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close this bookPrimary Teacher Education in Malawi: Insights into Practice and Policy (CIE, 2002, 144 p.)
close this folderChapter 4: The Intended Curriculum
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1 The Intended curriculum
View the document4.2 Aims, general objectives and underlying philosophy of MIITEP
View the document4.3 Content
View the document4.4 Assessment
View the document4.5 Observations on the curriculum strategy and its coherence

4.3 Content

The content of MIITEP training is presented in the five Handbooks. These are based on the subjects taught in the primary schools plus Foundation Studies. Table 4.1 below sets out the number of units devoted to each subject, both in the college and school-based parts of the course. This gives a broad picture of the balance of the curriculum. It also shows that the proportion of time allocated in College closely matches the overall proportions of the text materials.

The overall emphasis is on subject-related studies, and these are confined to those that the trainees will have to teach. Professional studies takes up only one sixth of the whole time. Teaching methods, however, form part of the subject studies. There is no general or personal education, not even communication or study skills, although the trainees enter with low grades in school-leaving qualifications, suggesting they are not proficient students. An analysis of the content shows that it is heavily compartmentalised into subjects; there are few common themes. Cross-cutting topics mentioned in the objectives, such as gender, population, HIV/AIDS, democracy and human rights are tucked away in separate units in Foundations, Science or Social Studies, and do not seem to permeate the course more generally.

Table 4.1: Organisation of Content



No. of units

% of whole

% at college

Core subjects Category A

Foundation Studies












Science & Health Education




Social &General Studies








Category B





Home Economics and Needle craft




Physical Education




Religious Education








Creative arts







Twelve subjects




Considerable differences are found between subjects when the kinds of knowledge presented are examined. The English and Mathematics units, for example, focus on curriculum and pedagogical content knowledge, and the English course is explicitly aimed at skills development. In contrast, science materials are heavily content-based with minimal attention to pedagogical knowledge or skills. The Foundations courses cover rather briefly general pedagogic knowledge and skills, knowledge of learners, of educational contexts and educational aims and values, in that order of priority as measured by unit time.

The following sub-sections give some details of the topics covered in these four subjects. The prominence given to behavioural objectives shows clearly the underlying assumptions about learning on which the course is based.

4.3.1 English

The course begins with five units on curriculum and general pedagogic knowledge; this includes how to write lesson plans, schemes of work and records of English lessons. The rest of the units during the College period are all focused on how to teach aspects of the primary school curriculum, including identifying pupil errors, testing and remedial work. The only exceptions to this pattern are three units on 'phonology' and 'phonetics', and three more in Book 3 on English Study for Professional Purposes. These are the only units aimed at improving the student's own English language competence.

The school-based units recapitulate and expand on selected topics from the college course, focusing directly on how one can use these in one's class. For example, 'oral communicative language teaching techniques' are explained again, and the student is given detailed examples of how to carry these out with the pupils. The zonal seminars cover such topics as making visual aids, songs and rhymes, pre-reading activities and 'wide reading'.

The specific objectives are almost all phrased in practical terms starting with what the students should be able to so, such as:

- teach pre-reading activities
- use dialogue/pair work/role play etc for language practice
- make and use phonic charts for teaching, reading questions
- identify errors in pupils' written work

4.3.2 Mathematics

Almost all the mathematics units concentrate on pedagogical content knowledge, here set out as how to teach the primary mathematics syllabus. The one exception is a unit on the history of numbers. There are no units on lesson planning or scheming. The zonal seminars are devoted to teaching and learning aids which can be bought or made. As in English most of the school-based units are expansions of selected topics already covered, but some new concepts are introduced, using formal language; there seems to be much emphasis on definitions and terminology that the teacher should know, and less on how to make things simple for pupils. There is nothing on the theory of mathematics education.

Almost all the unit objectives in the college period are phrased in terms of what the student will know and be able to teach e.g.

- define subtraction, teach subtraction of numbers with regrouping

- define cash account; teach how to enter transactions and balance the account

- define and classify geometric shapes; teach modelling, naming and drawing geometric shapes.

In the self-study units, the objectives are phrased as: ' should able to teach .........'

4.3.3 Science

The first 9 units look at curriculum and general pedagogic knowledge in the context of teaching science; they review lesson planning and scheming, but also discuss the teaching of scientific skills and attitudes, with use of equipment and resources, and safety measures. The rest of the units, by contrast with other main subjects, focus entirely on content knowledge: physics and chemistry during the college period; biology and health education during the school-based period. While the science is clearly intended to be taught at colleges in practical ways that student teachers could later use in primary schools (if they had the resources) there are no units on aspects of science education, such as children's misconceptions in science or the development of scientific concepts.

The first nine units combine cognitive objectives with practical ones, so that after stating and explaining a topic the students are expected to do something e.g. write a lesson plan, construct a nature table, improvise some apparatus etc.. In the rest of the units the objectives are all variations on the themes of:

- Explain meanings, applications of ...........
- State examples, factors, uses of...........
- Perform activities, on what factors can do.......

4.3.4 Foundations Studies

The first part of the residential course is mainly concerned with general pedagogical knowledge, comprising the technical and professional skills of writing lesson plans, formulating objectives, drawing up schemes of work and keeping records, as well as introductions to different kinds of teaching methods and how to improvise and use various kinds of teaching/learning aids. The second part focuses on the knowledge of learners, such as child development and theories of learning, combined in some units with more general pedagogic knowledge, for example, how to handle children with different learning abilities. Four units follow on testing.

Books 4 and 5 are more school-related, focusing on practical concerns, such as management and administration of schools, keeping records, school and the community relationships, professional ethics and conditions of service. Other units look at general pedagogic knowledge, mainly classroom management skills. Information about the classroom tends to be stronger on rhetoric than on reality i.e. saying what 'should' happen in good practice, rather than focussing on problems and how to deal with them. There are no suggestions for carrying out enquiry-based work into one's own classroom.

The zonal seminars deal with administering tests, working with colleagues, and policy matters; the last two suggestions take up the issues of gender, and population and environment, in an apparent nod towards the general objectives.

The specific objectives for each unit are typically phrased to emphasis theoretical rather than practical knowledge, even when skills are involved e.g. in studying learners students shall be able to:

- define

intelligence, maturation, individual difference, motivation etc

- state

how each factor of x influences y

- explain

uses of concepts like transfer, discovery, concept learning in the learning process

- discuss

child development etc how learning takes place, aspects of child development, what children at certain stage can do etc, how to handle children with learning difficulties

Only in the unit on resources are trainees asked actually to make things. Even the units on tests are phrased as: 'explain/describe the types, purposes, advantages, and ways of constructing tests', rather than in terms of designing exemplars. Such objectives can all be achieved on a formal level, through learning by rote the information given in the text. The relationship between theory and practice seems rather tenuous. It is left to the trainees to bring the two together.