|The Malawi Integrated In-Service Teacher Education Project: An Analysis of the Curriculum and Its Delivery in the Colleges (CIE, 2000, 75 p.)|
|Chapter 4: Evaluations and Conclusions|
This chapter will summarise some of the views of the participants about MIITEP about the residential block, describe briefly what happens in the remainder of the programme, and then draw out some of the implications of the findings. It should be borne in mind that the course has been subject to monitoring by TDU and some modifications have been made, so our findings relate only to the periods of data collection.
In our interviews it was clear that many tutors were dissatisfied both with student achievement on the course and with aspects of the course itself, but that these were both linked to other factors.
Tutors in general felt that while the course looked good on paper, it had been fraught with implementation problems, which they attributed to lack of planning by TDU and lack of financial support from the MOE. They praised the Handbooks, but criticised the college period as far too short, resulting in a crash course with far too much to be covered in a short time. In particular, they regretted that there were so few opportunities for the students to practise teaching skills at the college, which they perceive as the most important element in training teachers.
They were particularly angry disappointed that they had not been given time to visit their students in the field. Supervising teaching practice used to be both professionally and financially rewarding for them but now that role was confined to rushed visits for terminal assessment, in which they did not even visit their own students. They knew that for various reasons the school-based training had started late, and they mistrusted the ability of Heads and PEAs to supervise student teachers effectively.
Tutors complained both about the students academic background and their perceived attitudes. Only those with MSCE - mainly participating in Cohorts 1 and 3 - they said, were capable of following the programme successfully. Students were considered to have poor communication abilities, to show little interest, and thought to be shy or lazy. Some were said to have given up; others frequently absented themselves. Their English language skills were seen as too poor; they were unable to study on their own and expected to be spoon-fed. One tutor thought their maturity made them less biddable, while another thought it was an asset.
In sum, tutors were comparing both the programme and the students negatively with their earlier professional experiences. They were expecting to produce outcomes similar to those they had achieved in past years, and were disappointed and frustrated at being unable to achieve them. They believed the programme would not turn out an effective teacher by their definition, and they felt powerless to improve the situation.
We drew on different sets of data and from different cohorts: firstly focus group interviews with Cohort 6, supplemented by parts of the entry questionnaire administered to them early in the residential block; secondly, parts of the exit questionnaire given to Cohort 2 during the revision period were scanned for preliminary impressions, pending more detailed analysis.
Interviewed midway through the residential block, Cohort 6 were relatively positive about the course, though this may have been a function of the focus group situation and the status of the interviewer. With two exceptions, they said all the material was new, and singled out Foundations, together with methods for English and Maths, as the most important. They agreed they had changed since coming on the course, but a number added: we need to learn more. Though no one admitted to feeling confident yet, some thought they could now perform better in class, and had acquired new methods. They felt they had learnt the right ways of doing things, especially how to plan lessons and to write schemes of work, skills like introducing a lesson, managing the class, and differentiating between pupils of different abilities. As one summed it up:
We are learning a lot and all the things are important. The experience we have gained here will make us be good teachers so that the children will be able to understand what we will teach them.[Woman, MSCE, St. Josephs trainee]
However, none volunteered that they had learnt about active and participatory learning, gender or equity issues, how to manage large classes, language issues, or how to improvise their own teaching/learning materials.
There were some differences between the categories of students. Those with MSCE generally thought the course was fair, and could discriminate between the topics they found useful or not, while those with JC were finding it very tough, yet insisting all the topics were very important to them. However, even an MSCE student admitted:
We are learning so many things, but there is too much work; it is difficult to grasp.[Woman, MSCE, BTC trainee]
All relied heavily on the Handbooks, and said they needed tutors notes because other teaching and learning materials were not available, and that it was not easy to follow the Handbooks on their own. All felt the course was too short, and focussed on preparing for the examinations.
The entry questionnaire included two open-ended questions on how life in college was, respectively, good and difficult. Three main positive themes emerged. On the cognitive side, they agreed they were gaining new knowledge and skills which will improve our teaching. From a professional perspective, more than half celebrated the opportunities to share ideas and learn from fellow teachers - few mentioned tutors in that light. And a large proportion also mentioned the social benefits of making new friends and learning to work with people from other tribes and areas. These last two can be termed part of the hidden curriculum and show the importance of bringing isolated and inexperienced teachers together in an environment, whatever its shortcomings, where they can study away from the pressures of home, as some put it.
On the negative side the material environment predominated. Half the sample mentioned the poor diet as a major problem, and many of the BTC group complained about shortages of electricity, water and sanitation. Another theme was the short, crammed nature of the course: we have to learn in 3 months what took other teachers two years. Problems in living together also appeared, such as students who quarrelled or disturbed others, but these came mainly from St. Josephs and were rare compared to the positive comments.
It was apparent that students did not rate their tutors very highly. There were considerably more negative remarks, especially at BTC, than positive ones, the main complaints being absent or too busy to teach. Another group wrote more enigmatically about learning not going well. Overall, St. Josephs students seemed more satisfied with their teaching/learning, but a substantial group (20% of the sample) from this college wanted to be treated with more respect and consideration. As one wrote: We are married women but they treat us like children.
At this early stage of the course, students were happy that at last they had the chance to gain new knowledge and skills from tutors, but felt they were not treated with the respect they deserved. In contrast, they enjoyed the professional and social opportunities for informal learning from colleagues. They looked forward to certification, when they would feel equal to their colleagues in school.
For the sake of completeness we will here summarise what happened after the residential block. For further details on the school-based component see the report by Kunje and Chirembo (Discussion paper 12).
4.4.1 School-based component
The school-based training component of MIITEP got off to a very slow start but by September 1999, when the research was carried out in schools, it was supposed to be fully functioning. However, it was clear that the level and quality of support in most schools was low. Heads and deputies were supervising students much less frequently than they were supposed to do, apparently from a mixture of lack of time, inadequate training, and disinclination to undertake this extra work for no pay. However, students found their advice helpful and wanted more of it. Support from qualified teachers was also sparse, and often depended on chance or an individuals goodwill. It was rare that the Head made formal arrangements for them to help the trainees, even where there were sufficient qualified teachers to do so. The latter also lacked training, and did not see it as part of their role.
External supervision also happened less in reality than in the design. Most PEAs visited infrequently, and combined supervision with assessment, in order to cover as many students as possible, rather than giving structured support towards defined goals. There was, however, one example of good practice where the PEAs visited the same student three times, and were thus able to build on what had gone before.
College tutors were not sent out to supervise any students until five cohorts had done the residential component. They were then given four weeks to cover both Cohorts 1 and 2, which meant at best one visit per student, used just for assessment. In some cases they were able to see only part of a lesson, and some students were not seen at all.
Students were able to complete most of their projects and assignments, but reported severe struggles to find the necessary time and resources, since the schools could offer little help. They found the zonal seminars very useful, particularly as it gave a chance to meet fellow-trainees and share experiences, just as they had done in college. Unfortunately, no district had managed to hold a complete series of seminars, due to lack of funding, so a number of topics were not covered.
In effect, the students continued learning much as they had before, through an informal apprenticeship, although with somewhat more supervision, and with the assignments as a continual reminder, as one put it, that they were students. They could at least now feel that attention had been paid to them, and that they were on the road to becoming qualified. Whether they were teaching more effectively is still an open question, to be addressed by another study.
4.4.2 Final Revision block
During this four-week period the timetable and organisation was similar to that during the first residential block. Departments drew up lists of topics they considered needed revision, based partly on what had not been fully covered earlier. Since few zonal seminars had taken place with Cohort 2, there was too much to cover in the allotted time. The internal Teaching Practice at the demonstration schools continued to take place one morning a week; this was for students who had not been given a TP grade while in the schools.
It should be noted that the female students who had babies were particularly disadvantaged because they were not allowed to live in the hostels. They had to find lodging outside, and commute to and from college. These added burdens consumed part of their revision time. In Cohort 2, some 30-40 women were in this position. The message about equal opportunities did not seem to have reached the college administration.
The survey data collected from Cohort 2 during the revision period included questions relating to the residential periods at college and some of their views will be summarised here.
Looking back over their two and a half years of training, there was an overwhelming call for more time in college, and for more time to study all topics under the tutors guidance. This confirmed our observations in college that they found it difficult to study on their own. The clearest call was for more time on content in all the main subjects, with maths emerging as the subject they found most difficult. Only half said they had learnt what they wanted from college, and only a quarter said they felt well-prepared to teach, with a large group indicating particular subjects which gave them problems in class. It seems the course has not given them the necessary grounding in their subject matter to teach it with confidence.
In spite of the long period in school, this group still felt they also needed more time on teaching methods. They seemed to rate quite highly the college-based Teaching Practice, in spite of its limitations; at least it enabled them to observe each other and discuss lessons with the guidance of an experienced supervisor. This strongly suggests that Cohort 2 had not been given adequate supervision and support in schools to help them improve their practical teaching, though this may be improving for later cohorts.
The survey confirmed that students did not, overall, rate the college teaching or their tutors particularly highly. In a data set where students tended to give very positive answers to everything, their comments sound relatively luke-warm: teaching is rated good or average rather than excellent, tutors are not seen as particularly caring or helpful, and some are thought to mark unfairly. However, the survey was administered when the students were under stress preparing for the final exam, which may well have biased their answers towards being critical of their tutors.
This is difficult to answer precisely because, as shown in Chapter 2, the aims are not altogether clear, and different stakeholders interpret them differently in line with their own agendas. The MIE and donors had in mind a programme that would not only train the unqualified teachers, but would also prepare them to bring new methods into schools. The tutors still thought in terms of previous programmes, and had not materially changed their views about teaching and learning. The trainees hoped to learn useful knowledge and skills, but their main concern was to acquire a qualification.
One clear finding concerns the tension between the traditional and the progressive tendencies, with the former still predominating. At the level of rhetoric, there was certainly an awareness among some tutors of the need for more interactive approaches, at least in relation to practice in the primary classroom. Students cited groupwork and communicative methodology in English as new things they had learnt about at college. On the other hand, it seemed the tutors themselves continued to base their own practice on the assumptions of the behavioural paradigm as described in Chap. 1, with an emphasis on teaching rather than learning, on skills and behaviours, and on recall of knowledge. This was reinforced by some of the materials and by the assessment methods.
Overall, a technical rather than a reflective view of training emerges, along the lines of: we tell the students what to do, we show them, let them practise, and then they will be able to do it. There was no talk of reflective practice, or of preparing the teachers for an extended professional role. They are simply expected to become more efficient deliverers of the curriculum.
This is congruent with the authoritarian stance towards professional knowledge - both in the Handbooks and among the tutors - and a reluctance to listen to the students experiences. Participatory learning usually meant that students would be given some activities to do or allowed to talk about some ideas; they were still, however, expected to arrive at the one right answer. Tutors and students shared this view: one tutor said: Students should teach the way I taught them, and several students commented to the effect that: At school we did it the wrong way; here we are being taught the right methods. There was no discussion of why something that worked well in one context might have to be adapted by the teacher in another.
Changes to such deep-seated assumptions and practices are always difficult to bring about and slow to take root. In this particular case we can point to some practical constraints involving the tutors, the students, the level of resourcing, and external organisational aspects, all of which contributed to the lack of movement.
Firstly, the tutors were unprepared for the change. They still thought in terms of the traditional good teacher rather than acknowledging that the new Malawian dispensation required different cultural and political attitudes. They were mostly under-qualified for their work and their own professional education had not equipped them to take on the role of curriculum developer. They were given effectively no in-service to help them understand the new paradigm of teaching and learning. In addition, their morale was already low for other reasons, and the task of teaching six cohorts in a row, with no leave and an ever-increasing marking load of field-based assignments, was not conducive to experimentation. (A later paper will deal with the tutors perspectives in more detail.)
Secondly, the student were also unprepared, in several ways. The majority were JC holders with poor language skills, struggling to cope with the material. Like MSCE holders they were used to didactic teaching/learning methods in their own schoooling, and would need to be taught how to learn in new ways. Yet the course did not include either study skills nor remedial English; in this sense it was badly matched to the entrants needs.
Thirdly, a new curriculum, especially one requiring new classroom methods, requires a basic level of resourcing in the form of books, equipment, consumables, materials for making visual aids, etc. as a necessary if not sufficient condition for its proper implementation. These were not available in enough quantities.
Underlying all this was the poor organisation by TDU and the MOE. The design of the course required a lot of people and agencies to act in concert. To synchronise the activities of the key players, all supporters and implementers needed to have their inputs - human and financial - ready at the outset. Late deliveries and unkept promises promoted scepticism, and all this militated against the successful implementation of MIITEP.
But perhaps the key problem lies further back, in the dual role that MIITEP was expected to perform. It was designed in the first place to train a large number of teachers in a short time to cope with the influx of primary students; this would involve giving them a basic practical survival course to enable them to function in the schools as they are at present. But at the same time, it aspired to produce innovative teachers ready and able to move the primary schools towards more progressive methods. This seems unrealistic: it is virtually impossible for new young teachers to act as change agents in schools which by their very nature are hierarchical institutions constrained by authority and community expectations. Until and unless the schools themselves are persuaded of the value of such changes, the new teachers will be powerless to effect them.
The Malawi situation is a very difficult one and the Ministry faces a number of dilemmas. Many more teachers have to be trained but the quality of applicants is below previously acceptable academic standards and there is neither time nor money to put trainees through a conventional 2-3 year training course. The schools - over-crowded, poorly staffed and under-resourced - are not conducive training environments. MIITEP tried to square the circle, and it is hardly surprising that its first attempts should fall below initial expectations. It seems inevitable that for the foreseeable future initial training will have to be done on the job, within the structural constraints created by the need to train large numbers over short periods of time. In the following discussion, we focus on what we see as the key factors which influence the realisation of MIITEP - the overall timing and structure, the curriculum, the students, tutors and the colleges - and make some preliminary suggestions.
4.7.1 The Structure
Everyone says the residential parts of the course should be longer. Given the low entry qualifications of the students, and the fact they are being trained to teach 12 subjects, there is indeed too much to cover. Comparable courses usually have more time (ZINTEC in Zimbabwe had 8 months in college). Costs may preclude a conventional three-year residential course, but consideration should be given to extending one or both blocks by 2-3 months. There are personal and professional benefits to students from the hidden curriculum of the collegial experience. At the same time, it would be necessary to make both college-based and school-based training more effective, and to revise the content of the curriculum so as to ensure adequate coverage of the key training components.
The system obtaining in 1996-8, with cohorts following each other end-on, laid huge burdens on staff, with consequent diminution in morale and teaching effectiveness. There needs to be a sufficient gap between the residential blocks for tutors to carry out their other duties, such as visiting schools, marking exams and the assignments sent in from the field, attending in-service workshops - and taking some leave (some of our interviewees had not taken a holiday in the last two years, apparently commuting their leave allowance into a cash payment!).
4.7.2 The Teacher Educators
The key to the whole process is the college tutors, and their neglect at the inception of MIITEP was a major weakness. Although some took part in writing the Handbooks, as a group they were not part of the decision-making process, and the two-week orientation they were given by TDU, unsupported by any follow-up, was woefully inadequate. They do not appear to feel much ownership of MIITEP, nor do they seem fully to understand the innovatory aspects of its mission; indeed, many resent the new approaches and feel uncomfortable with them. They felt they were doing a good job before, and that MIITEP forces them to lower their standards. In their hands it is not - and cannot be - a new course, but rather a watered-down version of an old Malawian model.
As many tutors have retired or are nearing retiring age, there is a window of opportunity to engage a new group with a fresh attitude to school-based training, who have experience of the new developments taking place in the primary schools. All tutors, new and in post, should be offered professional development programmes that will enable them to upgrade their qualifications to at least B.Ed. level, with appropriate focus on new developments in both subject content, pedagogy and learning theory. This applies particularly to the Foundation Studies staff, who need to be aware of current international changes in the relevant disciplines, but who are also prepared to consider how these can best be adapted and made appropriate to the local educational and cultural context - no small task! Maths and Science departments should also be given priority.
Even after academic upgrading, tutors will need some regular professional development activities. Some of these might be channelled through departments; the Head of Departments already seem to carry responsibilities for induction of new staff, and developing their role, with remuneration, might be an incentive to keep them within the profession. There is need for a comprehensive strategy for career development of this small but essential cadre of staff; the new Planning and Investment Framework may provide a starting point.
The kinds of changes envisaged in the progressive strand of MIITEP will take a long time to implement system-wide. A necessary, though not sufficient, prerequisite is that college staff fully understand and adopt these ideas in their own teaching, so that the concepts permeate the college experience for the trainees. It is of course also necessary that these are reinforced by the school experience, and that the colleges work closely with the school-based trainers, a topic discussed more fully by Kunje and Chirembo (op.cit.). It is essential that there are exemplars, in both college and schools, of the new approaches in action to inspire the new generation of teachers.
4.7.3 The Curriculum
This was drawn up in haste and perhaps the curriculum developers were not able to be radical enough, in the sense of making root and branch changes. The programme is essentially a condensed version of previous courses, predicated on college-based rather than school-based training, and written with MSCE students in mind. It appears to contain a number of contradictions and mismatches, perhaps because there was no time to pilot either methods or materials. Many students have found it difficult, and emerging evidence suggests it has not met its main objectives.
The production of the Student-Teacher Handbooks was a substantial achievement and they have given a very useful structure to the course. There are, however, considerable differences in the way subjects are treated. It seems imperative for the TDU, colleges and all subject panels hold a wide-ranging review about how far the students can be upgraded in their subject and how much time should be devoted to teaching methods, given the experience the students bring with them, and the (hopefully improving) support and coaching in the schools. Maths appears to present particular problems and the syllabus may need substantial revision.
There are also discrepancies within the Handbook texts: for example, there is often confusion about whether the tutor or the students are being addressed and the didactic content is often at odds with the espoused emphasis on open and participatory learning. The two self-study books follow the same format as those used in college and make little use of the school environment. The Handbooks need revising to cover the above points; they could perhaps address themselves specifically to the cooperating teachers and the PEAs as well as the students, and to offer a structure for classroom-based activities.
The curriculum is mismatched in several ways to the needs of these in-service teachers. Firstly, many come with inadequate educational preparation, so the curriculum should include remedial or bridging components, particularly in English language skills but probably also in Maths. Secondly, they need to learn how to learn - a course on Study Skills should form part of the first months teaching, reinforced by practice in using the texts, finding information, and writing reports throughout the college block, so they are better prepared for the School-based Training component.
At the same time, it is important for both curriculum developers and tutors to recognise that although they have poor academic qualifications these students have considerable and valuable practice experience that should be built upon. Not only have they all taught for several years, but many of the students have children and therefore some informal experience of child development and of teaching. The Handbooks need to acknowledge this more explicitly and open up possibilities for using it, which should then be followed up by the tutors and reflected in the assessment system.
The assessment instruments use a narrow range of question types and appear to test only low level skills. It should be possible to develop different ways of assessing higher cognitive levels in both content and pedagogy, especially during the school-based training period; this needs to be closely matched to the Study Skills practice. The teaching and learning are at present exam-driven, and the backwash effects are often detrimental to good professional practice among both tutors and students. It is critical that the assessment should reflect the more interactive assumptions about learning.
4.7.4 Teaching Processes and College Management
In spite of all the constraints on the colleges, some aspects of the teaching process could be improved, not only through the professional development of the tutors as indicated above, but also through better college management and by improved departmental procedures.
One problem is the lack of departmental assessment policies within the colleges. Students are given very little formative assessment, and therefore do not get sufficient feedback and reinforcement. If tutors did not have to mark field-based work during the residential block, they could concentrate on setting and marking regular tests and assignments, which would better prepare the students for their period of distance learning. There may also be scope for peer assessment techniques, which would help develop critical skills.
Large teaching groups are inevitable given the numbers involved, but good professional training needs opportunities for intimate discussion. Given a full complement of teaching staff, it should be possible to organise teaching in a more varied manner: for example, for one tutor to give an introductory key lecture to several groups at a time, allowing other members of the department to hold follow-up sessions with the class groups. The college-based TP is handled in groups of ten; these might be turned into more regular tutor-group seminars; where cross-curricular issues, like those set out in the general aims and objectives, could be discussed, which might help the trainees develop a more integrated and holistic understanding of the teachers role. Our evidence suggests the students are keen to share ideas with their peers, and that many of the tutors have a professional commitment to developing their students as teachers; these positive attitudes could be built on.
Such changes would mean tutors no longer followed rigidly the format of the current Handbooks; it would allow the Handbooks to be more explicitly directed to students, while tutors devised their own lectures using the Handbooks as resources. A prerequisite for this is the further professional development of the tutors as discussed above.
4.7.5 The Students and the informal curriculum
Given the small numbers currently completing secondary education, it is likely that primary teachers will continue to be drawn from those with only JCE or low MSCE marks. As gaining MSCE raises their salary levels, perhaps they should be encouraged to study at a distance for these exams after their training, and the MIITEP syllabus be designed as complementary to that of the MSCE, particularly in Maths and Science, where the subject upgrading is most needed. English, however, need to be treated specially due to its importance as a teaching medium.
Few of the students in our samples claimed to be able to teach in languages other than English and Chichewa. Yet if infant classes are to be taught even partially in their mother tongue, more students may need to be recruited from minority language groups.
It seems very important that the age, experience and maturity of the students be recognised and used positively. This might help develop those professional attitudes and characteristics which are frequently mentioned by both tutors and students, but which do not form any part of the formal curriculum. The average age is mid- to late twenties; presumably these people normally act in socially responsible ways towards their friends and kin - if not, they should not be on the programme - and it seems anomalous to treat them in college like school children. The feeling of not being respected clearly lowers morale. Different styles of management should be developed, and a more adult-oriented set of rules and responsibilities be negotiated with the Student Representative Councils. This is in keeping with Malawis current wider societal and political goals, and would encourage a more professional atmosphere during training, through the informal rather than the formal curriculum.
There are gender issues here. MIITEP is bringing more women into teaching but the current organisation of training does not seem to recognise womens dual roles. Two examples are their need to visit their families during the residential block - though this also affects men - and the difficulties faced by those with young babies at particular stages of the course. Gender-friendly solutions need to be found.
To conclude, we should acknowledge the considerable achievement of all involved so far. MIITEP was set up within a relatively short time, and to date some 15,000 teachers have progressed partly or wholly through the course. Whether they are as effective as they were intended to be is of course the important question. If this report focuses on the problems, it is because we hope it will be of use to those trying to solve them. The eventual success of this project depends on how much planners and implementers in both colleges and schools are capable of looking back, reflecting on the way the project has gone so far, accepting that other ways of doing it are possible and making efforts to correct things where they did not produce the outcomes that are valued. When this is done MIITEP stands a better chance of being accepted by planners, implementers and the students as a sustainable mode for the future.