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close this bookThe Malawi Integrated In-Service Teacher Education Project: An Analysis of the Curriculum and Its Delivery in the Colleges (CIE, 2000, 75 p.)
close this folderChapter 2: The Curriculum Strategy
View the document2.1 Introduction
View the document2.2 Aims, general objectives, and underlying philosophy of MIITEP
View the document2.3 Content
View the document2.4 Pedagogy
View the document2.5 Assessment
View the document2.6 Teaching and Learning materials
View the document2.7 Teaching Practice
View the document2.8 The curriculum strategy and its coherence

2.1 Introduction

This chapter offers a descriptive analysis of the MIITEP curriculum strategy - the aims, content, pedagogy, teaching/learning resources and assessment -, using both the documents and some of the findings from the field. While the length and structure of the curriculum have changed, scrutiny of curriculum documents from various courses since 1990 show that these seemed to have remained in many ways quite similar. However, there is some indication in some of the MIITEP documents that the new course was intended to train teachers in new styles of teaching/learning more in keeping with the aims of the revised primary school curriculum, which advocates more active and participatory learning methods. Indeed, two different strands of thinking can be traced within the course, which we have labelled for convenience ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’. The ‘traditional’ strand is teacher-centred, based on behavioural assumptions, has a closed view of knowledge, and sees the teacher as a technician; the ‘progressive’ strand contains some elements of interactive and constructivist thinking, is more learner-centred, less authoritarian, and expects more of the teacher. These are broad tendencies only, and should be understood as relative terms in the Malawian context.

2.2 Aims, general objectives, and underlying philosophy of MIITEP

The only broad aim set out in the MIITEP documents themselves is to produce ‘an effective teacher’; implicitly, the purpose of the programme is to improve the quality of teaching and learning in primary schools by enabling unqualified teachers to undergo a training programme.

In general, MIITEP seems still to reflect the list of 24 ‘National Objectives for Teacher Education’, drawn up for the revised curriculum in 1990 (Hauya 1997:48). These are phrased mainly in terms of ‘to promote/develop/foster in the teacher’ certain knowledge, skills and attitudes. It is noticeable that attitudes predominate, in that over half the listed objectives focus on such things as ‘positive attitudes towards community development, appreciation of Malawi culture and moral values, the desire for continued professional growth’ etc. Broad skills are also emphasised, such as ‘the professional and academic skills to enable him (sic) to teach the primary school curriculum effectively’, leadership and managerial skills, and ‘the ability to adapt to change’. Only 5 objectives mention knowledge, the main ones being ‘the basic theoretical and practical knowledge about the teaching profession’, principles of leadership, and ‘an understanding of the machinery of the government’..

The predominant aim seems to be to produce a skilled technician, who will deliver the curriculum effectively. Educating a teacher is seen as a matter of fostering appropriate attitudes and values, along with developing skills; giving the teachers a sound knowledge base (Shulman 1987), in terms of either subject-specific or professional understanding, is much less prominent, nor is there any mention of reflection on one’s own practice. In short, they are being prepared for a ‘restricted’ professional role.

This view is confirmed by material addressed to the students in Book 5, in a brief section on ‘ethics’ and ‘professionalism’. There is the same emphasis on attitudes, moral qualities, and skills rather than on understanding that will inform professional judgement. For example, a good teacher is ‘cooperative, honest, tolerant, responsible and trustworthy’; they can plan lessons, assess pupils and manage a class. As far as knowledge goes, they must ‘know the subject matter well’, and ‘know the conditions of service and code of conduct expected of a teacher’.

However, there are some traces of alternative perceptions of the teacher and of their training, most clearly stated in the ‘Teacher Trainer’s Source Book’ published by the Teacher Development Unit (TDU, 1997). This was produced as a resource for the ‘trainers of trainers’.i.e. for those conducting workshops for the college tutors, Primary Education Advisors (PEAs) and headteachers.

The introduction notes that ‘teaching and learning need to become much more activity-based and participatory’ in Malawi classrooms; it suggests teachers will have to become skilful ‘facilitators of learning’ in spite of lack of resources, they must integrate subjects, and address equity issues. It suggests that teachers are expected to ‘function as an agent of change in the classroom’ (p.2), thus imputing to them a much more ‘extended’ professional role.

This Trainers’ book also has sections on principles of adult instruction (p.8), on action research (p.53) and on professionalism (p.58). These seem to indicate a more dialogic stance, a more interactive view of learning, and a wider professional role. Such an approach aims to take the experience of the student-teachers into account, and to address more specifically the problems found in Malawian classrooms.

By contrast, much of the material in the student teacher handbooks seems to be based on a behavioural view of learning, and on a more authoritarian view of professional knowledge as something that can be transmitted unproblematically to students. Thereafter they will have the ‘right answers’ to problems of teaching and learning and be able to deliver the curriculum more effectively. The ‘new’ philosophy seems to have become somewhat filtered as it moves downwards.

For example, the ‘Introduction’ to each of the Handbooks, through highlighting new approaches, implies teachers should:

· promote active learning
· use local resources
· educate pupils about population and environment issues
· be gender-sensitive
· teach about democracy and human rights
· value practical activities
· be sensitive to pupils with special needs
· teach about HIV/AIDS
· use local ‘cultural capital’ especially in science and technology

These seem to be drawn from the ‘progressive’ strand, but the specific objectives set out in the individual units seem to be drawn from the ‘traditional’ approach, as exemplified below. The objectives for Foundation Studies, for example, reflect very closely the objectives of the 2-year, 1-year and MASTEP foundations course, showing there has been no change of approach in this area. The English and Maths unit objectives are largely framed in terms of being able to teach specific topics and skills, while the science units are content-based. The objectives cover mainly knowledge and comprehension, with application in some subject areas and in the methods; no ‘higher level’ skills are mentioned.

In the main, it is the behavioural view of learning, and the restricted role of the teacher that dominates the curriculum in action as we saw it. We saw hardly any evidence of the approaches advocated in the Trainers’ Book. The focus is on teaching rather than learning; the overall model of teaching is transmissive, and the discourse is all about ‘imparting knowledge’ by using the ‘right methods’. Tutors do not themselves model a learner-centred approach, nor do they use the methods suggested as appropriate for ‘adult learning’. They do as instructed, but - with one or two exceptions - do not infuse their teaching with a real understanding of the deeper aims.

More strikingly still, when we asked the lecturers in what ways the aims of MIITEP were different from those of previous programmes, most saw little difference. No one articulated the MIITEP philosophy as set out in the Trainers’ Book, though three (all from BTC) mentioned the ‘participatory approach’ as the main difference. Most of them think they are supposed to be teaching the same things as in previous programmes, only condensed into a shorter period, and with more emphasis on methods and less on content than formerly. Several said explicitly that the new teachers would be inferior to their predecessors, because they would be less well-equipped for the classroom.

Further confirmation emerged indirectly from the tutors’ and students’ perceptions of the ‘good teacher’ and ‘good teaching’ as expressed in interviews. They described such a person largely in terms of traditional personal and professional characteristics, and specified many desirable skills; significantly, the ‘knowledge base’ needed for good teaching was mentioned much less frequently. No one described the teacher as a change agent, or mentioned a community role, and out of nearly 100 comments on this topic from the tutors in interviews, only 5 included ‘active participatory learning’! Significantly, none of the students mentioned the words at all, so they clearly do not figure largely in the college discourse. The students themselves did not articulate any particular philosophy about the course. As far as they were concerned, they just wanted to get their certificate, as they felt looked down on in the school by their qualified colleagues.

An interesting and rather different discrepancy between the aims of the tutors and of the programme lies in the tutors’ stress on the affective side. Most tutors in describing a good teacher refer in some way to relationships with children: the teachers should be ‘interested’ in learners, ready to help them, to listen and to encourage, be concerned with their problems. Another common characteristic is that a good teacher is ‘dedicated’, hardworking, and enthusiastic. Professional strengths include good organisation and co-operation with others. Yet the documented curriculum hardly mentions these, and we came across no evidence that either the formal or the hidden curriculum in college addressed these important issues.

Some possible reasons for the gap between MIITEP aims and those of the tutors include:

- they were not involved in the overall creation and planning; they do not ‘own’ it; some helped write the Handbooks, which in some ways more closely reflect their values and beliefs than those of the trainers

- their two-week orientation was too short, and there was no follow-up; such a paradigm shift needs a much longer and more intensive period of re-training in order to be internalised. Back in the colleges they returned to their earlier ways of thinking and acting

2.3 Content

This is based on the subjects taught in the primary schools, plus ‘Foundation Studies’. The table below sets out the number of units devoted to each subject, both in the college and school-based parts of the course, which gives a broad picture of the balance of the curriculum. It also shows that the proportion of time allocated at college closely matches the overall proportions, except that Teaching Practice is included, taking up one morning a week

Table 2.1: Organisation of content

Category

Subject

No. of units
Coll.+SB = Total

% of whole

% at college

Core Subjects

Foundation Studies

45 + 32 = 77

16.3

16.7


English

40 + 26 = 66

13.9

13.3


Maths

36 + 22 = 58

12.3

10


Science & Health Education

35 + 18 = 53

11.2

10

Category A

Social and General Studies

17 + 24 = 41

8.6

10


Chichewa

24 + 16 = 40

8.4

6.7


Agriculture

16 + 14 = 30

6.3

6.7


Home Economics & Needlecraft

16 + 13 = 29

6.1

6.7

Category B

Physical Education

13 + 9 = 22

4.6

3.3


Religious Education

12 + 9 = 21

4.4

3.3


Music

12 + 7 = 19

4

3.3


Creative Arts

10 + 7 = 17

3.6

3.3


[Teaching Practice]



[6.7]

Totals:

Twelve subjects

276 + 197 = 473

100%

100%

It can be seen from this that the emphasis is on subject-related studies, and is confined to those that the trainees will have to teach, with professional studies taking up only one-sixth of the 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 relatively low school-leaving qualifications.

The curriculum content is strongly compartmentalised into subjects; there are few common themes. The 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.

Looking at the kinds of knowledge presented, considerable differences are found between subjects. The English and Maths units, for example, focus largely on curriculum and pedagogic content knowledge, and the English course is explicitly aimed at skills development, while the Science course consists almost exclusively of subject content knowledge, with minimal attention to pedagogic knowledge or skills. The Foundations course covers, rather briefly, general pedagogic knowledge and skills, knowledge of learners, of educational contexts and of educational aims and values, in that order of priority as measured by unit time. (This analysis is based on Shulman’s work; see Appendix 3).

The following section gives 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.

2.3.1 English

The course begins with five units on curriculum and general pedagogic knowledge (GPK); this includes how to write lesson plans, schemes of work and records for 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 for Study and for Professional Purposes. These are the only units aimed at improving the students’ own 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: making visual aids, songs and rhymes, pre-reading activities and ‘wide reading’.

The specific unit objectives are almost all phrased in practical terms, stating what the students will be able to do, such as:

- teach pre-reading activities
- use dialogues/pair work/ role play etc. for language practice
- make and use phonic charts for teaching reading
- construct different types of comprehension questions
- identify errors in pupils’ written work

2.3.2 Maths

Almost all the maths units concentrate on pedagogic content knowledge (PCK), here set out as how to teach the primary maths 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 here 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 ‘maths 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: ‘able to teach X....’

2.3.3 Science

The first 9 science 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 with safety measures. The rest of the units, by contrast to the 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 college 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 9 units combine cognitive objectives with practical ones, so that as well as stating and explaining the students are expected to do something e.g. write a lesson plan, construct a nature table, improvise some apparatus. In the rest of the units, the objectives are all variations on the themes of:

explain meanings, applications of....
state examples, factors, uses....
perform activities, on air pressure, on what forces can do.....

2.3.4 Foundations Studies

The first part of the residential course is mainly concerned with general pedagogic knowledge (GPK), comprising the technical 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 knowledge of learners - child development and theories of learning - combined in some units with more GPK, for example how to handle children with different learning abilities. Then there are four units on testing.

Books 4 and 5 are more school related, focusing on more practical concerns, such as management and administration of schools, keeping records, school and 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 focusing 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 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 emphasise theoretical rather than practical knowledge, even when skills are involved e.g. in studying learners, students shall be able to:

Þ define

Þ intelligence, maturation, individual difference, motivation etc.

Þ state

Þ how each factor of x influences y

Þ explain

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

Þ discuss

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

Only in the unit on resources are they asked actually to make things. Even the units on tests are phrased as: explain/describe the types, purposes, advantages, ways of constructing tests - rather than 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 students to bring the two together.

Another issue is the relevance of the some of the theories to the local cultural context. Much of the material is drawn from western books on child psychology and presented as universal truth. In the lessons we saw, there were no attempts to relate these theories to Malawian children generally, nor to the student teachers’ own experience either at home or in school. No African research on child development was quoted. (See Foundation lessons in Chapter 3). Both tutors and students accepted the ideas uncritically. It was as though there were two parallel discourses, one developed explicitly in college, and the other, known tacitly but only articulated perhaps elsewhere if at all, concerned with the students’ own experiences as learner and teacher. The two discourses were kept quite separate.

2.3.5 Some general comments on content

In all subjects we found that all tutors stayed very close to the Handbooks, using each ‘unit’ as a ‘lesson plan’. Few introduced any ideas, examples, or activities beyond what was given there: a science teacher demonstrated an extra experiment; an English teacher crammed in a ten-minute lecture on teaching spelling through dictation.

The tutors interviewed did not express strong views on the content, which was by and large simply a condensed version of what they had been teaching before; one said it was shallow, and some regretted that important topics had been left out. Most students thought that all the topics were important, often singling out Foundation Studies and methods as particularly useful.

However, everyone said, and it was clear to us as observers, that the time allocated in this three-month residential course was not adequate to cover all the material. Lessons were time-tabled for one hour, occasionally two in some practical subjects, but many of the units contained too much material for this time. In addition, in some cases tutors were absent attending meetings or workshops which contributed to the shortage of time. Some tutors arranged to teach during the evenings or weekends to make up for the lost time. This shortage of time contributed to the mode of delivery; the tutors felt they had to teach everything in the books in the short time available, and therefore they found themselves rushing through the material.

2.4 Pedagogy

During our observations and interviews we sought to find out how the tutors utilised the handbooks. In particular we wanted to know how strongly the tutors were emphasising the new ideas from the ‘progressive’ strand, and how far they were training the students to move from traditional teacher-centred methods towards active learning ones. It should be remembered that the tutors had almost all gained their experience by teaching on the previous programmes and most got their only orientation to the aims and philosophy of MIITEP through a two-week training course run by the TDU trainers, which was not long enough to develop the new methods in practice. Though some had been involved in writing the Handbooks, most of them saw the MIITEP changes as being imposed on them, rather than being part of their own professional development.

It is perhaps not surprising that, overall, tutors followed the letter rather than the spirit of MIITEP, and the pedagogy reflected more of the traditional than the progressive strand. Their classroom practices were much closer to secondary schools than to tertiary or professional training institutions, as detailed in Chap. 3. The size of the teaching groups, ranging from 30-100 plus, militated against interactive methods.

In general, the lessons followed a traditional structure, similar to those in a school, but with some weaknesses. As students often took a long time to arrive and then settle down, lessons might start up to seven minutes late. The tutor would usually review previous work, perhaps by question and answer, and then say: ‘Today we are going to continue with.....’ but often there was little integration of the new work with the old. These reviews and introductions were often quite lengthy - 12 minutes in one case - so that substantial time had passed before students became active. By contrast, conclusions were conspicuously brief; tutors were often caught unawares and wound up either by inviting questions that never came, saying something like: ‘so now you know how to do that,’ or giving tasks which might or might not be followed up in the next lesson. Time management may well be a factor in the problems of covering all the topics.

Most classes followed a predominantly teacher-centred pattern. Usually tutors spent most of their time questioning, explaining or instructing, while the students listened, wrote, watched, and responded either individually or even in chorus. Occasionally students were told to copy lengthy notes; more frequently the tutors just wrote the main points from the textbook on the chalkboard as they went along, though as every student had a handbook, this was not really necessary. Students very seldom initiated an interchange with the tutor, either by question or comment.

There were, however, some attempts to use more interactive and participatory methods. Several tutors organised groups as directed by the Handbook. In a few cases we observed these working well, with students engaging quickly in discussion or collaborative work. In others, we felt it might have been done for the observers’ benefit, as the students seemed reluctant to move, and bewildered by what they were supposed to do. While students were encouraged to ‘report back’ from the groups, the ideas given were almost invariably based on points from the Handbook, and the tutor would usually sum up from the text. Chapter 3 gives more details.

There were some differences between subjects. The English tutors seemed to have the widest repertoire of teaching methods, and to incorporate more activities into their classes, as befitted their skills-based syllabus. Some tutors demonstrated techniques by making the students act as primary pupils; another had the students role-playing teaching in small groups.

In Mathematics, the dominant methods were questioning and then explaining the answer which again reminds one of secondary school teaching. Occasionally the tutor would get the students practising some of the activities designed for primary pupils, such as handling coins or preparing a balance sheet.

In Science tutors would do a demonstration, which the students would then try to imitate, while the tutor supervised; the ‘discussion of findings’ was mainly done by the tutor just explaining the experiments. Students did not make their own written summaries and did not appear to be intellectually involved. In other words, there was nothing in the science lessons observed which suggested this teaching was different from the traditional way the subject has been taught, though at BTC students were occasionally shown a video.

2.4.1 Some issues arising from the pedagogy

Overall, there was a mismatch between the pedagogy and the professional experience of the trainees. Although offering initial qualification, MIITEP is a course for serving teachers, yet the students - most of whom had taught for 3-4 years - were treated as though they were raw school-leavers. There is a section in the Trainers’ Sourcebook about adult learning principles, but even the Handbooks give little recognition to their status; the text seldom suggests students reflect on their own recent experience or use this to share ideas, air problems, or develop solutions. We rarely heard a tutor refer to their experience, and never was it taken as a serious basis for discussion.

Evidence from the interviews suggest tutors are quite antagonistic towards the schools, and in some ways out of touch with the realities faced by primary teachers. One complained these mature students are more difficult to teach than the former secondary school leavers, who used to accept the tutors’ theories, saying:

(Some of these students).... are refuting what we try to teach them, though some of their arguments are genuine. (for example) on punishment, discussing positive and negative reinforcement, we advise them to counsel students, but they want to whip them...... when discussing groupwork, they say it doesn’t work with 200 students. [what do you say?] We sympathise, it shouldn’t be like that....Some say there are no teaching and learning materials, but that is the job of MOE.

(Interview, acting Principal)

This must lead to many missed opportunities. One maths tutor we observed went right through the Unit on ‘Introducing Money’ as though it was entirely new, but the students told us many of them had tried it out several times in the classroom; a discussion of what problems had been encountered might have been more useful. (See Chap. 3)

A more farcical situation arose when a tutor was having some difficulty demonstrating how to unpack and use the ‘Book Boxes’ (sets of readers for each standard supplied in lockable storage units to primary schools). At the end of the lesson it transpired one of the students had been an acting head teacher who used them regularly, and could easily have shared her practical expertise with the class. (See Chap. 3)

Finally, we saw no evidence at all of students being inducted into the kind of ‘open learning’ on which much of the course was premised. There was no time to teach Study Skills. Although by the time of the research all students had Handbooks, they were seldom asked to read the next ‘unit’ in advance, or to prepare for the next lesson in any way. When we visited students at St. Joseph’s during evening prep, we found them reading over past units, or revising their own notes. The library was closed, and no one was referring to any other sources. Few tutors gave them written exercises or directed them how to study. It seemed that they were not being properly prepared for the 20 months of independent study ahead.

2.5 Assessment

The official documentation states that candidates will be awarded a certificate if they pass:

English, Maths, Science and Health Education, Foundation Studies and Teaching Practice, plus one other subject from Category A (General Studies, Agriculture, Chichewa and Home Economics) and one from Category B (Music, PE, Creative Arts, R.E.)

All formal written assessment is set by the Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB) and marked by tutors under their guidance. The regulations are set out below:

Table 2.2: Assessment

Timing

Method

Weighting

Comment

End of residential block

Written Examinations in all subjects

25%


During school-based training

12 assignments (1 per subject)

15%

Grades include assignments, projects and TP*


[Category B subjects: 4 projects

60%]


End of course

Final exams in main and Category A subjects

60%


* A Teaching Practice grade is given during the residential block, for a lesson taught in the demonstration school, but the main TP grade is expected to be given during the field-based part of the course. A moderation team from different TTCs including staff from MANEB and TDU visit a sample of trainees to check consistency.

2.5.1 Formative assessment

Within each unit in the Handbooks, there are short questions, designed to check recall and understanding. At the end of each unit there is a ‘unit assessment’ which according to the writers’ guidelines should comprise an activity for each of the unit objectives, though this is not carried out for all the units. No other guidance is given to tutors for checking students’ on-going learning. In the self-study units there are similar short assessment exercises, with the answers given at the end; no reference is made to the MANEB - set assignments and projects to be done during this time.

In the colleges we found no assessment policy either at the department level or at the institutional level. Examinations Committees exist but under MIITEP they do not seem to function. This is an intrinsic flaw in the implementation of the course. Tutors are not required to keep any progress records for students. Individuals give exercises and test at their own discretion. Not one tutor was able to produce documentation of any kind showing there was some tracking of student’s progress. In defence some said they could tell the progress by the extent to which students were participating in class but this is preposterous considering the number of students involved.

Students acknowledged that there are some individuals who give and mark exercises and even tests. They thought this was very helpful including the remarks made on these exercises. There were also reports of tutors who had never given out exercises or tests. Examination of student notebooks confirmed this disparity between departments and even within departments. Occasionally, it was said, a department will give the whole cohort a test, modeled on the end-of-residential examination. This exam is the only assessment which is formalised. Students dread it, which negatively influences their learning habits, encouraging them to demand notes, to memorise and base their studies on past examinations.

2.5.2 Summative Assessment

We carried out an analysis of the written assessment instruments, using an opportunity sample of final exam papers and project requirements for Cohort 1, together with assignment questions for Cohort 1 and 5. As we did not have access to marking schemes or example scripts it was difficult to know exactly what kinds of answers were required. We looked at the coverage of the syllabus, the cognitive demands made, the extent to which the papers focussed on different domains of knowledge and skill, and finally tried to evaluate the relevance of the instruments to the wider aims and objectives.

2.5.3 Exams

The final exam papers followed a common pattern: one third of the questions tested subject-specific content knowledge and two thirds tested pedagogic content knowledge, focussing on methods. Most questions were variations on the short-answer format, requiring the student to write between 1-5 lines, which would be worth between 1 - 10 marks, though some subjects required short essays. The cognitive level demanded within the content section was predominantly recall of knowledge or simple comprehension, though in the pedagogic section there were more apparent examples of application, such as ‘draw up a lesson plan on x’. Most of the exams were based closely on the material in the Handbooks. It appears that the end-of-residence tests followed a very similar pattern.

2.5.4 Assignments

Students complete one assignment in each of the 12 subjects during their School-based Training. The formats are identical insofar as the students have to choose one question out of three. Some subjects ask for a structured essay format in which it is indicated what should be covered and how many marks are given for each point; other subjects set out structured questions.

All the topics are covered in the Handbooks, usually but not always in Books 4 and 5; in some subjects all the needed information is given in the units, so that the student only has to copy or paraphrase the text; in others they need to look more widely through the handbooks and/or consult documents relating to the primary school curriculum; occasionally they would need other library sources. In most subjects the focus is on content rather than pedagogic knowledge. Overall the cognitive demands appear to be low, requiring students to find and report information at a fairly simple level of comprehension, with some application where pedagogical knowledge is being tested.

2.5.5 Projects

In four subjects - Creative Arts, Music, Physical Education and Religious Education - the terminal exam is replaced by a project, carried out during the School-based Training period. These projects follow a similar format: students choose one option out of three and write an 8-10 page report on it, following detailed guidelines on both content and structure.

Analysis produced some rather unexpected results. In some ways, these appear far more demanding than the terminal exams, requiring a wide variety of physical and cognitive skills. Examples are: to learn to drum, or to make clay models; to develop a personal programme to enhance football or netball skills, or to organise a community service project; to carry out local research into traditional dances, or ‘spirit possession’ - most of which seem to require a wide range of cognitive, personal and professional skills, including research, for which the college syllabus provides little or no training. There are some anomalies: none of the tasks are directly related to the students’ work in the classroom, and they are assessed merely by written report, with no apparent requirement to produce artefacts, or demonstrate acquired skills.

For both assignment and projects, it was noticeable the three questions often differed considerably within a paper both in cognitive demand and with regard to the domain of knowledge, so that students who chose different options were being assessed on different things. When only one assignment/project is done during the course, this must reduce not only the validity and reliability of the instrument, but also equity as far as the students are concerned.

Although there is uniformity in instrument format across subjects, this hides some substantial discrepancies in content validity, coverage of domains of knowledge, and level of cognitive demand. Below we give some examples of differences between subjects, which are in some ways related to the different approaches outlined earlier.

2.5.6 Foundation Studies

The exam was different from the others in that it used Multiple-Choice Questions, ‘true/false’ items, and ‘filling in blanks’, as well as a short essay. This format allowed it to cover the syllabus widely, but apart from the essay the cognitive demands were very low - over 75% demanded only recall of knowledge - the quality of the test items were very poor, and the relevance of many of the items to the teacher’s professional understanding and competence was very questionable.

For the assignments, there were remarkable differences between those set for Cohort 1, which required students to bring together ideas from several sections of the syllabus and apply them in new ways to their own or an imaginary school, and those set for Cohort 5, which could have been answered simply by referring to specific units in the Handbooks. We have no idea why this should have been so; other subject assignments do not appear to have changed their approach so radically between the two cohorts.

2.5.7 English

The exam papers attempted in the content section to test students’ own knowledge of English, though this is hardly touched on in the Handbooks; some of it may have been quite challenging to these students. The questions did not cover much of the syllabus, but the items were well constructed and relevant to the classroom. Some of the questions appeared to require both real understanding and application, but others could have been answered by reference to examples given in specific Units.

Some assignment questions required the students to work with the pupil textbooks and teachers’ guides. Though many of the questions appear to have practical relevance, students were not asked them to apply the ideas to their own classrooms and report back, which would have been a much more valid test of their skill than simply describing ‘the steps taken to teach x.’

2.5.8 Maths

The exam paper had reasonably good coverage, and the quality of the items was judged good. The cognitive demands appeared quite high, and in some items the level of mathematical understanding went beyond what had been taught in the Handbook. In both the assignment and the exam paper, some attention was given to testing students’ knowledge of learners with respect to mathematics, e.g. an understanding of common misconceptions, which increases the relevance of these tests. However, these instruments, like the maths syllabus, use complex language about maths, which may increase the level of difficulty for students with poor linguistic skills. Many students reported problems with maths.

2.5.9 Science

Here the imposed exam format was particularly unfortunate, as most of the science syllabus is about content, yet two thirds of the exam questions had to be on pedagogy. Therefore coverage was poor. The cognitive level demanded was mainly recall, particularly as the items apparently requiring comprehension or application often used examples from the Handbooks, which could well have been simply remembered. Similarly the assignment items could all be answered by summarising or paraphrasing information from the Handbooks.

In sum, this analysis suggests that the current MIITEP assessment instruments test only a narrow range of subject specific objectives, rather than the general aims and objectives of the programme as a whole. It is obvious that written exams are poor vehicles for testing broad competences, but the school-based assignments and projects could have offered opportunities for real application and for assessing the students’ ability to integrate theory and practice. Instead, they were used simply to test the knowledge contained in the self-study Handbooks, as in traditional distance education, and in some cases the instruments were technically defective. While the projects are interesting, they do not seem very suitable for assessing professional practice. The analysis shows particularly how compartmentalised the course is; at no point do the students have to bring together their knowledge in an integrated and holistic way. The assessment may be closely matched to the content and to the teaching materials, but they are ill-suited to evaluating whether this programme is turning out ‘effective’ teachers, according to the broader criteria given in the aims.

2.6 Teaching and Learning materials

In most cases tutors use the Handbooks exclusively as a source book and a teacher’s guide, saying they value them highly. A few used other teaching materials, often from the previous course. For some topics such as child psychology and phonetics the information available is said to be inadequate and therefore students are referred to other books either in the college library or departmental libraries.

Students were seen to rely heavily on the Handbooks, always using them for study purposes and for classroom work. There were very few students who used other materials, not even the ones in the references. They would depend also on notes given by tutors. Some students complained that tutors did not give them notes; they deplored being told to go and read on their own and make their own notes saying there was too little time available.

Library facilities were unsatisfactory and even what was there were not well used. In St. Joseph’s the library was said to contain 17,000 volumes, but there was no catalogue. The books on the open shelves were mostly donated from overseas, some had little relevance to Malawi, and few had ever been taken out. The fiction shelves, which had been used, were in total confusion. There was a ‘reserve’ section which contained those books students might find useful, including primary school syllabuses and textbooks. Nonetheless a look at the number of students who visited the library was testimony that they did not value it very much. Only 58 students out of 380 students had visited the library half way into the term. In BTC, which was even less well resourced, those who visited the library were only interested in past examination papers to prepare for their end of residential examinations. Sometime students went to the library to consult dictionaries because they did not have any. Some students indicated they had not been taught how to use the library.

This general reluctance to use reference materials may be partly attributed to the design of the course itself. The Handbooks appear to have been designed to be self-sufficient. They contain everything, from detailed content to answers to exercises. They do not provide opportunity for further exploration by students. Project designers may have thought that other reference materials would not be readily available and that some students with poor academic backgrounds would not cope.

The Handbooks instruct readers to use locally available materials for teaching and learning aids. In general there was lack of commercially acquired consumables or perishables for class work mainly due to lack of funding. One science department had only two cracked beakers. In such cases tutors resorted to demonstrations to save on the materials needed for experiments, or used their own financial resources to enable them carry out meaningful lessons. Students were sometimes required to procure their own materials in subjects such as Home Economics and Needlework.

College equipment for teaching and learning purposes was often out of order due to lack of maintenance. It would appear that lack of funding is at the root of the problem. One question to ask is if these materials were available would it have changed the way MIITEP was being implemented? Another question is whether MIITEP handbooks and the course as whole would have been designed differently if teaching and learning materials were not a problem? Ironically there was also equipment which was lying idle because MIITEP did not require its use; for example the language lab and video cameras are not used at all, perhaps for lack of time.

2.7 Teaching Practice

Teaching practice is given two hours every week. Students go to the nearby demonstration school(s) to practise teaching and at BTC pupils also come to the college to learn. The number of students is so big that it is not possible to practice teaching more than once during the term.

Students are organised in groups of 10. Each student is given one 30 minutes period to teach throughout the entire three months. Teaching practice is allowed only from std 1 to std 7. Std 8 is an examination class and school authorities are reluctant to let students handle this class for fear of disturbing the pupils.

Tutors give each student a topic in a given subject in a particular Standard to prepare. The student then consults the teacher in charge of that Standard to organise teaching and learning materials such as teacher’s guides and textbooks. Each group of students visits a classroom and observe their colleagues teach. The tutor responsible for each group is supposed to supervise at most four students in one session of two hours. So at the end of the teaching practice each student will have observed at least nine colleagues teach different subjects in different standards.

At the end of the session each group discusses together with their tutor the strong points and the weak points of each lesson. The tutor awards a grade to each of the students who taught. The assessment instrument uses a traditional form with 25 different skills or aspects of the lesson to mark on a range of 0-4. The marks are then converted into grades A to E, where A is the highest and E is the lowest grade, but most students get high grades mostly above B. Only very few get grades below C-, which is designated as ‘fair’.

Teaching practice at the college is fraught with problems. First the schools and college calendars are not synchronized, which cuts the number of weeks available. This means that a student is given a grade from one teaching session only. Sometimes these grades are given by school teachers who are not trained to do so. Tutors agree that this practice is ineffective because there is no micro - teaching or peer teaching to adequately prepare the students for the task. In addition the classes used in the schools are small and have adequate equipment while in reality the students will teach overcrowded classes with a few teaching/learning aids.

The grade given during this teaching practice does not carry much weight towards the final grade of the student. It is only used in the event of a student failing teaching practice during school based training. As a result this activity is not taken seriously and hence some tutors decide to leave the task of supervising to school teachers.

There is one consolation to the whole process. Discussions after each practice session provide opportunity for students to look critically at their own practice. In addition each student observes nine other students teach providing opportunity to learn from others. However the discussions that follow are said to be rather low key with very little participation from most students. Tutors need to be motivated enough to make this exercise worthwhile and get students to realise the importance of discussions after practice. Feedback from students indicate nevertheless that they value these opportunities to teach in a supportive and supervised atmosphere.

2.8 The curriculum strategy and its coherence

· In some ways the different elements of the curriculum strategy are consistent with one another. The Handbooks are a central feature: they set out the objectives, contain most of the content, structure the pedagogy and constitute the main teaching/learning resource. The academic assessment, in the form of terminal exams, is based on material in the Handbooks.

· There is, however, a major discrepancy between the progressive philosophy expressed in some of the general aims, and the more traditional approach that comes through in many of the units. Overall, MIITEP advocates student-centred and participatory learning methods that should produce an innovative, ‘progressive’ and professional teacher. This contrasts with the tight behavioural objectives, the closed, didactic nature of much of the material, and the transmission mode of teaching that predominates in class.

· The place of subject content knowledge in this programme is ambiguous. There is little in the general aims and objectives about teachers having a good understanding of their subject, yet students clearly need upgrading in order to feel confident in the classroom. Analysis shows up important differences between subject areas in this respect. In English students are taught a series of pedagogic skills fitted around the primary English syllabus, while in science they are taught straight subject content, and in maths the two are taught together. Only a third of the exam items test content, yet most of the assignments do. There is confusion here.

· The formal assessment methods are consistent with some aspects of the curriculum and not with others. The written exams and assignments are closely matched to the contents of the Handbooks and set up to test the same kinds of lower level skills mentioned in the specific objectives set out therein. In effect, the exams test mainly recall, since many of the comprehension and application questions could be passed by memorising the examples given in the Handbooks.

· On the other hand the aims and general objectives which set out the ‘progressive vision’ of MIITEP are poorly reflected in the assessment patterns as a whole. The emphasis on innovation and on learner-centred attitudes and skills is ignored, in spite of the 20 months school-based training which could have been used to develop and assess these through different kinds of project and portfolio work. The Teaching Practice grades form an almost invisible part of the assessment, being subsumed within the 15% of marks given to coursework. The ‘new approaches’ mentioned as general objectives appear only in the written exams, so there is no assessment of whether the new teachers can or do use these ideas effectively in their teaching. It seems paradoxical that the exams attempt to test pedagogic knowledge and skills, while the school-based assignments test subject content knowledge: the reverse would seem more appropriate.

· Looking at the wider context, other mismatches can be noted. One concerns its appropriateness for the current students. The course was designed for MSCE holders and has not been adapted to the needs of those with only JC. In view of the school-based period, when assignments have to be done at a distance, students should have been prepared extensively for self-study and independent learning, but this is not built into any part of the course.

· The curriculum differs very little from that formerly taught in the colleges to school-leavers with no teaching experience, yet the MITTEP students have all taught for at least 2-3 years. The curriculum makes very little use of this, and tutors often seem to be treating the students as ‘empty vessels’ into which knowledge must be poured. By the same token, the course tries to cover nearly as much material as formerly, much of it during the 3-month residential block. The need to cram so much into too short a time reinforces the didactic mode of teaching and leaves both students and tutors dissatisfied.

· The minor subjects were not analysed in detail, but it was clear there were unrealistic expectations in some of the practical subjects, given the short time allocated to them. One unit on ‘carving’ in Creative Arts would have needed a week-long workshop rather than a one hour class! It also appeared that the projects for the four practical subjects required some degree of enquiry and interpersonal communication skills, which students did not seem to be taught while at college.

· Another mismatch is between the resources needed for the kind of student-centred learning envisaged by the course designers on the one hand, and the reality of poorly resourced colleges and schools on the other.

· Finally, the change to school-based training remains at the level of rhetoric. Significantly, the colleges have tried to retain an element of the traditional ‘teaching practice’ within the residential block, even though time is so limited that this gives little opportunity for real skill development. A recurrent lament in tutor interviews was that they were unable to complete their training role by visiting and supervising their students in schools. In a school-based course, this aspect should be handled entirely at the school level, yet such a shift of emphasis is not reflected in the curriculum as a whole, especially in the assessment weighting. As the study of the school-based component shows, there is little confidence among any of the stakeholders that the schools can yet deliver effective training.

Chapter 4 will take up these themes again.