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close this bookAn Analysis of Primary Teacher Education in Trinidad and Tobago: The MUSTER Project (CIE, 2002, 156 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMulti-Site Teacher Education Research Project (MUSTER)
View the documentPreface
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentList of MUSTER Researchers in Trinidad and Tobago
View the documentList of Acronyms and Abbreviations
View the documentExecutive Summary
View the documentChapter 1. Background to the Study
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 2. Overview of the Education System
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 3. Trainees and the Training Environment
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 4. The Curriculum - Documented and Espoused
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 5. Trainees' In-College Learning Experiences
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 6. Trainees' Views of Themselves and the Teaching Profession
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 7. Learning to Teach - Experiences of Teacher Trainees and Newly Qualified Teachers
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 8. Costs and Financing, and Demand for Primary Teacher Education
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 9. Recommendations from the Muster Project
View the documentBibliography
View the documentAppendix A. MUSTER Symposium: Critical Issues in Primary Teacher Education in Trinidad and Tobago - Programme
View the documentAppendix B. Critical Issues in Primary Teacher Education in Trinidad and Tobago: Symposium Report
View the documentAppendix C. Letter to the Minister of Education

Appendix B. Critical Issues in Primary Teacher Education in Trinidad and Tobago: Symposium Report


On January 11th and 12th, 2002, the team of researchers from the School of Education, The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine, who were involved in the Trinidad and Tobago component of the MUSTER Project, hosted a symposium at the Learning Resource Centre of UWI. The symposium was entitled “Critical Issues in Primary Teacher Education in Trinidad and Tobago,” and it sought to bring together all the major stakeholders in the primary education sector in Trinidad and Tobago, in order to present them with the findings of the research, and to provide a forum to discuss these findings and other critical issues facing the sector.

Invitations to the symposium were sent out to (a) members of staff of the two major primary teacher training institutions in the country and the teacher education department of a third higher education institution, (b) principals of primary schools, (c) policy makers and administrators from the Ministry of Education and the Education Division of the Tobago House of Assembly, (d) staff and students of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI, and (e) representatives of other major stakeholders such as the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA), the Primary School Principals' Association, the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers' Association (TTUTA), and the Boards of Management of denominational schools.

The response to the invitations sent to members of the national stakeholder community was overwhelming, resulting in a packed auditorium of approximately 356 participants for the opening ceremony. Senator, The Hon. Mrs. Hazel Manning, Minister of Education, delivered the Feature Address at the opening ceremony, which was also addressed by the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, Dr. Ian Robertson, and the Principal of the St. Augustine Campus of UWI, PVC Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie. A dramatized interactive theme presentation on the primary school system by the Arts in Action Group of the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts, UWI, St. Augustine, also formed part of the opening ceremony. This presentation performed the dual function of breaking the ice through its vastly entertaining nature, as well as providing a sobering and realistic portrait of the environment in which the primary school teacher in Trinidad and Tobago is expected to function.

The symposium itself consisted of three keynote addresses, plenary presentations, round-table discussions by small “breakout” groups, and a panel discussion. A copy of the programme is provided as an appendix to this report.

The keynote speakers were Dr. Janet Stuart and Prof. Keith Lewin, the MUSTER Project Coordinators from the University of Sussex, and Prof. Errol Miller, Director of the Institute of Education, UWI, Mona, Jamaica. Dr. Stuart presented an overview and some key findings from the MUSTER Project, while Prof. Lewin provided an international perspective on issues in teacher education, with particular reference to costs and quality. Prof. Miller explored the way forward for primary teacher education in the Caribbean. These addresses provided participants with an international and regional framework for their discussion of the situation in Trinidad and Tobago. Additional Caribbean focus was ensured by the participation of three representatives from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), whose attendance was facilitated by the DFID Caribbean Office.

The presenters at the plenary sessions provided insights into the critical issues identified from the MUSTER research on primary teacher education in Trinidad and Tobago in the areas of Teacher Identity, On-the-Job Training, The Teachers' College Curriculum, The Teaching Practice Experience, and Newly Qualified Teachers. These presentations were, in essence, summaries of the findings articulated in Part I of this Country Report.

This section of the report will attempt to synthesize the response of the participants to these issues as articulated during the round-table discussions in the break-out groups and from the floor during the panel discussion. Contributions to the issues from the keynote speakers will also be woven into the synthesis. In addition to the topics identified above, the participants identified other critical issues that were not the primary focus of the research project. These issues will also be addressed.

Teacher Identity


The participants in the roundtable discussion on this topic agreed that ritual and myth are important in constructing society. They therefore understand the role of a myth such as that of the good teacher, which reflects not only teachers' views of their role in society but also the expectations that the society has of the teacher. They do not want to discard the myth but find it unnecessarily constricting. They suggested that a good teacher is the same as a good person, so that if one is not a good person one should not be a teacher. However, there is tension between what it means to be a good teacher and the need to get one's just due. It was agreed that teachers should not see themselves as just any other workers, because teachers are also role models. However, teachers should not provide a model of passive, sacrificial individuals but should model independence and assertiveness, which are the attributes that they want to develop in children. It was therefore felt that “good” should be seen in both oppositional and status quo roles. They stressed that being good does not mean being “goody-goody” and passive, but being radical, critical, questioning, and even rebellious.

In this regard, teaching is seen as a prophetic vocation related to the construction of a people, based on a certain vision of themselves and their values. This requires that those who are teachers have certain virtues consistent with the vision and the values that they are seeking to develop. The possession of these virtues does not mean that the good teacher should be the goody-goody teacher, which appears to be the concept of the good teacher that students are getting in the teachers' colleges. Participants felt that there is a need to interrogate this concept, and it was suggested that a review of the history of good teaching would show that it is not just about wholesome values, but also about willingness to take risks and to make sacrifices on behalf of the downtrodden and the dispossessed in order to give them a chance

Arising from this position, it was felt that there is need for the teachers' colleges to develop students who can perform the role of society formation. It was suggested that this was the role of the profession prior to the 19th century when the idea of nurturing as the central role of the profession developed. The participants also saw the need to locate teachers within the changes that are taking place in the society. They felt that the teachers' college curriculum is not helping teachers to come to terms with the context within which they operate. It was argued that, currently, the curriculum is concerned with equipping trainees with a repertoire of teaching skills but it is not helping them to discover who they are. It was therefore felt that it is necessary to work with them in the colleges in order to help them to locate themselves in this new millennium.


1. The colleges should identify ideas that trainees hold on entering the college; they need to look at the components of what the trainees see as the good teacher, and help them to create a new philosophy of what is a good teacher within the context of the society.

2. The colleges should help the trainees to develop a sense of their own philosophy, while ensuring that they understand the need to subscribe to a shared philosophy since teaching is a social profession and, as such, requires certain shared ideas and beliefs.

3. The teachers' college curriculum should incorporate more philosophy and sociology, and promote the habits of reflection and critical thinking.

On-the-Job Training (OJT)


It was noted that, initially, the OJT programme appeared to have emerged as a welfare-type programme, but that it is now oriented towards investment in human capital. Among the important characteristics of the programme identified are: 1) a fairly well thought-out curriculum which includes emphasis on encouraging reflective practice, and linking teaching to such educational aims as promoting political, economic, social, and spiritual development, preservation of the environment, and conflict resolution; 2) a fairly well-qualified staff; and 3) the use of a quota system in the selection of trainees.

With respect to the impact of the OJT programme on the education system, it was felt that the programme has contributed to teacher education by making it easy to identify potentially effective teachers among teachers' college recruits. It was suggested that some of the indicators of potential effectiveness could be garnered from observation of trainees' handling of routine teaching tasks, and their attitudes with respect to such things as commitment to the school, commitment to student learning, commitment to professional development, and teacher efficacy. It was also felt that the OJT programme has contributed to school effectiveness by supplying competent and motivated staff to schools, as evident from the impassioned requests from principals for OJT graduates to fill vacancies in their schools.

Although it was agreed that the OJT programme has been useful in preparing and professionalizing beginning teachers, it was felt that it must now be linked to the national teacher education system, and not be seen only in terms of employment generation. It was noted that since August 2001, the programme has moved on to greater effectiveness and efficiency with respect to curriculum content, personnel selection, funding, and remuneration. However, it was agreed that there is still much left to be accomplished in order to increase the effectiveness of the programme.


1. The quota system should be discarded.

2. A separate institution should be created for OJT trainees, with emphasis on hands-on experience, although not at the expense of theory.

3. More funding should be allocated in order to ensure the viability of the programme.

4. The curriculum should be restructured.

5. Tutors, principals, mentor teachers, and school staff should be sensitized to the operations and importance of the programme.

6. More effective monitoring systems should be implemented.

7. The programme should be made compulsory and should be a prerequisite for employment in the teaching profession and entry to teachers' college.

8. OJT trainees should be used as supply teachers to provide replacements when teachers are absent from the classroom.

9. OJT trainees should be placed in schools with receptive environments and good role models.

10. The scope of the programme should be expanded to include an induction process for newly qualified teachers, in addition to its present role as an induction process for untrained teachers.

11. The OJT programme should function as the preliminary year of teacher training for all teacher training programmes in the country, whether at the teachers' colleges, university, or the School of Continuing Studies of UWI.

12. The results of evaluation studies conducted during the OJT should be used to weed out unsuitable candidates for the teaching profession.

Teacher Education Curriculum


Participants agreed that there were certain deep-rooted underlying issues that need to be addressed with respect to the college curriculum. One such issue is that the documented curriculum, or the Syllabus of Work for Teachers' Colleges, is mandated/prescribed. It was felt that in order to meet the criteria for the certification of teachers, the colleges appear to concentrate on the delivery of the syllabus, with emphasis on evaluation and assessment. In this context, it is very difficult to make changes to the curriculum. It was noted that a mechanism for making such changes was articulated in the Report on Teacher Education and Training for the Primary Level (Trinidad and Tobago. Teacher Education Committee, 1980). This mechanism involves the establishment of subject committees to make recommendations to the Board of Teacher Training. However, it was reported that all attempts to determine the composition of these committees and whether they have been functioning have proven futile.

The problem of curriculum overload generated the most debate at the symposium. It was noted that at any given period of time, students were required to carry about 14 courses. The problem of dealing with this overload was therefore seen as one of the major problems to be dealt with.


1. Link the OJT programme, the teachers' college programme, and the Certificate in Education Programme at UWI into a holistic system, wherein it might be possible to share the current college syllabus among the three component parts.

2. Reorganize the curriculum in a modular format to cater for trainees' individual needs, which would allow for the supplementing of deficiencies and provision of exemptions, depending on the analysis of trainees' strengths and weaknesses.

3. Extend the training college course to three years to ensure effective completion of the current syllabus.

4. Reconceptualize the pedagogical and philosophical bases of the teacher education curriculum.

5. Include a social dimension in the curriculum, for example, personal development and aesthetic education.

6. Consider the implications for the teacher education curriculum of the possibility of having students aged 15-16 in the primary school, occasioned by the introduction of universal secondary education and the examination readiness philosophy of the Secondary Education Assessment (SEA) examination.

7. Engage in curriculum evaluation.

8. Review the content of the teacher education curriculum with respect to the teaching of reading to ensure that primary school teachers are able to effectively carry out this key task.

9. Consider the question of subject specialization in the preparation of primary school teachers.

Teaching Practice


Most of the discussion centred on the problems experienced with the teaching practice sessions. Among the problems identified were:

· The stifling of creativity in the trainees because of the overloaded syllabus. In some cases, this has led to them developing negative coping skills such as recycling lessons and even buying lessons from other students.

· The fact that trainees are assessed from the first teaching practice. This denies them the opportunity to make mistakes without the fear of being penalized. It was pointed out that the weighting of the early teaching practice is lower than the later ones, but participants still felt that other alternatives could be considered.

· The short duration of the teaching practice periods. This limits the time trainees have to adapt or acclimatize.

· The lack of consistency across supervisors with respect to expectations and practices.

· The fact that external examiners do not necessarily come to the final teaching practice of all the trainees, which appeared to be due to the limited expertise available.


1. Establishment of a teaching laboratory within the colleges so that trainees can practice without being assessed.

2. Adoption of a more developmental approach so that not all the skills are assessed from the first teaching practice.

3. Extension of the periods for teaching practice to six-months, which would offer an expanded role for principals and cooperating teachers.

4. Exercising care in the choice of cooperating schools in order to ensure that trainees receive adequate attention and guidance.

Impact of Training/Newly Qualified Teachers


The participants identified four types of factors that hindered NQTs from achieving their goal of helping every child to maximize its potential. These were classified as (a) systemic, (b) interpersonal, (c) both systemic and interpersonal, and (d) personal.

Systemic Factors

1. The post-graduation placement and transfer process is unsatisfactory in that the filling of vacancies appears to be the only objective of the personnel department. There seems to be a lack of sensitivity to the local geography, road network, and to the people being placed.

2. The country is not receiving an adequate return on its investment in scholarships for teacher training.

3. The delayed appointment of NQTs to the post of Teacher I, especially in Tobago, is having an adverse effect on the morale of these beginning teachers.

Interpersonal Factors

4. There is no induction programme in the schools receiving NQTs, aimed at maintaining their motivation, energy, and initiative.

5. There are no programmes in schools aimed at inspiring and infusing continuous learning among staff.

Systemic and Interpersonal Factors

6. Seriously flawed individuals are entering the teaching profession.

Personal Factors

7. Some NQTs do not seem to have an operating standard-a knowledge of what to demand from themselves and their students.


1. Housing should be provided in cases where NQTs are placed in schools far from their domicile.

2. There should be a period of compulsory service for all those attending teachers' college, in order to ensure that the country receives an adequate return on its investment in scholarships to teacher trainees.

3. Appointments to the post of Teacher I should be made in a timely manner.

4. The written statement of the school's vision and policy, created as part of the School Improvement Programme (SIP), should be given to every NQT.

5. Receiving schools should introduce a support programme for NQTs, based on the culture of the school.

6. Receiving schools should introduce professional development programmes for principals and senior teachers in order to facilitate the development of an environment conducive to the reception of new ideas brought by NQTs.

7. An employee assistance programme (EAP) should be developed, which could either guide unsuitable people out of the profession or try to remedy their faults.

8. The OJT should be used in the way that it was meant to be used, that is, to weed out unsuitable people before they reach the training colleges.

9. Principals should regularly submit honestly completed assessment forms so that proper assessment can be made before further movement is allowed within the profession.

10. Refresher courses should be provided to school staff, both in personal management and job appraisal.

11. NQTs should be exposed to personal development programmes either at the college or as part of the induction process.

Costs and Financing of Primary Teacher Education


The research findings on this issue were provided by Prof. Keith Lewin in his keynote address, and there was no breakout group to discuss this topic. Therefore, all the information available was that provided by Prof. Lewin.

Prof. Lewin identified the following significant indicators of the education system in Trinidad and Tobago:

· universal primary education has been achieved and about 80% gross enrolment had been achieved at the secondary level before the recent adoption of a policy of universal secondary education

· the population of school-aged children is shrinking

· the pupil-teacher ratio is about 23:1

· the teacher attrition rate is within manageable proportions

· the staff-student ratio at the teachers' colleges is about 14:1

· the ratio of all teachers to the annual output of new teachers is 20:1, that is, 5% of teachers are new teachers each year

· approximately 1.8% the country's annual budget is spent on teacher education.

The general picture that emerged is one in which primary school enrolments are declining, mainly because of the shrinking population of school-aged children. This means that the demand for new primary school teachers will also decline. Prof. Lewin suggested that the declining numbers create the opportunity to improve the amounts spent per child in schools. This situation also allows for the possibility of increased investment in teacher education at the primary level so that quality can be improved.

Other Recommendations

1. Salaries and Conditions of Service

It was observed that college lecturers, as a group, have been grossly neglected. Recommendations were made for a proper career structure and pay commensurate with a very difficult and demanding task, as well as recognition and preparation as adult educators-they are trainers of professionals. Primary school teachers, as well, need improvements in their working conditions and their level of remuneration. It was felt that teachers deserve a living wage that would enable them, at least at the end of their career, to own their own homes and to be free from debt. After a lifetime of teaching they should be able to retire with an adequate pension. It was argued that the society cannot ask teachers to bring about a transformation of society if the society is not going to pay attention to their working and living conditions. Presently, teachers are being treated as agents of change without their own personal needs being met, and this has to be done.

2. Professional Development

It was recommended that consideration be given to ways in which teacher educators can be prepared and supported in their role. It was suggested that questions should be asked about the sort of experience they have had and, therefore, the kind of professional development that should be offered to them.

3. Governance Structures

It was noted that unlike other countries in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has never given over its teacher training to UWI. The model used in the Eastern and Western Caribbean involves a partnership among the Ministries of Education, the teachers' unions, the teacher training colleges, and UWI, which holds the chairmanship and the secretariat. In the case of the Eastern Caribbean, they have had the Eastern Caribbean Standing Conference on Teacher Education and they are now establishing a Joint Board of Teacher Education, similar to that found in the Western Caribbean [The Joint Board of Teacher Education for the Western Caribbean is the formal mechanism recognized by UWI for dealing with programme, examination, and certification matters related to teacher education. The membership of the Board includes representation from UWI, teachers' colleges, Ministries of Education, teachers' professional associations, and a maximum of three independent members]. It was recommended that this model be given some consideration in the Trinidad and Tobago context.

It was pointed out that in Trinidad and Tobago, it is almost impossible to identify the policy authority for professional development. It appears to be “everywhere and anywhere.” This is much too diffuse and it may be necessary to find ways of making it a little more focused and concentrated. However, it needs to be focused on some very clear objectives for learning and it was felt that this policy authority should include representatives of all the stakeholders present at the symposium.

4. Recruitment of Teachers

The culture of recruitment in Trinidad and Tobago was described as really one of selection-taking the best of what is available. It was recommend that the recruitment process be reconsidered, and that the question of attitudes of prospective teachers should be dealt with from the very beginning; recruitment suitability should not only be about having the required academic qualifications.

5. Educational Qualifications

Prof. Errol Miller, one of the Keynote Speakers, threw out a challenge to the participants at the symposium to “think outside the box” with respect to trying to chart a way forward for primary teacher education in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean as a whole. He pointed out that the Caribbean has been training teachers at about the same level for over 150 years. During that time the level of education of the society has greatly increased and the teacher is expected to have a bit more education than the general public. This means that in today's society, in which most people have secondary education and many parents have university degrees, it is necessary to upgrade teachers' level of education so that they can again command a certain degree of respect in the society. He indicated that there is a general movement in the Caribbean to significantly increase the proportion of primary school teachers with degrees and to use the degree programme to address various issues relating to primary education.

6. Technological Applications

Prof. Miller suggested that in looking at the improvement of primary education itself, it would be necessary to have a new paradigm for the Caribbean in the 21st century. Teachers will have to be trained to a different level and in different ways to address current issues. This will involve the use of modern information and communications technology (ICT), and if teachers are going to use ICT in both instruction and management, their training will need to include it. He outlined a pilot project currently underway in Jamaica that is seeking to link all the teacher training colleges using microwave technology. This link will enhance teacher training as well as facilitate continuing professional education. The UWI, Mona, in collaboration with the other two campuses, is also making preparations to offer the M.Ed. degree online.

Prof. Keith Lewin suggested that as more information technology is applied to learning and knowledge generation, the more we should be rethinking the framework within which teacher education takes place. He advised that participants should think about the implications of distance education programmes being offered by competitors outside the region, and think about the paradigms within which they were currently debating the future of teacher education. He warned that these paradigms are changing; the way in which information and knowledge can be delivered, shared, and professional skill acquired might be different in the future than it has been in the past.


In view of all the contributions from the participants in the symposium, the Chief Education Officer identified the need for the Ministry of Education to revisit the White Paper on Education, which currently defines the policy for education reform, with specific reference to what is and isn't applicable; what has and has not been done and why; what should not have been included at all; and what should have been added. This revisiting should see the teacher not as an individual but as a person representing a group of responsibilities in a very dynamic process, and should be geared towards enabling the system to deal with current and evolving needs and careers in the system. She acknowledged that if we think only in terms of what we perceive the teacher to be today, we are going to neglect preparation for all the new and emerging careers that must be considered if the country is to effectively respond to the needs for teaching and learning.

The general consensus of the participants was that the symposium had filled a long-standing desire of many in the profession to bring stakeholders together in a professional manner to debate and dialogue on critical issues facing the primary education sector. It was the heartfelt wish of many that this kind of gathering would be repeated on a continuing basis.