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Proposal to scrap B.Ed degree is self-limiting, myopic and misguided

EDUCATION
By Antoney Luvinzu | June 12th 2021
In the proposals, all the 8-4-4 and Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) students who would like to pursue education must first undertake the Bachelor of Arts or Science courses for a period of three years. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Is the irony lost on anyone that as the rollout of a skill-based curriculum gathers steam, we elect to overhaul a fairly balanced teacher training willy-nilly and replace it with content-heavy training as opposed to a skill-focused one?

The move by the Teachers Service Commission to have the Bachelor of Education (Science and Arts) degrees scrapped from universities has elicited divergent views and strong opinions from education stakeholders.

In the proposals, all the 8-4-4 and Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) students who would like to pursue education must first undertake the Bachelor of Arts or Science courses for a period of three years, majoring in the key subjects, and thereafter, undertake a post-graduate diploma in education (PGDE) for a period of one year.

The TSC and the Ministry of Education (MoE) argue that this radical move is geared towards equipping teacher trainees with requisite content in their subject areas. But as we trudge on with the rollout of the CBC, are our teachers really in need of content mastery at this point in time where an avalanche of information can be accessed at the click of a button?

Or do they need to be equipped with the latest pedagogical models and techniques vital in driving inquiry-based learning that allows learners explore unfamiliar areas, trigger them to be thinkers and unlock their full potential?

Teachers aren’t and shouldn’t be trained just for CBC. Heck, teachers aren’t and shouldn’t be trained to necessarily be teachers. A B.Ed is an incredibly versatile course, which is why newsrooms are replete with teachers, and so are banks and publishing firms and a litany of many other professions in civil service and private sector.

Is it lost on policymakers at TSC or MoE that we export a good chunk of teachers to as far as South-East Asia, and all across Africa, and therefore the argument of having admission of students to pursue B.Ed in our universities being demand driven doesn’t wash? That argument is not only myopic, but incredulous, misplaced and ill-informed? Laughable even?

And what’s more, right here at home we have thousands of teachers teaching the IGCSE, or the North American system, or the British system, or the International Baccalaureate, you name them. And I’ll tell you what, the Kenyan teacher has an excellent reputation out there. We are in demand! The teacher turnover in international schools is anywhere between 30-50 per cent. That’s no child’s play.

So if this overhaul is informed merely by the rollout of CBC, what if the next government comes in, feels CBC is nonsensical, scraps it, and introduces something else? Then what? Are we going to overhaul teacher training again? Jokes.

Units in B.Ed go beyond content and pedagogy. B.Ed students take units in management, psychology, philosophy, economics, health, communication et cetera. That’s why a school principal need not necessarily have a management degree to effectively run a school, nor the school counselor a degree in psychology to offer effective guidance and counselling, or pastoral care to students.

So if the proposed three years in undergraduate teacher training will focus on subject mastery (read content), when will a teacher learn these other skills? It sounds like a colossal joke to even imagine that a PGDE will cater for all these skills and more in a span of a year, or is it nine months?

Teaching practice

And then there is the small matter of teaching practice that essentially takes a whole term (read three months). Where exactly will it be slotted? In the first three years of focusing on content/subject mastery? Or in the nine months to one year of professional training? The arithmetic just doesn’t add up.

Arithmetic aside: so what, really, are the essentials, or, if you may, the hallmarks of an effective teacher?

Well, imagine a teacher who knows all the biology in the world but cannot effectively manage a classroom; doesn’t know what to do in the event of, say, low-level disruption. Or, lacks in techniques to engage students in inquiry-based activities to advance their leaning. Or, cannot practice differentiation informed by learners’ abilities, or needs or preferences to get the most out of them. Or, cannot carry themselves professionally inside and outside school. Or, knows squat about the dynamics around child protection, or ethos of the profession.

You essentially have a robot, or a search engine. Not much difference from Google. Only difference is that it could in fact be hazardous to the learners, who will either get demoralised, or bored, or get lost altogether in the labyrinth of self-development.   

For perspective’s sake, let’s step back a tad.

The idea of doing away with the B.Ed is informed by the proclivity for content mastery rather than regard to pedagogy and/or learning experiences. The drivers of this initiative seem to put more emphasis on ‘what’ is being taught i.e. content, more than ‘how’ it’s being taught i.e pedagogy and/or learning experiences.

Pedagogy is viewed on a continuum, with educators acquiring more of it through appropriate training and experience. The fervent hope from an educational improvement perspective is that the improvement in teacher pedagogical skills will lead to gains in students’ holistic learning experiences.

Subject mastery

According to research done by John Hattie, a professor of education and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in 2008, on subject mastery versus pedagogy, he inferred that teacher subject mastery had only a minor impact in students’ overall achievement, while teacher pedagogical aptitude seemed to play a huge role in students’ success.

Prof Hattie conducted a meta-analysis of more than 1,000 educational studies that identified 138 different factors that influenced student learning. The required effect size for a student to make a year’s progress was 0.4. According to Hattie, a teacher’s subject mastery had an effect size of 0.19, meaning that it was far less effective than other factors like classroom management (0.52), or effective teacher feedback to students i.e. differentiation (0.75).

The CBC is a skill-based curriculum and emphasis is on enabling students to construct knowledge through questioning, discussion/collaboration, sharing of perspectives, debating, analysis and interrogation of works of art and other resources from multiple sources, and instructor feedback on the students’ abilities.

The Internet has not only provided a vast reservoir of information, but also a platform for those seeking to collaborate. Here, students can share experiences, discuss theories and challenges, and learn from each other. The instructor, while no longer responsible for delivering ALL of the knowledge, or even providing ALL of the sources for learning, still maintains a critical role as a guide, facilitator, and assessor of the learning.

And then again, what, really, is the scope in subject content that a teacher requires to have to teach a high school child? I have never taught psychoanalysis or discourse analysis or prosody; units I did in university. Curricula are transitory things. To this end, therefore, policymakers at TSC and MoE should instead focus on equipping or retooling teachers with skills to adapt to any curricula.

Unless the TSC or the MoE are equipped with information from a study or research that informs this outlandish move, perhaps what we need is tweaking and improving the current teacher training ‘templet’. I don’t know how much, and how often the TSC or MoE invests in research and capacity building to ensure that gaps in either pedagogy, mastery of subject or professional ethos are identified and bridged. Perhaps they would want to look into this as well?

Have options to tweak/improve the current teacher training ‘templet’ been exhausted to leave us with only this option being arrived at, seemingly without adequate consultation (if the uproar is anything to go by)?

Here is how Finland, considered to be a global pacesetter in this business, does its thing, just so we are clear and have a reference point to boot. Teaching is the most admired profession in Finland, and to this end, it tends to attract some of the best minds in that country. This is not so much pegged on the pay (the Finnish teacher’s pay is not so removed from what the rest of Europe pays its teachers), but more to do with working conditions, respect from the general public and how much the government involves them in decision making. In Finnish education, the teacher’s word carries immense weight. And they are highly professional.

Here at home we politic half of the time. But that is beside the point. Perhaps we should be taking notes from one of the best educational practices in the world, particularly its obstinate insistence on high-quality teachers.

Finnish curriculum

The Finnish curriculum is skill-based and quite easy on content. Teachers are highly educated in skill and pedagogical models. All teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels are required to have a Master’s degree, which means everyone is immersed in research. In fact, the education of elementary teachers (Grades 1–6) at the Master’s level has been entrenched for 35 years, while secondary teachers (Grades 7–12) have been trained at Master’s-level programmes for more than 100 years. An essential characteristic of teacher education has been its emphasis on research. Research on teacher knowledge typically focuses on the knowledge teachers need in classroom situations.

The baseline is that teacher trainees not only consume knowledge (absorb content) but also create new knowledge through their research findings/inferences. This new knowledge is what then informs their continuous curriculum tinkering, and development of new teaching/learning/assessment practices.

Consequently, quality is assured primarily at the teachers’ level, and there’s no telling just how much this trickles down to the learners. Do you still need a presentation as to why everyone is bench-marking with them? And guess where it all begins... teacher training. The teacher is smack at the centre of an education system. And how you handle their training, professional development/capacity building and general welfare determines the quality of the product–the learner.

One of the most critical areas of teacher training in Finland is general pedagogical knowledge. This consists of classroom management and organisation, instructional models and strategies, and classroom communication and discourse.

We are serving a sumptuous dish (CBC) on a dirty plate (content-based teacher training).

The writer, Antoney Luvinzu, is an IB educator.

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