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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Reaching standards - enhancing the quality of teachers

Daily News: 06/12/2005" by Prof. Raja Gunawardhane

In the recent past thousands of graduates have been recruited as 'teachers' for Sri Lankan schools. It is a progressive step that has been taken by the Government to solve the graduate unemployment problem in Sri Lanka. However, solving the unemployment problem is one side of the story.

While considering the prevailing political and economic demands it is also necessary to have a permanent policy for teacher recruitment which should be based on needs of the education system and the recent developments of the modern technology relevant to classroom teaching. It is high time to reformulate the teacher-recruitment policies with the objective of providing a standard education to the future generation.

It is an unfortunate situation that 'teaching' is not considered as a profession in Sri Lanka. Many of us, even our 'academics' cannot understand the gravity of the problem that arises as a result of untrained personnel. They think that anyone who has subject knowledge can become a teacher.

Teaching is a creative, intellectually demanding and rewarding job. In developed countries no one can go to a classroom and teach without a 'teaching licence'. A teacher in UK should obtain 'Qualified Teacher Status' (QTS) to enter the teaching profession. Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in U.K., Rt. Chales Clarke, in his introduction to the circular (2003) 'Qualifying to Teach' states, "Teaching is one of the most influential professions in society".

In their day-to-day work, teachers can and do make huge differences to children's lives: directly through the curriculum they teach, and indirectly, through their behaviour, attitudes, values, relationships with and interest in pupils".

He further states that teaching involves more than care, mutual respect and well-placed optimism. It demands knowledge and practical skills, the ability to make informed judgements, and to balance pressures and challenges, practice and creativity, interest and effort, as well as an understanding of how children learn and develop.

Qualified Teacher Status' (QTS) is the first stage in a continuum of professional development that will continue through the induction period and throughout a teacher's career. Initial training given for all new recruits in UK lays the foundation for subsequent professional and career development. Initial Teacher Training (ITT) is very important for all newly recruited teachers.

They can build on the strengths identified in this ITT period, and work on the areas, which they have highlighted as priorities for future professional development. The training they obtain during this period helps them to play an active role in their early professional development and performance management.

There are standards for the award of Qualified Teacher Status. They are stated as outcome statements that set out what a trainee teacher must know, understand and be able to do. The Standards are organized in three inter-related sections, which describe the criteria for the award. The first section is the 'Professional Value and Practice' which includes eight statements. Teachers should respect social, cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic backgrounds of pupils.

They are committed to raising their educational achievement. Teachers should demonstrate and promote the positive values, attitudes and behaviour that they expect from pupils. In the second section, it is stated that teachers should be confident and authoritative in the subjects they teach. In the third section it is stated that teachers are expected to gain skills of planning, monitoring and assessment, and teaching and class management.

These Standards ensure that all new teachers have the subject knowledge and the teaching and learning expertise they need, and are well prepared for the wider professional demands of being a teacher. They will also help to ensure that training tackles issues such as behaviour management and social inclusion as well. These standards are a rigorous set of expectations and set out the minimum legal requirement.

Recruitment of graduates for the Teachers' Service in Sri Lanka is a progressive step that has been taken by the Government. These newly recruited graduates have at least a three year degree which certifies the subject knowledge needed for the teaching profession. But the recruitment system is unethical and irregular.

How can we say that all these graduates are competent in teaching ? Teaching is a professional job and we need professionals to go to the classroom and teach. Was there a system of checking whether they can talk or whether they hear properly ? It is very unfortunate to have system of recruiting persons through a list names prepared by officials who do not have any idea of the qualities and aptitudes necessary for teachers.

Major factors that can be identified as being contributory towards the decline in educational standards have been the haphazard recruitment of teachers in a large scale. It is essential in future to have a permanent policy of teacher recruitment. Obtaining a Bachelors degree from a university does not certify that they are competent in teaching.

It is essential to test aptitude for teaching at the entry level. What happens today is we recruit individuals in a large scale without any assessment of their aptitude and permit them to follow teacher training courses in training institutions. Providers of teacher training face unexpected difficulties in training them. Training instructors of our postgraduate diploma courses complain that some student teachers lack communication skills. Some are not competent in using their own language for addressing a small group of pupils.

Secondly, all persons admitted to the teaching service should have a proper training. Unless they obtain a real teacher training from an accepted teacher educator it is unethical to consider them as 'teachers'.

Plunging teachers into classroom without proper induction has been found to be generally counter-productive and in some cases, has proven to be quite traumatic for newly certified teachers. In the conventional system of education in which subject knowledge and rote learning were considered important, teachers without any orientation to the principles of child psychology and educational methodology were able to transmit bookish knowledge.

In the secondary school curriculum, the emphasis is on projects, self learning, hands-on experiences and learning by doing. Unless the untrained teachers undergo a long-term, well-planned, training programme we cannot expect them to perform effectively at the classroom level.

The number of teachers within the school system stands at 186,015 (as at 2004). This number includes trained graduates, untrained graduates, trained teachers, and untrained teachers. There were 52,176 graduates (28 percent) in 2004 and now this number has increased.

One third of the teachers in Sri Lankan schools are graduates, however, all these graduates cannot be considered as 'teachers' because majority of them have not undergone a proper teacher training. A recent publication of the Ministry of Education 'Education for development and prosperity' (2005) states that graduates entering the teaching field are provided orientation immediately after recruitment and thereafter, may obtain a diploma in education as a professional qualification. These short-term training programmes are inadequate to make a fully professionally qualified teacher.

It is important to note that graduates who wish to follow these graduate training courses apply on their own and the education authorities are not very much concerned about the postgraduate training provided by universities. It is essential to have a formal postgraduate teacher training for all graduates before they are deployed as 'professional teachers'. Training opportunities should be provided for them through recognised teacher training institutes.

It is timely to revise the curricular, content, and the structure of the graduate training programmes conducted by the universities. The reforms of the past decade brought immense improvements in the quality of graduate training programmes available at universities.

In addition to the traditional subjects information technology has been introduced to the teacher training courses. Most students are keen to develop their competency in information technology, both in terms of personal skills in ICT, and in terms of the use of ICT in the classroom. For a variety of reasons, not all student teachers get as far as they would wish towards mastery of the various facets of ICT capability.

The most effective way to learn ICT is to have lots of 'hands-on' practice and one to one tuition, but there are difficulties - inadequate facilities and resource persons, for achieving this target.

It is timely to restructure the teacher training courses conducted by universities and other institutions. To improve the quality of education and the quality of teachers, the quality of teacher education must, essentially, be improved.

In addition to the traditional training programmes distant training programmes are also conducted by several institutions. Students who are undergoing training on the job under this distance training programme are not sufficiently monitored and supervised. It is, therefore, very essential to have programmes introduced and initiated by the Ministry of Education to correct deficiencies and overcome problems currently prevailing in the teacher education programmes.

Another important policy measure that has been introduced to obtain regular and systematic feedback on the performance of various aspects of the education system is the strengthening of education research, monitoring and evaluation.

Establishment of a research centre, National Education Research and Evaluation Centre (NEREC) attached to the Faculty of Education, University of Colombo is one of the key initiatives to develop education research. Studies on teacher recruitment, teacher deployment and teacher education can be undertaken by the NEREC in view of keeping standards in teacher education.

The World Bank in its report (February, 2005) has suggested to establish a 'Teacher Education Board' for planning, coordinating and quality assurance of the teacher education system (p. 65). We hope that this suggestion is an important one, because the quality of education lies mainly on the quality improvement of teacher education.

Establishment of a national board of this type on professional development that focuses on identifying the time, resources, and opportunities for professional development will help to improve the motivation and performance of teachers. Also, this would help to bring together a broad-based group of practitioners, policy makers, and scholars in professional development.

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