Tuesday, July 26, 2005

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.


Cathy Kutsaira said...

Firstly, the MOE did not fire temporary teachers but those who did not qualify to teach after attending residential course and MANEB exams within a period of two years. THe temporary teachers that have passed the exams are still MOE employees.

On the new program, the results for the interviews are not yet out. Those who attempted MIITEP program and also applied to this new program are not known. However, some did apply to this program, but i am not sure how many were given an apportunity to attend the interviews. Some of them were not shortlisted because they didnt even meet the required qualifications. Evidenced this when i was working with the MOE to shortlist the candidates. Actually, most of the students we trained in the ttc were underqualified as some of them failed even to communicate themselves in English. There is great need to scrutinize the system of recruiting teachers.

About fake ceritficates, this is very true. Some of them used their late brothers or sisters' certificates. My suggestion is that ttc lecturers should be given the mandate to give these selected student teachers entrance exams and decide the way forward there. Some students just waste govt's money in training them as they cant get anything from the training.

Another observation is on language used in primary schools. The idea of teaching all subjects in vernacular in the junior classes in primary is spoiling our kids. Even when they reach senior classes, they fail to understand issues in english. and these unqualified teachers take advantage of the system as it permits them work comfortably.

It is also important to bring back the two year training program other than the one to one program. The one to one program has already indicated that it might have a lot of shortfalls. As a lecturer, I am not yet oriented on the new program yet colleges will be opening in a week's time. THere is need for seriousness by the govt before implementing such programs. WHether students will be having teaching practice opportunity is not known, yet the program will be starting up soon. I also agree that it is high time that we introduce degree programs for primary school teachers in order to train them effectively.

Most of the facts are really helpful and better maintain them.

Catherine Kutsaira-LTTC

Peter Dziko said...

Malawi’s education system is in shambles-It seems we are in the middle of no where- lost our direction so to say. It is with this in mind that your article ”Teacher Education in Malawi: A Twenty First Century Agenda” comes relevant - as a compass to direct us in this century- analyzing our strengths and short falls in order to formulate long terms goals. Our Educational plans/policies must not be a function of government of the day but based on strategy.-well outlined strategies. I would like to recommend the then Deputy Education minister Anna Kachikho for taking a bold stand to dismiss temporary teachers who failed entrance examinations( or something like that) at Teachers’ Training Colleges across the country. I understand the Ministry did all it could to help them upgrade their qualifications. As Steve puts it in his article “They have probably done enough damage to the children they have been handling these past ten years” Let they go- akalime!!
The importance of education is quite clear –helps putting one’s potential to maximum use. If the country is to achieve sustainable development-it’s education system must be first class. This is not cheap though. To achieve this it will require serious commitment not only on the part of leaders but the entire nation as well, - parents/guardians, students, business community etc. Our leaders may complain of lack of resources-but with re-examining of priorities of the national budget and redirect resources fulfillment of this basic human need may be met.
What should be our agenda in this century? How about investing in teachers’ development-like upgrading underqualified teachers, seminars both local and international for exposure, research e.t.c.
How about motivation, retention of teachers, among other things.

There is a need to invest in educating our teachers-research and development. e.t.c. The world being dynamic-teachers need to be well updated-Know more than students. This can be achieved if we offer our teachers opportunities to upgrade themselves, Offering them refresher courses, exposure on world level- sharing of knowledge with their fellow teachers e.g how to meet their challenges. On the other hand teachers must be creative- let them compliment government effort by uplifting themselves academically-like initiative to enrolling in some form of school-correspond school for instance
All in all teachers MUST be well qualified and up to date in order to do their job. I understand there has been instances where fake qualifications have been used. Let us put in place mechanics to check this malpractice, entrance examination to colleges-e.g. TTC can be a good solution as Catherine Kutsaira puts it in her comment. We need teachers we can trust with our kids’ future-fully baked. There are some teachers who can’t do anything in class- for instance one of my niece’s teachers at Kabwabwa primary school-standard 4-was just taking them for PE or singing music-even when it’s time for other subjects-I guess other subjects were too challenging for her(teacher). This is not only unfair to the students but kills education system.
Retaining teachers has been a major problem in the last decade-Our County produces well qualified teachers-but do they really end up teaching? Why? We don’t have incentives to retain them. It seems pasture has always been greener in other fields-not teaching- Same qualifications but different benefits-denied benefits simply because one is a teacher. Steve-I would like to agree with you in totality-it will be good if we could have Bachelors as a minimum qualification for a primary school teacher but is this realistic?-taking into consideration how our society and government in particular treats teachers? Teachers in Malawi are ignored period-it’s high time we appreciate their contribution to our country’s success-I have heard most of them work under terrible conditions –no working materials, poor housing, no promotion, low salaries etc. what strategy should we use in this century to develop ,motivate, retain our teachers? We must retain our teachers at all cost-otherwise all our efforts will be meaningless. We don’t want people who join teaching profession as a last resort-couldn’t find a job and want to teach as changeover.
What’s the best way to support our teachers? Most teachers are frustrated with the way students behave these days-totally impossible to discipline. During my primary school education discipline was enforced-one could not challenge a teacher and gets way with it. This helped a lot in creating a conducing environment to learn,then a teacher had honor-not these days.Teachers like everybody else need motivation.-a pat on the shoulder to show our appreciation, allowances etc. Let us motivate them-not only with monetary rewards but appreciating them. Their sweat mostly go unnoticed-it is mostly when something is wrong that we quickly shower them with anger-for instance when MSCE pass rate dropped sharply in the mid 1990’s everybody’s eyes were on the teachers. Let us support them-they are humans just like us.
Catherine Kutsaira made good points in her comment, but I beg to differ where you said, and I quote:
Another observation is on language used in primary schools. The idea of teaching all subjects in vernacular in the junior classes in primary is spoiling our kids. Even when they reach senior classes, they fail to understand issues in english. and these unqualified teachers take advantage of the system as it permits them work comfortably”.
Don’t you think there are other contributing factors apart from this? Not always does Correlation imply causation. Do we have empirical evidence perhaps? Let me know if there is any .Personally, I think introduction of vernacular languages in the junior classes in primary school is a good idea-only that it has been handled poorly-It helps to instill specific subject interest in the kids while young as they understand better the basic concepts than using foreign language. These junior classes are the foundation of one’s education-if one is lost-it may be for good. This also helps for the transition period-as students try to adjust-from their vernacular language to English. I feel it will be unfair to blame this system alone, our environment too is a contributing factor-it is not conducive to learn English.. Our society has a wrong misconception on people who speak English frequently- they think your are posing -akufuna awoneke ngati ndani!!. And most Families don’t speak English-let alone encourage their kids to speak English-I feel we are all to blame not the languages.

Peter Dziko

Unknown said...

I need to Share a good Information with you.Male Primary Teachers are not getting high salary.Is it only a cause or main cause not to do Primary School Job? What you think?

Unknown said...

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