|Primary Teacher Education in Malawi: Insights into Practice and Policy (CIE, 2002, 144 p.)|
MIITEP is a large scale programme. It was conceived to address a crisis of teacher supply which remains with the primary school system. Free Primary Education policy created unprecedented demand and children enrolled en masse. It quickly became clear that there were not enough teachers, children needed classrooms and books, and school managers needed to be equipped with new skills. The Government of Malawi secured external assistance to reshape teacher education to meet the needs, and MIITEP was born.
There were many constraints which need recognising before passing judgement on MIITEPs strengths and weaknesses and making suggestions for the future. First, MIITEP was designed to include large elements of school-based training. Many Malawian primary schools have insufficient desks and chairs, lack classrooms, and possess few learning materials such as textbooks, teachers' guides and even blackboards. Many also have half or more of their staff untrained. In the lower grades, many pupils do not have pencils or exercise books; infant grades sometimes practise writing in the sand. The diversity within one class is enormous. Pupil absenteeism is high, and many are ill-nourished. Neither the college classes nor the Handbooks developed for MIITEP could easily focus on helping students deal with these kinds of conditions, especially since college tutors have had little direct experience themselves of teaching in such impoverished learning environments.
Second, heads were expected to co-ordinate school-based training after short introductions to MIITEP. This co-ordination included, for example, pairing the trainees with more experienced teachers, (though in over half Malawi primary schools less than 50% of the staff are qualified), organising training sessions, supervising trainees regularly, and sending in reports. Most heads were unprepared for the role and many thought they should be paid extra. In practice, they checked the trainees' lesson plans daily, but delegated or ignored much of the rest. Pairing seemed ad hoc, and often more directed to reducing teaching loads than to professional development. The trainees did not, on the whole, feel the school had given them much support, and perhaps many schools could not.
Third, the PEAs were supposed to supervise and report on the trainees regularly, and to run 12 zonal workshops for each cohort, on the top of their other in-service responsibilities. At the time of the study the PEAs were newly appointed, had received little training, the Teachers Development Centres (TDCs) were not built, and transport to schools was difficult. Many zonal seminars did not take place because of lack of available funds. Those that did were rated by both trainees and observers as useful, practical, and participatory. Not only did trainees get information and skills that could be immediately applied in their classrooms, but they could share ideas and experiences with each other. It seems most students had only one or two visits whilst in school. Exceptionally, one team of PEAs we identified had managed to visit some students several times, giving effective formative feedback before allocating a final grade, showing what was possible. Since then, all PEAs have been issued with motorbikes, building is underway, including houses for PEAs in their zone, and they have received training through the Malawi Schools Support System Programme (MSSSP). The situation may be improving.
Fourth, college tutors were supposed to visit trainees five times during the 20 months in school. The regime devised was impossible to execute. The first cohorts followed each other directly into college, no funds were available for travel or subsistence, and tutors were not released from teaching until the first cohorts had been many months in schools. A period of four weeks was available with a limited number of vehicles for transport. Tutors could only spend a brief time in each school, perhaps seeing only part of a lesson, and having little opportunity to give feedback. Yet a grade had to be given. Tutors were not always able to see their own students, and many were not visited. Under this system, assessment could hardly be more than a ritual. If no mark could be reported from the field, the mark given for the one lesson taught by each trainee in the demonstration school during the college period was used. Almost all trainees passed teaching practice with good grades. It is unlikely this reflected a considered judgement of teaching competencies.
Fifth, MIITEP was a huge, elaborate scheme devised to meet a crisis, without sufficient time to put into place the necessary administrative infrastructures. Capacity was stretched to the point where many trainees' records were incomplete and it was not known where they were; colleges kept no continuous records of student performance, zonal activities were constantly rescheduled at short notice or cancelled, and learning materials were late in production and delivery. There clearly were considerable problems with the disbursement of funds arising both from the time-scale and accountability attached to external funding, and complex and inefficient internal allocation procedures. A key complementary training element - the Malawi Schools Support System Programme (MSSSP) - which was to train principals and PEAs in management and supervision, began some time after MIITEP itself.
In the round, it was not surprising that plans were often not realised and that for much of the time MIITEP existed within a culture of crisis management, rather than systematic and evolutionary programme development and consolidation. Though it is easy to agree that both new structures for teacher education were needed to meet unprecedented demand, and new content and methods were essential to train more effective teachers, attempting system-wide innovation of both at the same time was more than ambitious.