Two weeks ago, the Principal Secretary for Basic Education, Dr Belio Kipsang observed that the teacher still remains an important factor in education. Speaking at the Jamhuri Technology & Innovation exhibition at KCC, Dr Kipsang said although ICT had emerged as a critical educational technology for learning, it could only enhance but not replace the crucial role of a teacher in schooling.
The guiding star of schools and any educational institution is a teacher. ICT and all the capabilities it has as an educational tool cannot and will never substitute a teacher. The technologies can only enhance teaching and learning; and supplant the teacher.
A teacher is at the core of any education reform, if you will, any curriculum architecture. The teacher is the one, with his or her education and training, society looks to instruct students in a formal curriculum or syllabus policy makers prescribes. Tools like computers and its byproducts come in as tools—techniques or technologies and media—that assists the teacher in the communication of knowledge, skills, attitudes and other core elements at the centre of learning or the curriculum.
A lecturer at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology observed: “No technology can replace teachers. It can only be used as one of the tools of instruction. I had asked her whether the role of the teacher in schooling will diminish, with the advent of and increasing recognition of ICT, as an education technology.
ICT and the internet of things may have its wonders. The welter and amount of informational and educational materials the internet can store is mind boggling. However, learners need the intelligent guidance and coaching of a teacher, to access the web and discriminate which is relevant and which not, for educational purposes.
“For most purposes, students need teachers and one another. Students require a wise and experienced person who offers encouragement, who presents the subject in a compelling manner, who sets standards of personal conduct, who monitors more than the blinking screen. Minds develop in response to the social interaction of a lively classroom, where learners debate, discuss, and exchange ideas,” Diane Silvers Ravitch, an American historian of education, notes in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.
Educational technology itself cannot offer encouragement, present the subject in a compelling manner, or set standards of personal conduct for learners. Only the traditional teacher, the human teacher, flesh and blood, the world has known since the dawn of formal schooling, can.
The world came to grips with the potential and limitations of virtual learning which modern Information, Communication Technology (ICT) has made possible, during the nine month closure of schools in 2020—thanks to Covid-19. Teachers were the central figures in virtual learning for school communities which had the wherewithal to mount the learning. Students whose families were not on the national grid and there was no internet connectivity, were cut off from interacting with their respective schools and teachers. Virtual learning also robbed off the students the socializing and structured nature of formal education.
In other words, the influence of the teacher in formal learning loomed larger than it had ever been before the outbreak of Covi-19. And the school, where the teacher is the key unchanging figure, is the greatest leveler or equalizer of the iniquities that define unequal the unequal circumstances children hail from.
What are the policy implications of these? The policy implications are: that the teacher will continue playing a central role in the instruction of learners in the formal curriculum; that given the crucial role of the teacher in schooling, society should be vigilant expose a rigorous education and training programme to the teacher as children depend on them for instruction; that society should make efforts to train the teacher in handling ICT as an a educational tool.
The other policy implication is that it is important that society should, besides equipping the teacher with subject matter and pedagogic skills, also integrate him or her into the sophisticated and complex educational technologies which are marked by the increasing complexity and sophistication of devices. That is the only way we can get the best from the two worlds: education and training of the teacher on one hand and his socialisation into educational technology.
From the ancient abacus to handheld calculators, from slide projectors and classroom film strips, and educational television, educational technology continues to evolve in exciting new ways — inspiring, amazing teachers and students alike. Teachers need to adapt. However, the old verities about the teacher as the master of his subject, the defining quality of a top-class teacher, remains intact.
Students still need to gain the knowledge to understand scientific phenomena. They need to be nurtured into civic responsibilities and appreciate the dynamics of society. They need to know and make use of strong reading and writing skills that basic education imparts in them. They need to nurture and strengthen their capacity for numeracy—for quantitative thinking and reasoning skills ought to be developed in them as well.
It means that a teacher needs to be properly competent in the subject matter or mastery of the prescribed learning areas at a greater depth and breadth than the scope primary and secondary education curriculum prescribes. Educational technology cannot make up for the deficit or gaps in knowledge the teacher is expected to impart or facilitate learners to acquire.
As John Silber, the President emeritus and former chancellor of Boston University, observed, Knowledge of the subject matter is the sine qua non of competence.