|The MUSTER Synthesis Report - Researching Teacher Education: New Perspectives on Practice, Performance and Policy (CIE, 2003, 237 p.)|
Teacher education systems develop within national contexts which condition their form. New ideas for methods and structures have to recognise the realities of differing needs, circumstances and resources. Suggested improvements have to be formulated within the assumptions, processes and expectations of the wider national education system. There is thus no 'one-size-fits-all' solution to the problems of teacher education MUSTER has explored. However there are some structural questions that recur across systems. The basic structural issues for teacher education systems revolve around where training should take place, how long it should take, and what, if anything, should happen before and after periods of initial training leading to certification.
There are three common options as to institutional location. These are colleges of education, university education departments, or in schools. In reality the choices between these locations are not free. College-based systems for primary training are common in many low income countries and reflect how training systems have developed. Colleges are often the only post-secondary institutions in their geographic area and may be associated with post-secondary opportunities for particular groups who have a political stake in the continuity of the institutions. College systems seem likely to persist unless or until essentially political decisions are taken to adopt another arrangement. South Africa has taken the step of making all initial training university-based or affiliated with universities. However, the circumstances under which this has come about are unique (see Lewin, Sayed & Samuel 2003).
College-based systems may have advantages in terms of local location linked to communities or clusters of schools, a focus on a single profession and a responsiveness to educational needs, a role in pre-service and in-service education, and lower costs than tertiary level institutions. Our research suggests that these potential advantages are not necessarily converted into realities. They also have to be balanced against the risks of parochialism associated with the local (especially when colleges are rural and physically and intellectually isolated), the limits of expertise and insight associated with training institutions divorced from research, and the high costs that may be associated with small size.
University-based training offers the prospect of inputs from staff with high levels of disciplinary expertise, connection to insights from research relevant to learning and teaching, multi-disciplinary perspectives, and superior teaching resources associated with large-scale institutions. On the other hand critics suggest that university-based training may be a long way removed from the issues of practice in primary schools, high levels of academic knowledge in disciplines are largely irrelevant, and tutors' career advancement is likely to depend more on research recognition than training competence.
School-based training has become increasingly common in rich country systems. There are many good pedagogic and professional development reasons why training located in the work environment is potentially attractive because of its direct links with practical problems, advice from successful teachers, and socialisation into professional norms and standards. However, the basic assumptions of school-based training - namely that there are sufficient schools to offer appropriate training environments and enough qualified teachers to act as professional mentors to trainees - are often difficult to meet in low income countries. Most schools may not be appropriately resourced as training sites, lacking both qualified teachers and enough teaching and learning materials. Nor do staff necessarily see their role as including training new teachers and they are unlikely themselves to have any training as trainers. Under these circumstances, school-based training may simply become a form of 'sitting by Thabo', with new teachers simply copying what is done around them whether or not this is good practice. The MIITEP experience does suggest that with enough support, some elements of school-based training are possible even in very resource-poor circumstances. But expectations of what can be achieved have to be realistic: serious investment has to be made in print-based handbooks and manuals for trainees and for trainers, while field-based peripatetic resource persons and selected members of school staff have to be trained in supervision and support.
School-based training is generally associated with various forms of distance education, as it is in MIITEP. Distance education methods are attractive because they allow teachers to be trained while on the job, which saves the costs of replacement. It should also reduce the direct costs if a proportion of the training is self-instructional and based on print or other low cost media. However, the problems of distance learning are well known. For primary teachers in rural Africa there are particular problems. The materials have to be at the right language level for ESL learners and cover a wide range of topics, as the trainees may have access to few other printed resources. In so-called predominantly 'oral' cultures students may find book-based learning particularly difficult; aural media such as radio programmes or audio-cassettes may be more effective, if the technology is available and motivation can be maintained. Video is much more expensive, and unlikely to be as cost-effective as alternatives. Though new information technologies based on computers and the internet appear to offer many potential benefits, these are yet to be demonstrated in practice in mass systems of teacher education in Africa. They have high initial costs and carry risks of rapid obsolescence of hardware and software. Regular face to face contact with peers and a tutor are likely to remain essential components of training, albeit supplemented by other methods.
The questions of how long training should take and what should happen before and after the period of initial training are important, but as with the question of where training should be located there is no single answer. A wide range of possibilities can be imagined some of which are shown below.
Modes of Training
Mode 1 Conventional full-time college-based training preceded by no experience
Mode 2 Conventional full-time college-based training preceded by pre-course experience and followed by mentored induction into schools
Mode 3 Untrained teaching experience followed by conventional full-time college-based training
Mode 4 Mentored pre-training experience followed by conventional full-time college-based training and mentored induction into schools
Mode 5 Mentored pre-training experience followed by a short period of conventional college-based training followed by school placement with INSET support
Mode 6 Mentored pre-training experience followed by alternating short periods of conventional full-time college-based training followed by mentored induction into schools
Mode 7 Mentored pre-training experience followed by wholly school-based training on the job leading to mentored distance support
There are many other possible mixes which carry different resource and cost implications. We can note four key observations. First, extended full-time institutional training is only one of many options. Second, what comes before and what comes after core periods of training may be just as important as what occurs in the core, though rarely is it systematically considered as part of the training process. Thirdly, there is no necessity for core periods of training to be continuous or front-loaded in terms of costs or training inputs. Fourth, mixed-mode methods, which make use of distance education and learning while working, are clearly options which have potential cost advantages. The resource implications of different approaches can only be identified when their component parts are specified in particular country contexts.
The analytic questions related to future policy and practice focus on which of these (and other possible modes) are feasible, relevant to short to medium term needs, and are likely to be cost-effective. Is a new and different balance of inputs attractive to meet new needs and disquiet over both costs and effectiveness of existing patterns of delivery? There are opportunities to reconsider how investment in teacher education and training is best organised and delivered, given the shortfalls in teacher supply generated by enrolment expansion, the new emphasis in many countries on changing curricula to improve pupils' achievement, the consequences of financial constraints, and the importance of improving quality and effectiveness.