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close this bookThe MUSTER Synthesis Report - Researching Teacher Education: New Perspectives on Practice, Performance and Policy (CIE, 2003, 237 p.)
View the document8.0 Summary and Overview
View the document8.1 Introduction
View the document8.2 Data Sources
View the document8.3 Characteristics of College Staff
View the document8.4 Tutors' Views and Perspectives
View the document8.5 Concluding Discussion

8.4 Tutors' Views and Perspectives

Our research suggests that a lot of confusion surrounds the concepts of teacher education in these sites. Both discourses and practices seem to derive from various sources of training and experience, and often include concepts and models that originated elsewhere, resulting in a lack of any coherent theory about professional training. While this ferment and international borrowing has many positive aspects, it also leads to disjunctions between rhetoric and actual practice. Colleges seem to be grappling with the paradigm shift towards constructivist teaching and learning so they could adapt it to local contexts and to development needs, but the shift comes into conflict with values, attitudes and beliefs about knowledge and schooling held by different stakeholders. There is a need for clearer models of training which incorporate recent developments in our understanding of professional learning, but which also acknowledge local starting points, striking a balance between the old and new.

Tutors' views are here explored from a number of aspects. Some broad patterns can be discerned, but the conclusions drawn can only be very tentative.

8.4.1. Tutors' perceptions of their own role vis-is the students.

Interviews and observations revealed some differences which reflect the ambiguous position of teacher education in these countries, and can be related both to tutors' qualifications and to the ethos of the college. Malawian and Ghanaian tutors see their work as similar to high school teaching, and themselves as deliverers of a set curriculum. They regard their students in deficit terms, as empty vessels to be filled with the correct ideas and skills, even though in Malawi most students were in their late twenties and all had taught before. Many of their Basotho and Trinidadian counterparts by contrast feel themselves to be tertiary lecturers, have more control over what and how they teach, and expect more independent learning from their students, though this is not easily developed where the students' curriculum is overloaded, there is little time for personal study, and where students are used to 'transmission' teaching in high school.

One universal complaint from the tutors was the perceived low level of student academic standards. Yet the tutors had not developed pedagogic strategies for dealing with this, such as remedial classes, study skills, or training in independent learning. Lesotho's introductory upgrading semester partly addressed these issues, but the strategies were not continued into the main programme. A truly 'learner-centred' approach would suggest adapting the curriculum to student needs, both in terms of content and of process.

8.4.2. View of the good primary teacher.

The studies explored, in different ways, how tutors perceived good primary teachers, in the hope this would reveal something of their personal views of teacher education. Several themes around the 'ideal' teacher emerged; in many ways these were similar to the images held by entering trainees. (See Chap. 4).

There was a strong personalistic theme: the good primary teacher is committed and caring, plays a nurturing role, and in her exemplary behaviour acts as a role model. This came through particularly strongly in the Malawi and Lesotho case-studies. By contrast, in these countries not much stress was laid on how teachers can enhance pupil learning outcomes or teach for understanding. The teachers' personal characteristics and attitudes were foregrounded rather than their knowledge and cognitive skills.

In general, the teacher's role was seen as 'restricted'. This was particularly evident in Ghana and Malawi, where tutors described the good teacher as one who delivers the curriculum efficiently by using a variety of classroom skills and techniques, that can be listed, learnt and applied. In Lesotho the discourse was more child-centred, stressing that the good teacher responds to individual needs and adjusts her approach. Asked to rank characteristics of 'effective schools' it was noteworthy that the Basotho ranked 'children take responsibility for their own learning' much higher than either Malawian or Ghanaian tutors. Yet few Basotho tutors appeared to put this into practice in their own lecture halls (Ntoi and Lefoka 2002).

The Trinidad and Tobago tutors seemed to expect rather more initiative of their graduates: they should be able to plan classes to meet the specific needs of the pupils in their charge, present interesting and innovative lessons that are mainly student-centred, and which make adequate use of teaching resources, manage their classes well, and administer appropriate evaluation tasks. Though tutors hoped that individuals would keep trying to improve their own skills, there was little emphasis on training graduates to be agents of change in the local school context.

8.4.3. How the college produces such teachers

In general, few tutors have well-developed or clearly articulated strategies for producing these 'good' teachers. In both Ghana and Malawi tutors seemed to have a relatively simple model of training in which both knowledge and skills are transmitted to students who will then be able to apply them routinely. In Malawi this went along the lines of: 'we tell the students what to do, let them practice it, and they should be able to do it'. Similarly, in Ghana tutors seemed to pursue an 'additive' strategy; they thought students would be adequately prepared if they gave them an adequate store of ways of teaching each topic (Akyeampong, Ampiah et al, 2000).

Basotho tutors' views varied more, with some tutors seeing learning to teach as a more complex task. Some key terms used were: 'we discuss, model ways of teaching; bring them to the level of the child; give them content and methods; teach them to behave as teachers.' But when asked directly how well the college achieved its aim, some seem unsure how far the reality matched the rhetoric, as one confessed:

I really do not know. I think they are well-prepared for their work. They have been given enough content, they have been given enough resources, they have been given enough practice under supervision, so they should be more or less good teachers. As I said, though, it also depends on their commitment. [Experienced woman tutor]

Tutors in Trinidad and Tobago seemed much more aware of the contextual nature of good teaching, and stressed the need for students to find their own ways of dealing with the diverse conditions in the schools. Some were quite critical of the college programme, suggesting various changes such as more emphasis on practical training, an extra year, and assessment through performance rather than exams.

In general, tutors everywhere seem ambivalent about the role of the schools in the process of learning to teach. On the one hand, many said that teaching practice was an extremely valuable part of the programme. On the other, most tutors, both in survey responses and interviews, expressed mistrust towards the schools and did not value the teachers' contributions. Overall, there seemed little conception of integrating college and school training as a way of creating 'performance learning' (Calderhead and Shorrock 1997), in which knowledge and skills are integrated and used appropriately in the context of a real classroom. (See Chapter 6)

8.4.4. Views of Knowledge

Epistemological views held by the college tutors interviewed varied sharply between countries. The contrasts probably partly reflect the differences in level of academic qualifications, but also the different historical and cultural contexts. In Malawi most tutors held a rather closed view of knowledge as something 'out there', fixed and given, which was to be transmitted to students. Public propositional knowledge was given precedence while the student teachers' personal experiential knowledge was devalued. Most strikingly, tutors implied there is 'one right way to teach', which students must learn. In Ghana there was a similar view. Tutors supervising Teaching Practice hoped to find students doing exactly what they had been told or shown in college, rather than responding to the situations and needs found in the classrooms.

In Lesotho tutors held a relatively open view of knowledge, albeit not explicitly 'constructivist'. Although they taught propositional knowledge in the form of theory, and expected students to apply this, at least some also recognised the value of teachers' experiential and situated knowledge. In Trinidad and Tobago some tutors did indeed appear to be aware of the need for students to develop their own understanding of classrooms, and their own 'personal theories' of teaching. However, very little of this openness was apparent - in either country - in the college curriculum documents or in the classrooms observed. It may well be that individual tutors' own 'espoused theories' could not be implemented given the different orientation of the more general educational discourse, ethos and practice. This points to the need for a much deeper epistemological change at the system level.

8.4.5. Tutors' own pedagogy

Tutors everywhere are aware of the recommended shift to 'learner-centred' teaching, on which modern primary curricula are supposedly based. They pay lip-service to this, in that they teach their students about participatory and active learning methods. But very few of them appeared to be able to put these into practice in the college classrooms (see Chap. 5 above). Usually there was much more emphasis on teaching than on learning, with the result that most of the tutors observed were following a transmission style: lecturing interspersed with question-and-answer sessions at a low cognitive level, and the occasional discussion. Where group work was used it was seldom organised so as to enhance student learning. Only in Trinidad and Tobago were some - not all - lecturers able to model effectively the methods they recommended. This ability seemed related to their higher levels of education, to their professional confidence, and to a more supportive atmosphere in the colleges.

There was some evidence in Lesotho from the interviews that tutors working with smaller groups of in-service students did use much more learner-centred, interactive and constructivist approaches. It may be that the 'massification' of initial training programmes militates against what tutors know to be good practice.

Certainly tutors frequently find themselves in a dilemma. They feel they need to cover the syllabus and 'teach' - as they understand it - their subject content, including Education, and some are also aware that they should be modelling ways of teaching used in the primary school. However, the teacher education curriculum is overloaded, and assessment is mainly by terminal examinations which often drive the teaching and learning. In addition, the trainees expect to be taught by the transmission methods with which they are familiar, and they often resist more student-centred approaches. If new kinds of teacher training are to be developed, these factors have to be taken into account as well.

8.4.6. Overall approaches to Teacher Education

In terms of the framework outlined in Chapter 5, almost all the tutors we studied were working within some form of the 'technical rationality' paradigm, though this varied somewhat with the context. Training teachers is largely seen in terms of transmitting knowledge and skills which trainees will then apply. As one Malawian said: 'When one has enough content plus teaching strategies he can disseminate it.' Academic knowledge was strongly foregrounded in the Trinidad and Tobago curriculum, and in the new Lesotho programme. In Malawi the discourse often seemed derived from a 'behaviourist' approach to teaching, yet paradoxically even the skills element was often taught through tutors telling rather than through students practising and doing. Similar practices were observed in the Ghanaian colleges as well.

In Lesotho much of the discourse - though not the practice - was about 'child-centred pedagogy'. This seems an example of an 'applied theorist' approach, in that students were presented with the concepts as though this model of teaching could be used regardless of context, rather than being presented as a set of guiding principles or hypotheses to be tested, developed and modified in Lesotho classrooms.

There were few suggestions that learning to teach involved learning to solve problems, or to exercise informed judgement in unique, confused and difficult situations (Schon 1983). Reflecting on practice, learning from mistakes, developing one's own personal theory of teaching and repertoires through experimenting both individually and collectively, were seldom part of the discourse. Still less was any notion that teachers might help transform society through their work. There were, in all the countries, individuals who demonstrated a reflective attitude when talking about their practice, and clearly some of them tried to work with their students in inquiry-oriented ways. But because this was not shared by colleagues, and because the whole programme, in both structure and content, was geared toward the transmission of knowledge and skills, their efforts seemed not to reach beyond the limits of their own classroom.

What often seemed missing in these colleges was some shared vision and philosophy of good teacher education, together with ways of implementing it, which could be based on the local cultural context and responsive to local needs. As one Trinidadian tutor put it:

We have a transmission mode of education and we are intent on transmitting certain stuff that is vague to us [and] to the students [...]A lot of the notions were not created in our culture... [and are] presented in a language that is not even ours, in a sense of how we think and how we interact, and all the examples and references.... Some of the terminology is so remote [gives example from Piaget] You have to swallow the terminology first. That's how we have been educated ... swallowing books. [Woman Education lecturer]

To change this, and to develop more appropriate models, a high degree of professionalism is required, together with a real sense of ownership of the programmes that are to be implemented. The 'books' must be created and written, rather than swallowed. It is difficult in the present situation to see where the impetus or the professional knowledge and skills for this might come from.