Cover Image
close this bookThe Experience of Training: A Study of Students at the National Teacher Training College in Lesotho (CIE, 2000, 39 p.)
close this folderChapter 4: Findings
View the document4.1 Introduction
View the document4.2 Other themes

4.1 Introduction

The first part of this section draws on the Curriculum analysis framework and considers a curricular strategy as comprising five interrelated parts: the aims and objectives, content, teaching/learning methods, resources and assessment. In the second part other themes are discussed.

4.1.1 Content of the curriculum as perceived by the students

Bridging course: The one-semester, pre-entry bridging course (Aug.-Nov. 1998) was highly valued by the students, with nearly half the respondents saying it should be lengthened. Diarists also commented positively on this part of the course, praising especially the introduction to ICT and the study/library skills courses. One summed it up as: 'The pre-entry course was very important to me'.

Balance: A key issue in teacher education curriculum is the balance between the different components: subjects and methods, theory and practice. The survey data suggests that while most thought there was enough teaching about subject content, over half wanted more on subject methods. There was an even stronger feeling that the balance between theory and practice was unsatisfactory, with over two-thirds saying there was enough theory and they wanted more practical activity. At this point in the course they were very anxious to get into schools, and indicated that micro-teaching and teaching practice preparation should start earlier.

Asked how useful they found the different aspects of the course, the students put methods and education at the top of their lists:

Table 1: Usefulness of different aspects of the course

Aspect

% ticking 'very useful'

No. ticking 'very useful

Subject methodology

93%

13

Education

71%

10

Subject content

57%

8

Project work

29%

4

Group activity work

23%

3

In one student's view, 'professional studies is the most important subject because [it helps] student teachers apply the information that they've got'. When asked what important new things they had learnt, many students quoted from the education courses. They mentioned skills ranging from lesson planning to handling chalk and facing an audience. Theoretical topics included child development, the importance of reinforcement and motivation, and dealing with different kinds of children, including those with disabilities.

Asked what else should be included in the course, four thought computer education and three wanted more on teaching children with special needs. Others mentioned 'administration', career guidance, and more subject specialisation. At the same time, a couple queried the relevance of some subjects to the primary curriculum. This suggests they are more focussed on the professional preparation aspects of the course than on the academic content. The request for more ICT shows an awareness of the need for modern technology.

Appropriate Academic levels: Another important issue is whether the content is well matched to the students' needs and capabilities. This new Diploma course was designed specifically to raise the academic standards of primary teachers, but many of the first cohort did not have the desired minimum qualifications and some had not done all of the core subjects in high school. There is evidence that some of them were finding some of the work quite hard. In the survey, only 60% said lessons were easy to understand. Certainly they found the exams much harder than school level. Science appeared to give particular problems:

My Physics tutor assumes we all know about physics and does not consider that some have not done science at all.

Maths, Sesotho and R.E. were also mentioned as problematic. One student was clearly floundering when s/he wrote of an R.E. assignment: 'I did not understand what was really wanted'. One wonders how many other students are in this position.

Student need for support in Science and maths was confirmed by the survey, where students were asked whether the core subjects needed more or less time.

Table 2: Subjects requiring more time

Subject

% of respondents ticking 'much more' + 'more' time needed

Numbers of respondents

Science

79%

11

Mathematics

64%

9

Education

50%

7

English

43%

6

A diary comment amplified this need for more time in science:

Physics and chemistry needs understanding and enough time which is not there.

A fairly similar pattern emerges from the response to the question 'Which parts of the course are most easy and most difficult?'

Table 3: Difficulty of selected aspects of the course

Subject

Very easy

Easy

Difficult

Very difficult

Project work

-

25%

50%

25%

Science content

-

38%

46%

15%

Education

8%

54%

23%

15%

Subject methodology


61%

38%

-

Maths content

15%

46%

38%

-

English


92%

8%

-

It is interesting that so few students wanted more time on English and that some thought it easy. Their level of written English, as revealed in the diaries, was, with one exception, far below that needed for teachers using it as a medium of instruction. Tutors considered the low level of English as a major barrier to higher achievement (Stuart et al, 2000). Only one student seemed aware of this lack, describing a scripture union meeting held in English for the sake of foreign participants:

What was embarrassing was that not a single student from NTTC participated [in the discussions]. They only showed interest when Sesotho was used.

Overload: It was clear from the diaries that the timetable was very crowded; students went from one class to another with little time to study on their own, except for the occasional revision lesson:

[there are] too many subjects to be done in a short time, and we are expected to pass them.

They also complained that assignments were badly spaced:

There is too much work to do now... each tutor gives us work ... [thinking] it is the only one to be done

This is consistent with other evidence (Ibid) that departments work in isolation with each other and that there is little overall coordination of the curriculum by senior management.

4.1.2 Teaching and Learning as perceived by students

Students' perceptions of the subject may have been influenced by different ways in which the subjects were taught. English and Mathematics seem to have been rated highest while opinion was divided over science and education. Commenting on the English lecturer, one student wrote:

I would like to congratulate our English tutor. She is always there to help us - so much that we feel a little bit superior.

The Mathematics lecturer was said to be hardworking and in the view of one student opinion also effective in that:

She is giving us a lot of work for practice. This is very essential for the people who do not know maths, especially who did not get enough maths background. The pace helps us all to be at the same stage... I used to hate Mathematics, at least there is a big difference compared to my high school...

In science, some students were clearly experiencing learning difficulties. They expressed concern about understanding concepts. One student reported:

...in physics classes I go out with little understanding of the topic, he (lecturer) is in a hurry...

The Physics lecturer was not able to demonstrate and/or use a 'pacing' skill.

Few students mentioned 'pedagogic content knowledge' which would help them to teach the subject at primary level. One exception was an English tutor who 'sang many songs for children and made us imitate her'.

Evidence from classroom observations suggests that the most common teaching methods are lecture, question and answer, and group work. Student diaries in general were rather vague about what actually goes on, but showed how they enjoy chances to participate:

The education class was also lively, but we were somehow noisy, and the teacher wanted to see how much we understand about types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. We were arguing until she concludes what is right.

It may be that the education tutors model discussion methods more frequently than the subject tutors, since another wrote:

In the psychology lesson, an argument on how to close a lesson was sparked by the hints on micro-teaching. The tutor was able to allow participation on the part of trainees to share their viewpoints.

The one method frequently mentioned was group work. Some commented that it allowed them to participate and put their viewpoint (education) or that it gave them opportunities to practice (maths) but several were less enthusiastic. Analysis of these comments, as well as classroom observations, tends to suggest that there was no proper guidance in relation to group work. One student complained about a Sesotho lesson:

She didn't clarifies [sic] what she really wants, she sent us back to our group but we still failed to get the answer until she tells us.

On several occasions students were left on their own. For example, one student wrote:

We were doing groupwork, and the teacher left us to proceed with the work. We quarrelled until we end up doing nothing. This made me feel uneasy for I want to understand how to do lesson plan format myself.

And of a subsequent lesson:

A member of our group presented a lesson plan- the member did not include our input and had left [out] some of what had to be included in the lesson plan format

Some of the problems experienced by students appeared to be caused by lack of time, or by poor planning and organisation. For example, they indicated that the Educational lecturer did not provide sufficient time for them to practice how to draw up a lesson plan. One student in writing about lesson planning had this to say:

Micro-teaching is introduced and a lesson plan is also expected. The only problem is that we practised a lesson plan once last semester and doing it in our groups. The second time when we are going to deal with it, is the time when marks will be recorded. We needed at least three to four times to practice.

An interesting perspective on teaching problems came out of the focus group discussion, where students said that afternoon lessons were not effective because students tended to sleep after eating a heavy lunch, particularly when lecturers did not involve students in activities - this was indeed confirmed by the observations.

4.1.3 Assessment

Assessment is one of the key components of the curriculum strategy and often has a disproportionate effect on it. The DEP curriculum states that the students shall be assessed by a combination of continuous and final assessment and the curriculum document recommends many types of assignments. We do not have examples of assignments actually given, but according to the survey responses education gives the widest variety, including project work; English gives essays, tests and a group project; maths uses mainly tests with some project work, and in science students write reports on experiments as well as doing tests and the occasional essay.

Student said that they prefer assignments to examinations and they agree that college tests can be passed by memory. About two-thirds of the survey respondents considered the assessment was 'fair', and three-quarters of them said that assignments are usually marked and returned. Students are naturally concerned about assessment, but some complaints from the diaries indicate that some of the tutors' habits leave much to be desired.

For example, one student wrote as follows:

...our tutor entered the class somehow rude - did not listen to anyone, gave a test we did not know about and/or which we were not prepared - we do not want to be treated like little kids/pupils in primary school. Even those are informed about test dates.

Science seems to be particularly problematic. One student complained that the biology tutor had told them to revise the wrong things for the exam. In another case, 70 students failed a physics test, but the tutor took some of the blame on himself for including extra topics and allowed them to retake the test.

On the other hand, according to one diarist, some students cheat on their project work:

The project was supposed to be done in this way. We were supposed to interview the primary school teachers on the system that is being used in terms of grouping and teaching methods that are used. It seemed as if some of the students did not go outside and gather the information. They just used the books and the notes that were given before and then writing in such a way that it would appear as if they interviewed some of the people because the names of the schools as well as those of people interviewed were there. In other cases, one essay appeared to have been written by more than two people.

One might also question whether students had been given enough guidance to know how to carry out research. Observation of classes where this topic was taught suggests too much ground was covered too quickly, leaving the students confused. They say project work is difficult, but it may be they have not been shown how to work in this way. Coming straight from high school, students may need more guidance and supervision undertake independent study of this kind.

Organisation and timing of assignments also create problems. The Arts and Crafts and Home Economics lecturers who both taught practical subjects did not seem to consult about the times for assigning students projects and as a result students were given projects that required extensive time to complete during the same period.

4.1.4 Teaching/learning materials and resources

The curriculum as documented provides lists of textbooks and other reference materials. Understandably, teaching and learning materials does make teaching easier. The National Teacher Training College library is well resourced compared to other institutions in Lesotho, particularly the university library, and has a good selection of reference books on educational foundations. Survey responses confirm this, but indicate that students do want more resources, mainly in the form of primary school textbooks, syllabi and teaching guides. Observations revealed that students seldom use textbooks in class, having to rely on photocopied handouts given by the lecturers.

Some of the practical subjects did not seem to be well resourced, and the survey indicated a perceived need for more labs and specialist rooms for art and domestic science.

4.1.5 Improvements Suggested by Students

The responses to the survey question: 'Which of these would improve your course?' provide interesting information, which can be compared with findings from the other studies. The main difference is that at this point they want more time in schools, whereas by the end of the (old PTC) course, they felt TP had been adequately long.

Table 4: Ranking improvements needed by Importance

Topic

% ticking Very Important and Important

Ticking No importance

More time working in school

100%

-

More teaching on subject content

100%

-

More textbook

93%

-

More teaching on methodology

93%

-

More time to prepare for examinations

86%

7%

Smaller teaching group

85%

-

More notes from tutors

69%

-

More group work activity

64%

7%

More time to study on my own

64%

14%

The students seem anxious to do more practical work in schools, and they want more subject content, more methods and more textbooks. Smaller teaching groups seem less salient for them than for their tutors. In view of the overload, it seems surprising that relatively few think more study time is important, but this perhaps confirms the evidence from the tutors that they are not yet confident of their ability to work on their own.

Asked what would help them do better on assignments, nine out of 14 chose 'better spacing' and eight said 'better teaching'. The responses seem critical both of the teaching itself and the way it is organised.

Students also indicated in several places that more tutors were needed, in particular for the bridging course and for practical subjects.