is likely to be a partial explanation for some of the outcomes reported elsewhere in this research. These staff have reasons to express the views that they do and some of these may well be valid. Clearly they have yet to be largely converted to ideas of student-centred learning (their practice displays only glimpses of what it might be), and they transmit different messages through their practice of the nature of the 'real' curriculum of teacher education. One way or another there needs to be some convergence between the 'progressive' stance of MIITEP and the 'traditional' orientation of many teacher trainers. Whether this should arrive at a mid-point or lean more in one direction than the other is a key question for future curriculum development in which logically the tutors should participate alongside their primary school colleagues. The training programmes developed by MSSSP for PEAs and head teachers seems to have effectively opened up new views of how teachers learn; this might be useful experience for redesigning the conceptual framework within which teacher education is carried out.

Seventh, perhaps surprisingly the colleges continue to function and staff do communicate some of their skill and enthusiasm to trainees, many of whom seem to value their college experience. This is a tribute to those who remain motivated and who try to do a professional job in very adverse conditions.

Finally, the colleges and the college staff are manifestly not at present developmental centres deeply embedded in the problems of primary school quality, child development, curriculum innovation, and discourse on training. They could become so, given the right vision, commitment, and realistic resources.