Teacher Education in Malawi: A Twenty First Century Agenda
[I originally wrote this and posted it to the Malawi internet listservs Nyasanet and Malawitalk . I got some feedback from a few people, and will be revising it soon.]
July 20, 2005
The decision by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources to fire "temporary teachers," as reported by Peter Gwazayani (The Sunday Times, July 10, courtesy MSN) raises a number of issues.
These teachers are reported to have served as temporary teachers for as long as 11 years, beginning in 1994 with the introduction of FPE. In this news item, they are reported to have failed "entrance exams" to go to the TTCs for a new teacher training program beginning soon. I'm probably getting mixed messages, because I have just been informed that all the teachers who were hired in 1994, aphunzitsi a povate, or aphunzitsi a bakili, as they were referred to, have all been trained by MIITEP (Malawi Integrated In-service Teacher Education Program). It is possible that these teachers failed to qualify during the 10 years MIITEP ran for, were offered the opportunity to enroll into the new program starting this year, and have also failed that entrance exam, I don't really know.
If they failed to qualify during MIITEP, and have also failed the new entrance exam, then it makes sense to let them go. They have probably done enough damage to the children they have been handling these past ten years.
Many of them are reported to have interviewed and qualified for MIITEP using fake JC and MSCE certificates. Some of them, I was told, loudly wept upon being told they would teach upper classes (5-8), pleading to be given lower classes. The issue of fake certificates has plagued even the secondary schools. I heard from one inspector of schools how somebody used a bachelors' degree certificate belonging to his late relative. He was discovered when a group of inspectors heard him making a mistake, in front of students, that they did not expect to come from a university-trained teacher. The matter went to the police, and he was fired. There were several cases of this type, I was told.
It's well and good to have measures that help determine who has the aptitude to go through the teacher training regimen, and who doesn't. However it is also necessary to put the issue of ineptitude into a bigger, broader context. If we currently have untrained secondary school teachers who used fake degrees to enter the profession, and given the general degeneration that has visited upon secondary schools in recent years, there's all the likelihood that a great number of secondary school graduates in Malawi have been denied a proper education. Because of the huge numbers of teachers FPE required, many of these poorly educated graduates ended up in primary school, teaching, with no training.
The problem is complicated by the thousands whose secondary education was done through MCDEs, some, not all, of which did not provide students a good education. It is important to note here that some MCDEs did such a marvelous job they produced Malawians who went on to achieve national greatness. I have in mind people like the late poet and hansard editor Ken Kalonde, and Hon. Lucius Banda, one of Malawians greatest musicians. But we also know that the majority of MCDEs were places one went only as a last resort.
In thinking of how to educate future teachers, we might want to do a number of things. First, begin with the primary and secondary schools. It is obvious that we need good primary schools to produce good secondary school students, but I'm talking about putting special emphasis on teacher education by perhaps introducing programs early in secondary schools, targeting students who might want to become primary school teachers. Second, we need to move beyond the 2-year teacher training program. It's time came, and it went.
Malawi today, and the world at large for that matter, is such a complex place it no longer makes sense to train a teacher only for two years, especially when the majority of the trainees are coming from secondary school backgrounds that deprive them of intellectual rigor. It is time to elevate primary teacher training in Malawi to the level of higher education, where a qualified primary school teacher has spent a good four to five years engaging with a rigorous academic and professional curriculum, earning a bachelors degree, minimum.
Obviously this entails re-training teacher trainers, many of whom are trained at the diploma level, and cannot be expected to produce bachelor level students. To re-train teacher trainers and prepare them to produce university graduates with bachelors degrees requires new ways of
conceptualizing teacher education in Malawi. New ways of conceptualizing teacher education in Malawi include equipping TTCs to become research centers, where lecturers see themselves as academics, initiating research projects and enhancing the scholarship of teaching and teacher education.
To turn TTCs into research centers where teaching and teacher educational are of focal importance, there's also need to do away with the diploma altogether. Many of the lecturers who hold diplomas were given a rigorous academic training in the University of Malawi, and even if they did only three years, they covered a lot of areas that in all honesty should have qualified them for a full bachelors degree. The same can be said of the diploma that Kamuzu College of Nursing offers. Minus one course or some other simple bereaucratic requirement, many of these students are offered a diploma and denied a full bachelors degree, consigning them to a lower professional status. I suggest that we do away with the diploma in all of the higher education institutions in Malawi.
Thus the changes necessary for the transformation of teacher education in Malawi are not needed at the training level alone; they are also needed at the institutional level, where people should have enough motivation and resources to initiate research projects and professional development programs for teachers in the schools.
One objection to elevating primary teacher education to a bachelors' degree level in Malawi might be that the teacher trainees are coming from a poor secondary school education background; how can they be expected to handle a university curriculum? Genuine though a concern this one is, the solution is what I have already stated above; namely, improving the state of secondary schools to begin early preparing students for primary teaching careers.
Though it did not prepare me enough to enter the University of Malawi, my own secondary school experience was so rich I believe it prepared me well for the academic demands I have had to meet since then. Besides classroom work, my secondary school experience allowed me to read outside class, write journalistically and creatively, and act in school plays. Much of this was because we had remarkable encouragement and support from one particular teacher, who himself went on to distinguish himself in the Malawi Police Service. But the point I'm making is that in rethinking how we train Malawian teachers, let us look at the whole education system as a whole.
The reason why some would fail the entrance examination to TTCs does not wholly lie with them as individuals. Rather, it is symptomatic of a system that is need of repair. The same support and encouragement I am calling for at the secondary level also goes for the TTC level. If my secondary school experience was rich, my teacher training experience was even richer. At Lilongwe TTC I found a group of other young Malawians who were as energetic as I was, and without waiting for the TTC administration, we launched a writers workshop where my identity as a writer was definitively formed. We were also supported by lecturers and administrators who found our initiative fresh and inspiring. The point is that young Malawians are full of ideas and initiatives which need to be recognized and supported, for us to develop a robust, effective teacher education system, which can in turn create an energetic Malawi society ready to tackle pressing problems.
I heard this week from one lecturer that TTCs have been on a long holiday, after the last MIITEP cohort left. Some lecturers have used the months they have been on "holiday" to initiate their own projects, working in schools, and participating in other educational activities. But these are very few. The majority have been happy to be on "holiday" while receiving full government pay. While they can be blamed for lacking initiative, it is also the case that Malawian TTCs are yet to embrace a culture of teacher education scholarship that empowers and emboldens teacher educators.
I hope the new minister of education, Ms. Kate Kainja, will consider teacher education a priority.