Teachers require teaching skills, not more content knowledge

Children learning from a teacher in class [Courtesy]

The Teachers Service Commission has come up with policy proposals in readiness for the implementation of the CBC in the post middle school level. Most of these touch on the aspect of teacher education.

Preparation of teachers has from the inception of formal education, pre-occupied policy makers and implementers. Teaching has always been a hot potato to politicians, educators and the public at large.

The proposals are mainly targeting teacher education programmes at the degree level. These proposals have far-reaching implications in sectors beyond the teaching profession. Their implications will be felt, were they to see the light of day, in the legal and economic milieu too. Parents/guardians, the unemployed teachers in the field and the prospective teachers will equally feel the pinch.

TSC’s framework on entry requirements in the teaching service calls for an overhaul on the approach to teacher preparation. It vouches for the scrapping of the decades old concurrent approach, replacing it with its precursor, the consecutive approach, a measure introduced in teacher preparation in colonial Africa as an antidote to the effects of the second world war. Each of these models to teacher preparation has had its strong advocates in the academia. The issue of which model prepares the best teacher is a debate that has dominated the academic world for long and I doubt whether its end can come at any time in the near future.

The good news nonetheless, is that comparative studies done on the two models to teacher preparation have reached one verdict: ultimately none is superior to the other in terms of preparing a teacher for the modern learner. The strengths of each model, eventually, is counter-checked by the other.

The strengths, from empirical studies done in the developed world, are mainly in the interim stages than long term except for the concurrent models’ cost-friendliness and exposure of student teachers to incremental pedagogical knowledge. The talk of one having a proclivity to limited content is thus superficial than real.

This should lead us to the question: Why upset the applecart if there is no significant difference to the model adopted in teacher preparation? Besides, what does our country need as far as a teacher of the 21st century is concerned?

Do we, as a country stand to benefit in overhauling our model to teacher preparation? And if it is good for the secondary level, why don’t we introduce it too at the early and middle school levels in teacher preparation? What we need is a flexible approach in our quest to produce teachers for this century and beyond.

I doubt whether teachers require more content in their respective subjects of specialisation. Moreover, the so called ‘more content’ can easily be added to the concurrent teacher preparation model with little pain to the stakeholders. In fact, this is what faculties of education have been doing over the years. They have been working closely with their sister faculties charged with provision of the content. Faculties of education have equally kept abreast with the changes in the school curriculum. Curriculum reviews are the staple of most of our education faculties. The truth is that the concurrent model can infuse the short-term benefits of both the consecutive and connected models to teacher preparation at a minimal cost.

The 21st century requires a teacher who can guide learners into developing three critical abilities: problem-solving, critical thinking and digital literacy. A modern-day teacher should be able to employ teaching strategies that cater for differentiation and inclusion, be technologically savvy, promote syntonic learning, foster good learner relationships, be forward thinking and a change agent.

These capabilities are what will make the teacher to impart the 21st century skills to the learner. Broadly, these skills can be narrowed to ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working and lastly, living in the world. It is from these broad categories that Kenya’s six core skills that have informed the competency based curriculum have been derived.

Facilitating the learner to develop good communication and collaborative ability, attain digital literacy in all its hues, be a critical thinker and problem solver, be creative and imaginative, attain self-efficacy, learning to learn and develop good citizenship skills demands that a Kenyan teacher, regardless of the curriculum level, have more pedagogical and technological knowledge than any other type of knowledge.

Moreover if we have to take cognizance of the fact that this same teacher, should mainstream the host of pertinent and contemporary issues that the curriculum demands, and added to the core values that learners are expected to acquire in the course of their learning, we need a teacher who approaches his/her craft with a lot of professional dexterity. This teacher should yes, have adequate content in the area of specialization and at the same time be grounded in both pedagogy and professionalism. 

What our teachers need to make the CBC a success is a model of teacher preparation which is cost effective and at the same time strikes a balance between the triumvirate pillars of teacher preparation of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and ethics.

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