|Primary Teacher Education in Malawi: Insights into Practice and Policy (CIE, 2002, 144 p.)|
|Chapter 6: The Curriculum As Implemented During School-Based Training|
The distance mode of training consisted of assignments and project write-ups. For each of the 12 subjects there was one assignment. There was also one project write-up per subject in Music, Creative Arts, Religious Education and Physical Education. All the 16 tasks were to be undertaken over 20 months while the students were also involved in teaching and reading, and at the end in preparation for the final course examinations. This activity was termed the 'distance education mode' because the scripts were forwarded to colleges for marking. However, there was no other communication with the colleges to warrant the designation.
During our visit to the schools we enquired about how far the assignments had been done and what assistance they had received from the school environment. Students were expected to find information, synthesise it and present it in a report form. They read different materials in addition to the handbooks. They discussed aspects of the projects with different resource persons at the school and outside the school environment. Priests, government officials, relatives and other persons were consulted. In many cases students worked together, even travelling to other schools to meet with students of the same cohorts. However students in urban areas seemed to have had better access to information than those in rural areas. Students in isolated schools had problems getting assistance from outsiders because resource persons outside the school are rarely found in such areas. Students found the work rather difficult because of lack of information. Music presented the greatest challenge because not much had been covered in college due to lack of music tutors. Despite this most students thought they would get good grades in the assignments and projects.
Another important finding was that the school was not of great help to students in writing the assignments and projects. Apart from assistance given by some qualified teachers in some schools, the schools themselves did not have much to offer. They have no libraries and the few books available were not relevant to the work on hand. Only teachers' guides were mentioned as very useful in some of the write-ups. Students complained of lack of even basic materials such as paper for writing the assignments. Head teachers and qualified teachers were sometimes mentioned as being of assistance. In most cases the qualified teachers were not ready, or willing to assist, saying they were not familiar with the new teacher training programme and the exercises involved. While the school offered little support it was also apparent that preparation for these tasks at college was not adequate. Little guidance had been given on how to source information and how to present their findings. This caused a lot of anxiety among students and as a result students tended to copy each other's work. College tutors reported that most students lost marks because of plagiarism. In some cases the language was so good it was clear others had written the work for the students. One of the reasons for this was perhaps the low levels of articulation in the English language. It was noted that many students presented scanty material, lacking detail because of language problems. As a result most students failed to score the high marks they had expected.
We noted that the nature of the assignments and projects was neither investigative nor drew on the classroom/school experience of the students. Students were merely required to arrive at factual information by way of asking other people or reading extra materials apart from the student Handbooks. Here MIITEP lost the opportunity to train students in research that would deepen their understanding of the theories and teaching methods being advocated in the course. There is a window of opportunity to regain real integration between theory and practice through the design of appropriate assignments and projects.
Another aspect of the distance education mode which emerged strongly in the research was that the home environment was not appropriate for conducting such an academic exercise. Household chores and family issues prevented students from concentrating on MIITEP work. In almost all areas working at night is not easy because of poor lighting facilities. This is more pronounced in rural areas where life is more taxing than in urban areas. Students had to travel long distances to collect information which cost money. Time to work on MIITEP tasks seems to have been a rare resource for most students. The only time they could do this work was during the holidays. Further research is needed to see how far certain groups, such as women with their multiple roles, and those living in remote areas, are disadvantaged by such a mode of distance learning.