|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 first point is that MIITEP's school-based training was implemented without recognising fully the diversity of professional support available in different school settings and the widely different levels of material provision. The MSSSP was not yet in place, many heads could not meet the needs of trainees, and some seemed unwilling to invest significant amounts of time in MIITEP support activities. There were unrealistic expectations of heads, PEAs and tutors of the amount and quality of supervision that could be achieved. Scarcity of materials in schools and at zonal level to support school-based training compounded these problems, as did irregular funding.
Second, MIITEP students are expected to have the basic qualifications and background to develop professionally during the distance phase of the programme. This may be optimistic for some, given what is known about their academic level and the professional cultures of which they are a part. Comments like 'students are lazy or absent themselves at the smallest pretext' maybe signal lack of conviction or commitment by students; but this may also reflect norms within the schools where they are placed. Certainly there was evidence that some schools were unsupportive, though others appeared to do their best to encourage MIITEP trainees. What happened seemed to depend a lot on the extent to which the head took an interest.
Third, it is important to remember that the behaviour of students during training is moulded by the way they are assessed. Project work and assignments were often poorly supported and there was little evidence that trainees received constructive feedback on what they did. The assessment regime for the school-based period does not seem to emphasise overall performance in school life and largely ignores such things as co-operation, commitment, leadership, citizenship, sustaining quality learning situations, resourcefulness and reflection. Moreover, some aspects of record keeping and pedagogic development are apparently avoided by excuses like: 'we have no paper and notebooks to write lesson plans.'
Fourth, essential basic resources like syllabuses, text and reference books are often in short supply or absent. The Handbooks clearly serve as a critical resource and are widely available. Other material is much scarcer. More should be made available to support trainees and their supervisors.
Fifth, although there was an attempt to orient all head teachers on ways of supporting students, there was evidence both that this was insufficient for heads to internalise fully what was expected of them, and for them to see this as a normal aspect of their work. Many heads and deputies did not believe this was part of their job and felt that they were requested to do a lot more work than was reasonable. This compromised the effectiveness of the school-based training and some approached this task of supervision perfunctorily and only towards the end of the course. As a consequence the guidance was hurried and sometimes contradictory. The work of MSSSP and the introduction of TDCs may be changing the situation since they are together creating a more positive work atmosphere for both students and their various supervisors.
Sixth, trainees were often treated like any other teacher, and allocated classes in ways that ignored the MIITEP guidelines. Moreover in a large proportion of schools the number of trained teachers was small, making pairing with trained teachers difficult. Where pairing occurred it was often not characterised by peer observation and support. It was used as a device to reduce teaching loads in some cases, though some good practice was also found.
Seventh, the proposed schedule of supervisory school visits by college tutors is impossible to operate with several MIITEP cohorts enrolled. It is neither logistically or financially sustainable and needs to be radically reconceived, not least because when it does occur it can only be for assessment purposes and not formative guidance.
Eighth, the irregular and untimely disbursement of funds earmarked for particular activities adversely affected MIITEP seriously. The transport for PEAs which was promised was made available one year late and this fuelled disillusionment and helped to throw doubt on the future of the programme. Tutors visited their students once in the 20 months, towards the end of the course, partly because funds were not made available in good time. The tutors, PEAs and head teachers were asked to meet ambitious targets which had resource implications, when resources were not properly identified and when schedules of events had not been properly embedded in the overall structure of the course. The mechanisms for disbursement and accountability clearly did not work smoothly and were a major source of degradation of MIITEP.
Ninth, women students have special needs that are not explicitly recognised in school-based training. Many are expected to look after their families and at the same time attend to training tasks that require great personal effort in the absence of sustained school support. Traditionally Malawian women take on the bulk of family and societal chores and this also applies to female student teachers. Unsupportive school-based training may place women in more difficult circumstances than men. Their home and village life create difficult circumstances for them to engage fully in home study.
Finally, despite these problems pockets of limited success were registered. Zonal meetings were possible in areas where the schools were not far apart. Those who attended seemed to value the opportunity. Visits by some PEAs were regular and supportive. And some school heads clearly took an interest and encouraged other staff to do so too. In these cases commitment, good will and professionalism triumphed over adverse conditions.
Both in college and school-based training are influenced by assessment practices. We now turn to examine these.