|The Malawi Integrated In-Service Teacher Education Project: An Analysis of the Curriculum and Its Delivery in the Colleges (CIE, 2000, 75 p.)|
|Chapter 4: Evaluations and Conclusions|
The Malawi situation is a very difficult one and the Ministry faces a number of dilemmas. Many more teachers have to be trained but the quality of applicants is below previously acceptable academic standards and there is neither time nor money to put trainees through a conventional 2-3 year training course. The schools - over-crowded, poorly staffed and under-resourced - are not conducive training environments. MIITEP tried to square the circle, and it is hardly surprising that its first attempts should fall below initial expectations. It seems inevitable that for the foreseeable future initial training will have to be done on the job, within the structural constraints created by the need to train large numbers over short periods of time. In the following discussion, we focus on what we see as the key factors which influence the realisation of MIITEP - the overall timing and structure, the curriculum, the students, tutors and the colleges - and make some preliminary suggestions.
4.7.1 The Structure
Everyone says the residential parts of the course should be longer. Given the low entry qualifications of the students, and the fact they are being trained to teach 12 subjects, there is indeed too much to cover. Comparable courses usually have more time (ZINTEC in Zimbabwe had 8 months in college). Costs may preclude a conventional three-year residential course, but consideration should be given to extending one or both blocks by 2-3 months. There are personal and professional benefits to students from the hidden curriculum of the collegial experience. At the same time, it would be necessary to make both college-based and school-based training more effective, and to revise the content of the curriculum so as to ensure adequate coverage of the key training components.
The system obtaining in 1996-8, with cohorts following each other end-on, laid huge burdens on staff, with consequent diminution in morale and teaching effectiveness. There needs to be a sufficient gap between the residential blocks for tutors to carry out their other duties, such as visiting schools, marking exams and the assignments sent in from the field, attending in-service workshops - and taking some leave (some of our interviewees had not taken a holiday in the last two years, apparently commuting their leave allowance into a cash payment!).
4.7.2 The Teacher Educators
The key to the whole process is the college tutors, and their neglect at the inception of MIITEP was a major weakness. Although some took part in writing the Handbooks, as a group they were not part of the decision-making process, and the two-week orientation they were given by TDU, unsupported by any follow-up, was woefully inadequate. They do not appear to feel much ownership of MIITEP, nor do they seem fully to understand the innovatory aspects of its mission; indeed, many resent the new approaches and feel uncomfortable with them. They felt they were doing a good job before, and that MIITEP forces them to lower their standards. In their hands it is not - and cannot be - a new course, but rather a watered-down version of an old Malawian model.
As many tutors have retired or are nearing retiring age, there is a window of opportunity to engage a new group with a fresh attitude to school-based training, who have experience of the new developments taking place in the primary schools. All tutors, new and in post, should be offered professional development programmes that will enable them to upgrade their qualifications to at least B.Ed. level, with appropriate focus on new developments in both subject content, pedagogy and learning theory. This applies particularly to the Foundation Studies staff, who need to be aware of current international changes in the relevant disciplines, but who are also prepared to consider how these can best be adapted and made appropriate to the local educational and cultural context - no small task! Maths and Science departments should also be given priority.
Even after academic upgrading, tutors will need some regular professional development activities. Some of these might be channelled through departments; the Head of Departments already seem to carry responsibilities for induction of new staff, and developing their role, with remuneration, might be an incentive to keep them within the profession. There is need for a comprehensive strategy for career development of this small but essential cadre of staff; the new Planning and Investment Framework may provide a starting point.
The kinds of changes envisaged in the progressive strand of MIITEP will take a long time to implement system-wide. A necessary, though not sufficient, prerequisite is that college staff fully understand and adopt these ideas in their own teaching, so that the concepts permeate the college experience for the trainees. It is of course also necessary that these are reinforced by the school experience, and that the colleges work closely with the school-based trainers, a topic discussed more fully by Kunje and Chirembo (op.cit.). It is essential that there are exemplars, in both college and schools, of the new approaches in action to inspire the new generation of teachers.
4.7.3 The Curriculum
This was drawn up in haste and perhaps the curriculum developers were not able to be radical enough, in the sense of making root and branch changes. The programme is essentially a condensed version of previous courses, predicated on college-based rather than school-based training, and written with MSCE students in mind. It appears to contain a number of contradictions and mismatches, perhaps because there was no time to pilot either methods or materials. Many students have found it difficult, and emerging evidence suggests it has not met its main objectives.
The production of the Student-Teacher Handbooks was a substantial achievement and they have given a very useful structure to the course. There are, however, considerable differences in the way subjects are treated. It seems imperative for the TDU, colleges and all subject panels hold a wide-ranging review about how far the students can be upgraded in their subject and how much time should be devoted to teaching methods, given the experience the students bring with them, and the (hopefully improving) support and coaching in the schools. Maths appears to present particular problems and the syllabus may need substantial revision.
There are also discrepancies within the Handbook texts: for example, there is often confusion about whether the tutor or the students are being addressed and the didactic content is often at odds with the espoused emphasis on open and participatory learning. The two self-study books follow the same format as those used in college and make little use of the school environment. The Handbooks need revising to cover the above points; they could perhaps address themselves specifically to the cooperating teachers and the PEAs as well as the students, and to offer a structure for classroom-based activities.
The curriculum is mismatched in several ways to the needs of these in-service teachers. Firstly, many come with inadequate educational preparation, so the curriculum should include remedial or bridging components, particularly in English language skills but probably also in Maths. Secondly, they need to learn how to learn - a course on Study Skills should form part of the first months teaching, reinforced by practice in using the texts, finding information, and writing reports throughout the college block, so they are better prepared for the School-based Training component.
At the same time, it is important for both curriculum developers and tutors to recognise that although they have poor academic qualifications these students have considerable and valuable practice experience that should be built upon. Not only have they all taught for several years, but many of the students have children and therefore some informal experience of child development and of teaching. The Handbooks need to acknowledge this more explicitly and open up possibilities for using it, which should then be followed up by the tutors and reflected in the assessment system.
The assessment instruments use a narrow range of question types and appear to test only low level skills. It should be possible to develop different ways of assessing higher cognitive levels in both content and pedagogy, especially during the school-based training period; this needs to be closely matched to the Study Skills practice. The teaching and learning are at present exam-driven, and the backwash effects are often detrimental to good professional practice among both tutors and students. It is critical that the assessment should reflect the more interactive assumptions about learning.
4.7.4 Teaching Processes and College Management
In spite of all the constraints on the colleges, some aspects of the teaching process could be improved, not only through the professional development of the tutors as indicated above, but also through better college management and by improved departmental procedures.
One problem is the lack of departmental assessment policies within the colleges. Students are given very little formative assessment, and therefore do not get sufficient feedback and reinforcement. If tutors did not have to mark field-based work during the residential block, they could concentrate on setting and marking regular tests and assignments, which would better prepare the students for their period of distance learning. There may also be scope for peer assessment techniques, which would help develop critical skills.
Large teaching groups are inevitable given the numbers involved, but good professional training needs opportunities for intimate discussion. Given a full complement of teaching staff, it should be possible to organise teaching in a more varied manner: for example, for one tutor to give an introductory key lecture to several groups at a time, allowing other members of the department to hold follow-up sessions with the class groups. The college-based TP is handled in groups of ten; these might be turned into more regular tutor-group seminars; where cross-curricular issues, like those set out in the general aims and objectives, could be discussed, which might help the trainees develop a more integrated and holistic understanding of the teachers role. Our evidence suggests the students are keen to share ideas with their peers, and that many of the tutors have a professional commitment to developing their students as teachers; these positive attitudes could be built on.
Such changes would mean tutors no longer followed rigidly the format of the current Handbooks; it would allow the Handbooks to be more explicitly directed to students, while tutors devised their own lectures using the Handbooks as resources. A prerequisite for this is the further professional development of the tutors as discussed above.
4.7.5 The Students and the informal curriculum
Given the small numbers currently completing secondary education, it is likely that primary teachers will continue to be drawn from those with only JCE or low MSCE marks. As gaining MSCE raises their salary levels, perhaps they should be encouraged to study at a distance for these exams after their training, and the MIITEP syllabus be designed as complementary to that of the MSCE, particularly in Maths and Science, where the subject upgrading is most needed. English, however, need to be treated specially due to its importance as a teaching medium.
Few of the students in our samples claimed to be able to teach in languages other than English and Chichewa. Yet if infant classes are to be taught even partially in their mother tongue, more students may need to be recruited from minority language groups.
It seems very important that the age, experience and maturity of the students be recognised and used positively. This might help develop those professional attitudes and characteristics which are frequently mentioned by both tutors and students, but which do not form any part of the formal curriculum. The average age is mid- to late twenties; presumably these people normally act in socially responsible ways towards their friends and kin - if not, they should not be on the programme - and it seems anomalous to treat them in college like school children. The feeling of not being respected clearly lowers morale. Different styles of management should be developed, and a more adult-oriented set of rules and responsibilities be negotiated with the Student Representative Councils. This is in keeping with Malawis current wider societal and political goals, and would encourage a more professional atmosphere during training, through the informal rather than the formal curriculum.
There are gender issues here. MIITEP is bringing more women into teaching but the current organisation of training does not seem to recognise womens dual roles. Two examples are their need to visit their families during the residential block - though this also affects men - and the difficulties faced by those with young babies at particular stages of the course. Gender-friendly solutions need to be found.