The news that the P1 course that primary school teachers pursue has been elevated to a diploma programme is most welcome (The Standard, Wednesday, July 10, 2019).
Accordingly, the Government has stopped admission of students to the certificate programme henceforth, meaning up to 20,000 vacancies in both public as well as private teacher training colleges (TTCs) will remain vacant until next year when the first cohort of the diploma students will report.
The elevation of P1 course to diploma is a key reform in the teaching fraternity meant to improve the quality of both professional and academic standards of the primary school teachers.
This bold move is informed by, among others, the fact that there has been discomfort among many stakeholders that the two-year P1 course is inadequate to equip the trainees with the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to competently perform the envisaged roles in the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).
It needs to be appreciated that any sound teacher education programme should focus on providing critical skills, competencies, professional attitudes and values that equip teachers with the knowledge as well as ability to recognise and nurture the educational needs of the students.
It is noteworthy that the success of the CBC is hinged on the ability of the teachers to not only understand but also facilitate acquisition of crucial competencies among learners.
These are digital literacy, self-efficacy, citizenship, learning to learn, imagination and creativity, critical thinking and problem solving as well as communication and collaboration skills.
But for the envisaged teacher training diploma course to be relevant, including meeting societal needs, it should be developed taking into account the aspirations of the international community, the country’s Constitution and the 220.127.116.11 system of education.
Among others, the content should be in tandem with the requirements of the Basic Education Act 2013 as well as Vision 2030 as both stress on the need to prepare teachers with a mindset that focuses on the core educational outcomes.
To this end, emphasis should be laid on mastery of the subject and pedagogical skills.
While preparing the course content in the anticipated diploma programme for primary school teacher trainees, it should be borne in mind that as per the Basic Education Curriculum Framework (2017), pertinent and contemporary issues constitute a critical portion of the content in the new syllabus.
These include global citizenship, life skills, health and values education. In a bid to prepare students to be global citizens, such topics as peace education, human rights, gender issues, integrity, social cohesion, ethnic and race relations as well as patriotism and governance need to be covered.
Other issues that ought to be included in the teacher preparation course are sustainable development, learner support programmes, community service learning and parental engagement.
In the new syllabus, topics like environmental education, disaster risk reduction, financial literacy, poverty eradication, countering terrorism and animal welfare are designed to focus on sustainable development.
With regard to the learner support programmes, peer education, communal life, clubs, societies, sports and games are essential. Topics on career guidance and counseling services; community service learning and parental engagement; community participation and parental empowerment should be considered.
While the whole idea of reforming teacher education, particularly at the primary school level, is commendable, there are notable hurdles that need to be diligently addressed.
Tilting instructional practices towards stronger collaborative relationships among teachers and learners, a core focus of the CBC, is a major challenge facing the teaching profession.
Advocates of this approach hold that such a paradigm shift enhances creativity, innovativeness and dignity apart from making learning enjoyable.
Thus, this is another critical area that developers of the teacher training diploma course should pay attention to.
Inadequate, obsolete and dilapidated facilities and resources for preparing teachers are also of great concern. This is compounded by the fact that operations of the TTCs are largely dependent on students’ fees.
In particular, adequate information and communication technologies infrastructure, a key component of the new curriculum, needs to be installed so as to produce teachers capable of competently delivering meaningful education.
The decision by Higher Education Loans Board to start financing primary school teacher trainees from next year is laudable.
The move comes at a time when enrolment in the TTCs has been plummeting due to a variety of reasons, including inability by some of the students to meet the cost of the course.
Another reason is failure by many candidates to attain the minimum entry grade at Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination.
Some students have also previously avoided the P1 certificate course, opting instead to go for various diploma programmes in other fields which require the same entry grade.
Fortunately, with the minimum entry qualification now clearly spelt out, courtesy of Kenya National Qualifications Authority, and other relevant agencies, there is a likelihood of more students enrolling in the TTCs compared to the past.
Dr Nyatuka, is the Chairman, Department of Educational Foundations, Kisii University