|Learning to Teach in Ghana: An Evaluation of Curriculum Delivery (CIE, 2000, 51 p.)|
|Chapter 3: Profile of Exiting Teacher Trainees|
In any discussion of learning to teach it is important to bring up the issue of "who is doing the learning" (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1996). Who prospective teachers are in terms of their background characteristics and experiences is important for understanding the domains of experience they bring, which could be useful for their training. Often, this is overlooked or trivialised in the whole debate about models of teacher education.
The ages of the student teachers fall within the range of 18 and 34 years with a large proportion of them (68.3%) between 22 and 30 years. About 31% of the student teachers whose ages are between 18 and 21 years must have started primary schooling at the minimum age of 6 years, had a continuous schooling and entered TTC by ages 16 - 19 years. Only 1% are over 30 years old.
The majority of the students are Akans (84%) and speak the Akan dialects at home (85.7%). Akans constitute the predominant ethnic group in Ghana and generally represent people in the central and southern part of the country. The colleges used in this study fall within this geographical catchment area. This result indicates that the four selected TTCs cater mostly for the people in the localities in which they are sited. 3% of the student teachers indicated that they use English Language as the medium of communication at home.
Almost all the students are Christians (99%). Only two Moslems and one Rastafarian are among the sample. The results further indicate that about 58% of the student teachers belong to the traditional churches, namely Methodist (24%), Presbyterian (21%), Catholic (12%) and Anglican (0.7%). 2% of the students attend the Salvation Army and Baptist churches. Pentecostal church members are about 31%.
The majority of the student teachers received their primary education either in cities (36%) or in a big town (25%). Thus, 61% received their early education in urban communities. A minority, (39%), had their education in small towns (27%) or villages (12%). This information has implications for the type of family life background and early schooling experiences the student teachers enter training with. Limited exposure to rural living has implications for posting policy, orientation and induction programmes during teacher education. Since student teachers are more likely to be posted to rural communities to begin their teaching career, how trainees with a predominantly urban early school experience are prepared to teach in predominantly rural communities is an issue that needs consideration in the training process. A study by Hedges (2000) examined the importance of posting in becoming a teacher in Ghana, and revealed a profound fear among newly qualified teachers of the consequences of teaching in rural communities. This highlights the more modern outlook of many prospective teachers in Ghana who therefore may find it difficult to understand the social needs of learners from rural communities and how to meet them. Such teachers may also not stay long in these communities because of the difficulties of fitting in. Obviously this is not an issue for training alone, but even more important for education policy makers.
78% of the student teachers are products of the new educational system (i.e.JSS-SSS graduates) and 22% products of the old education system, which means they went through the old middle school and secondary school system. Of the 64 students who are O/L or GCE holders, 86% spent the minimum 5 years aat the secondary school and 14% spent 7-8 years.
Analysis of the student teachers' entering grade characteristics suggests that the TTCs admit students with very weak grades, with likely implications for their academic performance at the college level and their teaching performance at the basic level after training. The weak subject knowledge background evidenced from their grades is an added constraint on the starting points of initial training, as time and energy may be needed to improve the student teachers' content knowledge, before they can guide learning in that subject.
About 76% of the student teachers had weak senior secondary exit grades of D and E or 5 and 6 in English. In mathematics the percentage was 53%. Only about 6% and 24% respectively obtained grades of A and B or 1, 2 and 3 in English and Mathematics. The number of years elapsing before entering teacher training is further evidence, either that teacher training is not an immediate choice after secondary education, or that several attempts are made by some to improve their grades before qualifying for teacher training. In all about 47% had to wait between 1 to 4 years before gaining admission into a teacher training college, whilst 48% gained admission into training college immediately after their senior secondary education. The remaining 5% and 3.4% of the students made their grades in English and Mathematics respectively between 1989 and 1992. These students might have stayed at home for so long either because they had not decided early to train to be teachers or might have been unsuccessful in several attempts to enter TTCs.
About 80% of the exiting student teachers had never taught before entering training college. Only 15% and 4% had done some teaching at the primary and junior secondary levels respectively and 1% had a year's teaching experience at both levels. This means that most of them do not bring any practical experience relevant to the training, with implications for the content and model of training.
30% of the students' family members are teachers, with the breakdown as follows: 28% of uncles, 27% cousins, 23% of fathers and 22% of mothers. 18% and 17% of their brothers and sisters respectively were teachers. 54% of student teachers' mothers had no education at all or were educated up to elementary school level only. 29% of their fathers are also within this category. About 43% and 45%, of mothers and fathers respectively have second cycle level education, that is: secondary school, O/A levels, teacher training, vocational technical and nursing schools.
The survey results reveal that more than half of the students' mothers are semi-literates and only a small percentage of the mothers (3%) and fathers (27%) have either first or second university degrees. The student teachers' parents' occupations are revealing and support the evidence of their educational background. About 61% of their mothers are engaged in various low-paying entrepreneurial jobs like petty trading and various forms of tradesmanship - baking, seamstressing, farming and fishing activities. Fewer of the fathers fall within this category, representing 35%. About 30% and 38% of the mothers and fathers respectively are in the civil service, which includes teachers, nurses and the security services. Bankers, accountants, managers, lecturers, doctors and surveyors were classified under one category as "other professions". Only 1% of mothers and 11% of fathers fell under this level of occupation. On the items relating to family assets the most difficult to possess is that of the car and perhaps a video deck. The two are therefore good indicators of the economic status of the student teachers' parents. The survey revealed that 28% of parents own cars and 45% owned video decks.
A World Bank report points out that poverty in Ghana is concentrated among two socio-economic groups - food crop farmers and self-employed (World Bank, 1995: 45). With about 61% of mothers' and 35% of fathers' occupation within this socio-economic classification, many student teachers can be described as coming from a relatively poor socio-economic background. The other evidence that about 43% and 45% of fathers and mothers respectively have second cycle education level, 30%-40% of parents have civil service jobs, and that about 28% own cars, also indicate a significant number of parents of a lower middle class background. Though they are relatively privileged if one compares them to the national figures, these parents, by Ghanaian living standards, could still be considered to be in a weak socio-economic position. Given the above figures, it is clear that only a small proportion of student teachers, would have parents with strong financial and economic backgrounds. This means that for many student teachers their immediate families may be unable to provide financial support at the early stages of their career, where such support may be most needed. In Ghana, the early stages of a teacher's career can be financially the most challenging since salaries are often delayed for up to a year due mainly to bureaucratic and administrative bottlenecks. When viewed against the backdrop of most early teaching postings being to economically deprived areas of the country this must be a big source of concern for the beginning teacher.
In conclusion, the profiles of the exiting student teachers reveal the following:
· Most had very little teaching experience prior to entering training college,
· Many generally possessed weak entry grades in English and Mathematics,
· Family socio-economic status reveals many of their parents in low-paying entrepreneurial jobs.
· Early schooling experiences for most was in more urban communities.
It is difficult to know how the profile status of the exiting student teachers will impact on their early years of teaching. Nevertheless it is reasonable to believe that certain aspects of this background profile will contribute to the development of their professional self-identity and image (Bullough, Knowles & Crow, 1991). For example, the fact that most Ghanaian student teachers are most likely to start their first teaching career in a rural community, when they lack a background of schooling and growing up in such communities, will present emotional and psychological challenges to them. Thus it is important for the challenges of the heterogeneity of Ghanaian school systems and societies to be reflected in the processes of learning to teach. Unlike Western education systems, where the rural and urban divide is not so clear, African societies with their sharp rural/urban divide present an additional and different set of challenges to the beginning teacher that will have influence on their commitment and teacher effectiveness. As our interview data showed, the exiting student teachers' concern is often more about their personal well-being and survival in rural school communities than their early performance as teachers, although that is recognised as important (see Hedges, 2000).
You may be posted to a typical village where you don't even have a classroom and you have to sit under trees to teach ... but where you were sent to do teaching practice was not a village. And even some of us have never stayed in a village before ... this makes it difficult for us.
Before we came here [to college] we thought we are going to be trained ... and we would go out as good teachers and be posted to places where resources will be available so that it will make the teaching easier. Sometimes we see that our predecessors are posted to villages where they will not get the facilities or materials that they will need for their teaching. So all the training they have acquired becomes useless in some way.
Yet, the initial teacher education curriculum remains overtly silent about issues relating to the development of survival and teaching skills for schools in rural communities. As Calderhead and Shorrock (1997: 18) point out, "factors within the school, within the curriculum and within the individual ... could potentially influence the professional development of beginning teachers" [our italics]. We would argue, in conclusion, that what is included in the curriculum needs to reflect who the trainees are, where they are coming from and where they are likely to find themselves teaching in the early years of their career.
Quite often the technical factors are the lenses through which one considers influences on teachers' practice, such as the material and physical resources available at college as well as the pedagogical strategies that teachers are exposed to at college. From the profile of the exiting student teachers we would argue the need for a teacher education curriculum that acknowledges the unique features of the system in which it operates and which responds to the essential profile characteristics of its student teachers. Policy-makers who control or can influence teachers' working conditions need to introduce measures that will, for example, help to alleviate the financial difficulties that many beginning teachers face at the early stages of their career since they may not be able to rely on family financial support. Being insensitive to this may result in beginning teachers becoming disillusioned with teaching and opting out of the profession.
Coming into training with a weak academic background has the potential of making tutors feel they have a responsibility for raising student teachers' subject knowledge competence, particularly if they see that as central to effective teaching. Although subject knowledge competence is important to teaching, exclusive focus on it overshadows the other important professional learning experiences that prospective teachers need exposure to in their training. How training can achieve a balance in responding to the weak academic backgrounds of student teachers and at the same time exposing them to other important learning experiences is the challenge.