|The Malawi Integrated In-Service Teacher Education Project: An Analysis of the Curriculum and Its Delivery in the Colleges (CIE, 2000, 75 p.)|
|Chapter 1: Issues and Context|
A brief description of the colleges and their staff will help set the study in its context. More detailed data is found in Lewin and Kunje (1999) and in a forthcoming study of college tutors careers and perspectives.
Though we deliberately chose contrasting colleges, the differences lay mainly in their history, in some physical and material aspects, and to a lesser extent in college management and staff attitudes. The delivery of the curriculum was broadly similar, and it can presumed therefore to be fairly typical of MIITEP as a whole. The findings are in line with observations made by another member of the MUSTER team, Alison Croft, in two other colleges.
Both colleges are residential. St. Josephs is a female college founded in 1932 by the Roman Catholic Church, and now administered in partnership with government. The Principal at the time of fieldwork was a Sister. The college stands in a well-tended park-like environment 15 km. from the market town of Dedza; it has spacious brick buildings, some constructed within the last decade. There is a large assembly hall/refectory, new hostels and ample laboratory and library space. The language lab is, however, currently used for storage. This is one of the four colleges that benefited from substantial World Bank building funds in the late 1980s.
Blantyre Teachers College (BTC) is a mixed-sex government college, originally built in 1962 as Soche Hill Teacher Training College. It stands just outside Blantyre-Limbe, Malawis main industrial centre. The one-story buildings are laid out in quadrangular patterns, around lawns and flowerbeds, but everything appears poorly maintained. The library is small and understocked, there is a video viewing room too small for a whole class to watch in comfortably, and the laboratories and technical workshop areas are inadequate. The hostels are grossly over-crowded, with poor sanitary facilities; the water supply is erratic and when the pump eventually broke down in 1999 the college had to be temporarily closed.
The financial situation is set out in detail in Lewin and Kunje (1999): suffice it to say here that at the time of fieldwork the colleges were receiving only about 20% of their recurrent budgetary needs, and at such irregular intervals that sometimes there was a problem buying food for the students. St. Josephs was breeding chickens to supplement the diet, which was mainly of maize and beans. There was therefore no money available for teaching and learning materials of any kind: nothing for science experiments or for home economics practicals, and even pens, exercise books and chart paper were wanting. The lack of light bulbs in BTC prevented students from studying in the evenings.
Such conditions inevitably impacted on the delivery of the curriculum. It is clear that a basic level of resourcing is a necessary though not sufficient for quality teaching and learning as envisaged in the MIITEP project.
In both colleges classrooms were furnished in traditional style, with heavy wooden desks, sometimes incorporating a seat, arranged in irregular lines facing the blackboard wall. Where classes were doubled up, students might be sharing desks and crammed uncomfortably together. Such furniture made groupwork difficult, though not impossible given time, space and muscle-power to move them around, and as rooms seemed used by the same department, different permanent arrangements could have been made. There were pinboards, but few displays, and those appeared old and tatty, with no evidence of students work. This was not surprising, given the lack of materials, but it made the frequent exhortations of tutors to be creative, make your own teaching and learning aids sound rather hollow.
Laboratories were furnished with benches, stools, and a few workstations, but the total absence of both equipment and consumables made these inoperative. At BTC electric sockets had been vandalised and the bare wires posed safety hazards. In one lab there were dusty collections of nature corners and student-made models, but these seemed to hark back to a more leisurely and wealthier past.
Teaching in Malawian training colleges may still carry some status, at least within the teaching profession, but it does not currently offer high rewards. The general picture (see Lewin and Kunje 1999) is of an underqualified and ageing group, with few opportunities for promotion or professional development. Only about a quarter of tutors in post hold degrees, the rest having mainly diplomas. The majority are over 40 years of age, and early retirement is being encouraged because of costs.
Of the sample we interviewed, almost all had started their careers as primary teachers, and 9 held the Diploma in Primary Teacher Education run in the mid-80s by Chancellor College to train staff for the TTCs. Younger ones tended to have taken the Diploma for Secondary Teachers before being promoted to college lecturer. Both groups are treated, in the primary tradition, as generalists rather than specialists and expected to teach more than one subject. While they do have relevant experience, this goes back to a time when primary schooling was still quite selective; they do not have personal experience of the challenges of mass primary schooling, with its huge classes and lack of resources. All this should be kept in mind when discussing their attitudes and their curricular practice.
1.6.4 The Colleges as Institutions: management, administration and ethos
The colleges are under a division of the Ministry of Education and subject to bureaucratic regulation. Tutors, like teachers, are posted to different colleges by the central office as and when need arises, though provision is made for eligible persons to apply directly to the principal of a specific college, who will then forward their recommendation to MOE. The principals at the time of the fieldwork seemed fully occupied trying to keep their college afloat in the face of financial crises and staff shortages. The MOE was encouraging those eligible for retirement to take it; this affected BTC so much that one department was about to close. Neither colleges nor principals seemed in a position to develop their own aims or mission statements, nor to build up an effective collegial body of staff to carry these out.
In spite of this, there were elements of collegial organisation and professional responsibility alongside the bureaucratic management style. In both colleges, tutors were organised in departments, led by a Head of Department - often acting and therefore unpaid - whose tasks included coordinating and reporting results, checking tutors schemes of work and - at least at St. Josephs - inducting new members of staff. Both colleges had a system for scheduling meetings at departmental, HOD and general staff level, though these appeared to take place more regularly at BTC than at St. Josephs. On an individual level, we found tutors taking on roles such as Student Welfare Officer or Hostel Warden, and devoting time to trying to solve students personal or academic problems. The large student numbers and the short length of the course, however, militated against building up such constructive relationships.
The timetable was similar in both colleges: six one-hour classes a day, with a 1 1/2 or 2 hour lunch-break. One morning a week was devoted to Teaching Practice in the Demonstration Schools. Students were supposed to study in the evenings, but at BTC the lack of light bulbs in the classrooms made this impossible. At St. Josephs, by contrast, we observed many students studying, and some tutors were giving catch-up lectures after supper.
Such a pressurised and crammed course allows little time for extra-curricular activities or for personal and social development. The new democratic government insists, however, on student councils, and at St. Josephs part of an afternoon was given over to elections. As the term was already half over, this seemed more of a symbolic gesture than a real attempt to educate students in democratic participation.
On the whole, the atmosphere was much closer to secondary than to tertiary education. Most students were in their mid- to late twenties, many married and with families, but no allowances were made for this, and in some ways they were not treated as adults. There were no telephones. Students had to ask permission to go off campus to see their families. Bureaucratic regulations, on the other hand, demanded they go to their own district to collect their monthly pay cheque. The hidden curriculum here contains messages about low status, lack of respect and little concern for welfare.
1.6.5 School-based training
For the school-based training component, conditions were far from ideal. Thirteen schools in Central and Southern Regions were chosen for study; these are likely to be typical of the country as a whole. In six of the sample schools, the student teachers outnumbered the qualified teachers, often by as much as 2:1. Classes were huge, with pupil-teacher ratios ranging from 60:1 to > 100:1. Some schools lacked sufficient classrooms, all lacked sufficient teaching/learning resources. Some of the Teacher Development Centres, where the zonal seminars were to take place, were still under construction. Those completed were functioning well, but in other places zonal seminars were conducted in ordinary school classrooms.
The training of headteachers and PEAs in supervision and mentoring methods had started somewhat after MIITEP began and not everyone was fully briefed on their role. Transport for PEAs, in the form of motor bikes, only became available in 1998, over a year after the first cohort went back to their schools.
1.6.6 Contextual issues
We can see then that MIITEP, while building on a local tradition of teacher education, was newly designed as a crash course, combining residential and on-the-job training, in response to a crisis of teacher supply. While international aid helped develop the programme and resource materials, the general environment - both college and school - was in many ways unconducive to good teaching and learning: ageing and underqualified teams of tutors, underfunded colleges, and very poorly resourced schools. Had more time been available, a stronger supporting structure could have been in place to underpin the school-based component.
The next two chapters examine the curriculum in more detail, both as it was planned and as it was delivered in practice.