|The MUSTER Synthesis Report - Researching Teacher Education: New Perspectives on Practice, Performance and Policy (CIE, 2003, 237 p.)|
|CHAPTER 10: INSIGHTS FROM MUSTER AND WAYS FORWARD|
Eagles cover large distances with remarkable skill and adapt to different environments with apparent ease, flexibly applying themselves to the problems of survival in different and changing environments.
Radical reform requires vision, courage and persistence to reshape teacher education in fundamental ways. It will usually require substantial investment up-front before benefits are apparent, and the conversion to new approaches of those embedded in the comfort zones of the old. It is the most exciting but the most risky option as entrenched interests rarely embrace new practices without strong incentives; such changes are usually linked to wider political reforms.
Some possibilities here are:
Reprofiling the structure and length of training
Conventional teacher education systems are heavily front-loaded in terms of the investment of resources i.e. most if not all the resources are committed to pre-career full-time residential training. This has several disadvantages e.g. it leaves few resources for investment in managed induction and subsequent continuing professional development, a proportion of those who enter training may qualify but seek and find other jobs, and some kinds of professional skill and competence may be best acquired after experience on the job rather than before. Where demand is high long periods of pre-career training will be expensive and slow to produce large numbers of new teachers.
Alternatives which provide shorter periods of introductory training, followed by periods of work as assistant teachers interspersed with subsequent training inputs building on the base acquired from school experience, could be both more efficient (those who are trained are on the job, therefore costs are lower), and more effective (theory and practice are placed in dialogue, college-based work has to respond to real problems and skill needs). It is therefore possible to conceive of training which is drip fed over time rather than provided in a single long period pre-career. There are many possibilities of detailed configuration which could include short intensive (e.g. 3 months) residential training, vacation workshops, complementary distance learning support, local cluster groups to support trainee teachers on the job etc. If this were linked to incremental progression up the career structure - e.g. trainee teacher, assistant teacher, junior teacher, fully qualified teacher - it could provide incentives to stay with the programme and accumulate skills and competence.
A variant of this approach could seek to move the locus of training activity to schools, as is the case in many high income countries. Conceptually it is easy for this to appear attractive. However, MUSTER empirical evidence draws attention to some important stumbling blocks. These include: the scarcity of school locations representing good practice relative to the numbers of trainees, the shortage of those likely to possess mentoring skills at school level and their willingness to invest substantial time in the activity, and the difficulties of moderating the school-based experience and ensuring appropriate and valid assessment and certification. Circumstances will differ and it may be that some of these problems can be overcome. More realistically in the short to medium term it is possible to imagine movement towards more school-based training through alternating periods of On-the-Job training and college-based work. Where colleges are located in areas where it is feasible to adopt a cluster of schools large enough to provide meaningful school-based training, the opportunity exists to re-organise the curriculum accordingly. Peripatetic trainers based in Teachers Centres rather than colleges have proved effective if given good training, support and management.
Mixed-mode training programmes, which combine college-based work with different types of distance learning, already exist. MIITEP in Malawi is an example. The research on MIITEP indicates the many difficulties that exist in realising the technically coherent model in practice where infrastructure is weak. Many planned support activities simply do not happen and such systems have to be engineered with characteristics that are realistically sustainable. However, where infrastructure is more adequate, they have many attractions. MUSTER countries do not currently use ICTs in teacher education. The reasons for this in the African countries are self-evident. The costs are high, (especially the on-costs of systems that remain functional), connectivity is low, and relevant content is yet to be created. This situation may change over the next decade. Until it does it will remain the case that print material offers far more durable opportunities for support for training at a distance, though of course it lacks the interactivity that ICTs could potentially provide66. If infrastructure improves to the point where connectivity at sustainable cost can be assured, then ICTs clearly have a complementary role to play in training. This is likely to be most often the case on site in college locations.
66 Interactivity is only of value where it suits the purpose (i.e. it provides a pathway to desired learning outcomes), and is available at affordable price levels. Interactivity that requires responses from people can quickly become very expensive in staff time, or simply inoperable when the volume of messages requiring considered response overloads the capacity to respond.
In restructuring teacher development, attention needs to be paid to what happens before, during and after training. A coherent policy would ensure that the activities and experiences were complementary within and between the three phases. The visual presentation in Fig. 13 below suggests some of the alternatives which can be picked and mixed to suit local conditions and resources.
Traditionally, most time, effort and money has gone into the middle, Initial Training, phase. Given that in low income countries many teachers have to be recruited without training, that full-time residential college-based courses, as we have seen, do not seem to provide value for money, and that all teachers benefit from on-going professional development, it might be useful to direct more attention to the first and the last phases.
A different conceptual model of learning to teach
The transformations sketched above require more than structural changes. The map of learning and knowledge would have to be redrawn. Many of the curricula we analysed seemed premised on the idea that if students are given enough knowledge and skills at college these can be applied unproblematically, like recipes, to any classrooms. A more useful model is one that sees teaching as interactive problem-solving, requiring a thoughtful and reflective approach to ones own practice. Thus learning to teach means acquiring not only knowledge and skills, but also a situated understanding of pupils and how they learn, along with repertoires of skills and strategies for dealing with unique and ever-changing circumstances. The aim of the training should be the development of professional reasoning ability, rather than the acquisition of pre-defined behaviours (Akyeampong 2001). Such a model requires an epistemological shift towards a view of knowledge that recognises the value of teachers personal, experiential and craft knowledge as well as the public propositional knowledge offered in college. For such a different model to take root will require time, debate, and professional development among lecturers, curriculum developers, MOE personnel, and the wider educational community. This is consonant with the new more learner-centred and constructivist-based approaches to teaching and learning in many reform programmes for school curricula, and would be a more suitable preparation for them.
Transforming College Practices
Two radical suggestions emerge from MUSTER data. First, none of the colleges in the research have strong and free-flowing professional links with schools. They play little role in curriculum development and implementation at school or any other level, and seldom provide central resources for teachers INSET and CPD. With a different mandate, managerial commitment, and appropriate resources they could become developmental institutions with substantial outreach to schools. Their staff could acquire responsibilities to improve learning and teaching at school level directly as well as through the training of teachers.
Secondly, and even more radically, college lecturers could be appointed on different types of contracts than those which prevail. Most college staff are drawn from the ranks of practising teachers in mid-career. For many this becomes their occupation through until retirement. Employment practices usually favour those with higher levels of academic qualifications and this can have the effect of excluding those with extensive primary experience in favour of those who have taught at secondary level and who are more likely to have degree level qualifications. The staffing of a developmental college might not look like this. It could be staffed by experienced and effective teachers, given appropriate professional development, and seconded from primary schools for, say, five year periods. Permanent college staff could be required to work in schools periodically to give them relevant and recent experience and ensure that their training activities were closely grounded in the realities of schools and learning problems. With imagination groups of staff could be periodically tasked with development activities related to curriculum implementation, improving training effectiveness and supporting the induction of NQTs. In the long term, most countries will probably aim to have an all-graduate teaching profession. As part of the preparation for this, colleges could be more closely affiliated to local universities. This will help provide more chances for staff development, and open access to wider frames of reference.
Changing the Relationships between Content and Professional Skills and Competences.
All the college systems MUSTER has researched have difficulties in striking an appropriate balance between up-grading content skills in subjects (and in the medium of instruction), and developing pedagogic and professional skills. Most attempt both simultaneously with more or less successful integration. Where the entry level characteristics of trainees suggest that subject-based knowledge and skill, or language fluency, are inadequate, the radical choice may be to develop pre-course bridging programmes focused specifically on these. This could be in the training institution. But it could also be undertaken in nominated secondary schools given this task. The latter is likely to be more cost-effective. If initial training programmes really could assume students mastery of basic content and language skills, then they would be free to focus sharply on professional and pedagogic competencies.
A Flood of Materials
Learning material for trainee teachers and NQTs located within national contexts in MUSTER countries is scarce. Yet print material is relatively cheap, durable and can be immensely helpful to those starting teaching in school environments where good practice may not be common and informed advice is difficult to come by. Colleges, which could and should be a major source of such material, often do not produce text material in volume and are unable to ensure trainees leave with a portfolio of supporting manuals, enrichment materials etc. This problem is more readily resolvable than textbook supply to all children since the numbers are much smaller. The radical proposition may not sound radical - flood the trainee teachers with quality support materials. It is radical in the sense that it has yet to be prioritised or realised in the systems we have researched (although a start was made with the Student Handbooks in Malawi).