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Friday, 1 April 2011

Are teacher training programmes a complete waste of time?

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

In response to an earlier article ‘A way out of the silence’ (May 1, 2005), a number of emails were received. However, the one that led me to write this piece was from a UK based educator and researcher, Doreen Crawford. She wrote: “You refer to teachers ‘throwing away’ most of the knowledge they gained during their training once they join a school. This is a most disturbing situation and I’d be very pleased if you can explain this to me. Why do they do that? Is it because their training did not include any teaching practice in a school? If so, should that be part of the training?”

Regretfully one cannot help feeling that once teachers join schools, after ‘successfully’ completing their various teacher training courses such as P.T.C, C.T B.Ed., M.Ed., etc., many dispense with it.

The issue was discussed with a number of teachers and school principals. I wanted to ask them what difficulties they faced that prevented them an effective implementation of the knowledge that new teachers gained while enrolled in training programmes. Almost all of the teachers and principals said that training programmes do bring some change in one’s thinking and outlook. However, the ultimate of enabling the teachers to apply what they learn in their teaching was not realized because teachers found it difficult to follow the way of teaching used in a training programme.

Thus there is this problem of a gap between theory and practice. Now the other questions such as why do teachers abandon what is taught to them during the training programmes? Is it because their training does not include any experience of teaching in a school?

Teaching practice is actually a part of nearly all training programmes. It however must be argued that this practical aspect of the training programmes is not adequate either qualitatively and quantitatively. Only a fraction of the training session is allocated to actual teaching in a school. The courses are primarily theoretical in nature and trainee teachers are taught quite a number of subjects that have little practical or applicable value. During the B.Ed. training programme teachers are required to teach for a week initially and later for four weeks, at the end of the training programme. A number of factors are responsible for the attitude of teachers who abandon to a large extent what they have learnt during a training programme. They include the situation on the ground, the physical infrastructure of schools, the quality of textbooks used, the attitude of administrators and parents, and the examination system.

One subject that teachers are taught in training programmes and which is perhaps the most important as far as professional development is concerned is educational psychology. What is the purpose of offering this subject to trainee teachers? This can be understood if we try to understand some of the key concepts of educational psychology. ‘Individual attention’ is one such concept that comes out of educational psychology. This means every individual (student) is a distinct being and needs to be treated uniquely. Every teaching programme aims at teaching trainees to pay individual attention to each student because every student is distinct.

After training, however, when a teacher joins a school, he/she finds him/herself in a class with dozens of students, not the ideal situation to implement the just-learnt concept of providing each student individual attention. Another subject that is a part of a training programme is educational guidance and counselling. For such a practical subject to be more useful, there should be practical guidance and counselling services in schools. This is not the case in most schools in the public sector which means that a teacher who is taught such a course has no opportunity to put in practice what he or she has learnt.

Curriculum planning and development is another course offered during a training programme. However, due to a highly centralized system of education, teachers, especially those starting out in the profession, have no say in the process of curriculum planning and development. Consequently, this aspect of the training programme also goes to waste. There is very little coordination between curriculum planners and schools, and what comes from the education department is accepted by teachers and taught to students without any analysis or examination of its suitability or otherwise.

Also, in their training trainee teachers are told of the harmful effects of treating children harshly and specially on the consequences of using corporal punishment. Despite this, the situation in schools is not improving with reports of corporal punishment frequently appearing in the media. There are many factors that contribute to this and unless they are removed, the problem will not go away.

I discussed this problem of corporal punishment with a number of teachers and principals. One of the principals had two thick canes lying beside his table. He was asked why he kept the canes since corporal punishment was banned. He smiled and said: “The canes are lying here for our own protection. These students come from such backgrounds that the minute you leave the cane they will disrupt everything in the school.”

The principal then went on to complain about the political interference that happens in schools. “We cannot expel a student on grounds of indiscipline because the minute we do that, he goes to a politician or an influential person and we are forced to take him back. So the only choice left for us is to deal with undisciplined students in our own way,” he said.

Another headmaster was also asked about the continuing use of corporal punishment. He said: “There is little or no interest from the parent’s side in the educational development of their children. They do not maintain any contact with the schools to enquire about their children, and hence the only choice we have is to allow teachers to use corporal punishment to force students to follow school rules and to do their homework regularly.”

Trainee teachers are also taught the importance of keeping close coordination with the parents of their students. However due to poor socio-economic backgrounds of most parents (whose children study in government schools), it becomes impossible for any kind of relationship between teachers and parents to develop.

Furthermore, trainee teachers are taught the importance of preparing lesson plans in advance. This requires a lot of time and resources from the teacher’s side, both of which are generally not forthcoming. More often than not, a teacher has to teach five to six classes per day in addition to the extra periods that need to be taken for absent teachers. Not only this, he/she has to teach more than one subject, sometimes three or four different subjects a day. Then, many teachers supplement their government salary by giving tuitions after school. Given all this, there is not enough time to prepare lesson plans for the next day’s teaching. This will partially explain, though not justify, why so many teachers in government schools come to class unprepared.

Many teachers were of the view that the ideas and concepts taught during to them during their training programmes were better suited to the conditions prevailing in the developed counties, where resources were abundant and where education was given top priority and schools provided with all kinds of facilities.

This was obviously not the case with Pakistan and hence the content of the training course seemed a bit out of place. One senior teacher said that in fact unless things were improved on the ground, requiring teachers to enroll in training programmes seemed a complete waste of time and resources.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

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