Dennis Minott and Rohan Wright | PEP concerns: What about the teachers?
The assessment component of the New Standard Curriculum (NSC) at the primary level is referred to as the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). This component is designed to generate or provide evidence on the learners’ knowledge, understanding and skills garnered, with special emphasis on critical thinking and communication.
With the inception of the Primary Exit Profile in September 2018, it was incumbent on The Mico University College to make its contribution in assisting the relevant authorities in effecting a smooth implementation of this assessment exercise.
The Mico’s NSC/PEP Training Initiative, in the form of workshops, was implemented in October 2018 for the Mico lecturers and in-service teachers of five primary schools and one high school.
One writer, in an article published on January 15, 2019 in a local newspaper entitled ‘PEP Above Many Teachers' Competence’, explains that PEP “…will demand 10- and 11-year-old students to complete complex tasks that will entail superior skills in research and quantitative analyses, yet many of their instructors are deficient in such areas”.
It is with a similar thinking that the workshops were developed. Specifically, it aimed to develop the lecturers’ and in-service teachers’ pedagogical competencies for interacting in the NSC/PEP environment.
The NSC and, of course, the redesigned assessment approach (PEP) has essentially created a new learning environment for schools in Jamaica. This learning environment, which is a departure from one in which rote learning, memorization and regurgitation of facts is encouraged, places focus on problem solving, analysis and decision-making abilities. The extent to which teachers can manipulate this environment for the benefit of their charges is critical to student success.
However, when the 14 in-service-teachers who participated in a survey were asked about their comfort level at facilitating in a new learning environment, only two said they felt “very comfortable” and that they needed no guidance in doing so.
Two said they did not feel comfortable at all facilitating in a new learning environment and all the rest said they felt somewhat comfortable and that “some guidance” was needed.
The 14 teachers ranged in age from 26-45 years and classroom experience from two to 25 years.
IN-SERVICE TEACHERS’ SELF-EVALUATION
The in-service teachers were also asked to indicate three skills they thought were important to have in order to prepare students to think critically.
Of their own suggestion, they identified problem solving and analyzing as most important, while critical thinking and reasoning tied for second. Other skills such as questioning, reading and interpreting were also identified, but to a lesser extent.
As part of their self-evaluation, the in-service teachers were also asked to list which of these skills they possessed the most and least. Most frequently, the teachers felt they possessed the skills of listening and reasoning, followed by analyzing and problem solving. Interestingly, only one respondent said the skills she possessed the most were critical thinking and creativity.
What about the skills they possessed the least? When asked, the majority of the teachers admitted that they did not possess analytical skills or comprehension skills, and all the others identified reasoning, listening, creativity, critical thinking and teaching methodology as the skill they least possess.
It should be noted with much concern that all the skills that they indicated they possessed the least are skills that teachers would need to acquire in order to be able to effectively improve students’ learning and skill development.
As we move forward, greater emphasis needs to be placed on teacher-readiness. This must be achieved at the level of teacher-training institutions so that our primary and secondary student teachers acquire the competencies to effectively teach in the new National Standards Curriculum environment. Teachers also need to be adaptable to changing situations and feel comfortable in their ability to make sudden but effective changes to their usual manner of teaching.
THE MICO EFFORT
It is the intention of The Mico University College to commit to its mission “to support national and regional development through well-educated populations by preparing students with the require knowledge, skills… in teacher education….”
In order to accomplish this, Mico has been equipping its lecturers with the skills to prepare student-teachers for the NSC/PEP classroom environment. Lecturers are being engaged in workshops that focus on developing the pedagogical competencies required for them to effectively assist the student-teachers on how to interact and function in the PEP environment. These competencies comprise the ability and confidence of the lecturers to aptly engage in activities geared at achieving critical thinking and problem solving skills. Lecturers are also being guided on how to self-critique as well as how to encourage critical thinking skills in the learners with whom they interact.
Given the admission by some teachers that they do not feel comfortable in their ability to prepare students in critical thinking, it is important that Mico respond by preparing not just our lecturers, but to extend the courtesies to other teachers across the island to equip them with much more than a curriculum. That is, to coach and provide them with additional training to boost their comfort levels and hence their ability to effectively manage a NSC/PEP class environment.