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There's need to radically change teacher training

COMMENTARY
By Fidelis Nakhulo | February 26th 2021

Recently, the Ministry of Education launched the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) Taskforce report that provides the roadmap aligning education reform initiatives to the needs and expectations of the 21st century.

As has been stated many times over, the current education reform is much more about access. It aims at providing all learners with the necessary capabilities to become economically productive, develop sustainable livelihoods, contribute to peaceful and democratic societies and enhance individual well-being.

When you teach learners to acquire the seven core competencies envisioned in the Basic Education Curriculum Framework (BECF), you give them the capabilities they require to take part in the economic, and civic life of the country. That is a great undertaking the government is making to the children and youth of this country.

Fulfilment of this promise requires a rigorous curriculum—learning areas or content that is cognitively demanding and challenging to students. We are looking to the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) to develop content or syllabus that meets the depth and breadth inherent in curricular that answers to the needs of educational excellence.

The other essential element in education reform is the teacher—the person who will ultimately take the curriculum to the classroom, where the learner is. Teachers are an important resource in the teaching/learning process; their education, training and utilisation therefore requires critical consideration. This fact is underscored in the Sessional Paper No.1 of 2005.

Unlike the Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2019 on Reforming Education and Training for Sustainable Development in Kenya, the 2005 sessional paper was clear in its recommendations about teacher preparation for the rigorous education Kenya is required to give to its children.

The Policy document noted: “In order to improve the quality of the teachers graduating out of our universities, it is imperative that the secondary school teacher training programme is restructured to enable the trainees acquire sufficient subject mastery and pedagogy". To address this problem, universities will be required to extend the current BEd programmes to five years like other professional degrees or have those aspiring to be teachers complete their first degree then take a post-graduate diploma in education.

The government should reform the way teachers who offer tuition in Secondary Education—in our CBC context, teachers who will teach in Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary Education—are prepared according to the Sessional Paper of 2005.

The current model in which the trainees study both the subject area and pedagogy at the same time and graduate with a Bachelor of Education degree has serious weaknesses. It was introduced in the early 1970s to address the acute teacher shortage that faced the country until around 1995.

Throughout the 1950 up to 1974, prospective teachers undertook studies in the subject area first and graduated with either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree and later undertook a nine month postgraduate diploma to make them trained teachers.

Today the Post Graduate Diploma in Education course is done by those who did not initially desire to be teachers. With the rapid mushrooming of schools, it is easier to get employment as a teacher in a private school or under the BOM of a public school. But with the mass production of Bachelor of Education having reached its zenith, it is a dog’s life for education graduates. Some graduates spend so many years out of college that they might require a refresher course before being allowed to handle learners.

I submit that the current model of teacher education and training does not have the capacity to meet the rigours inherent in the kind of educational experience we want our children to have. The amount of time dedicated to the subject matter under this model is less compared to the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science courses in similar academic or learning areas. The other time is devoted to Education foundation courses—or pedagogy—the how of teaching.

There is therefore need to reexamine the breadth and depth of subject matter preparation for teachers going forward. The complexity of modern knowledge or industrial society require it. While pedagogy is important, emphasis on classroom organization and child psychology are important, they are a means, a framework for sharing, and facilitating the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values and other capabilities society finds useful to prepare children for the future.

The teacher in the current thinking in education practice is not a transmitter of knowledge to learners. He is a guide, a coach, a prompter, a facilitator in the child’s journey of acquiring knowledge, skills and other requisite capabilities.

The advantages of letting trainees acquire subject matter first and later to acquire teaching methods are wide. The trainees will go into post graduate training in Education while possessing knowledge that is wide-ranging and whose understanding runs deep.

Content mastery gives the teacher confidence, and deep understanding of the prescribed curriculum or learning area. The command of the content area, beyond what the curriculum prescribes gives the teacher the agility, flexibility and imagination to seamlessly apply different but appropriate methods of teaching during curriculum delivery in the classroom. 

The quality of education a country gives its learners is as good as its teachers. The government should take time to think deeply and objectively about the current state of teacher education in the light of the CBC it is rolling out. The graduates who will soon be handling junior and senior high school learners should be prepared for CBC in a better way than their primary school counterparts have been.

An academic degree in the subject area, followed by a post graduate diploma in Education will help the Government to effectively manage the implementation of the CBC at the school level. Without this change in teacher preparation, we are likely to subvert the otherwise superior promises that lie in CBC.

Mr Nakhulo is a retired teacher and educationist 

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