Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Target teacher training - Education needs top quality for transformation

Published:Wednesday | September 7, 2016 | 9:00 AM
Dr Marcelyn Collins-Figueroa

A call for a fresh, new template for training teachers has come from a group of education thinkers who acknowledge that raising teacher quality is a key factor in student achievement.

The group threw out the challenge from the Fourth Floor for institutions to examine teaching-training methods so they can prepare teachers to respond to the needs of a changing society and help students develop the competencies that will help them navigate the world.

Partici[pants touched on a range of challenges facing education in Jamaica.

Among the hot-button issues were demand for better-qualified and committed teachers, effective management and accountability, robust school boards and greater parental and community involvement in education.

Many successful professionals remember at least one exceptional teacher who made school exciting and had a profound impact on their learning experience. These teachers were passionate about the subjects they taught and showed genuine care for their students. Today, parents try to seek out these teachers in the belief that their children's success will be guaranteed. However, they are in short supply.

Where are the quality teachers? It seems scores of Jamaican teachers are finding new pathways through the education recruitment business which offers them overseas jobs at way higher rates.

"Our people leave here, they go to the United States, they fall in line with the accountability system and they do excellently," said well-known educator Dr Marcelyn Collins-Figueroa.

"We have lost nearly 400 teachers in science and mathematics to the United Kingdom. I am in contact with some of them; they are well accepted and they get very positive feedback for their work."

Acknowledging that there are limited resources for training, Dr Carol Gentles, educator and teacher trainer, reported on a five-year study conducted by the School of Education at UWI that looked at how beginning teachers developed their understanding of what it meant to be a teacher.

"We found that, by and large, they are very good teachers; they are very committed to the notion of caring and they want to make a difference. But they see themselves making a difference in how well they ameliorate all the inefficiencies in the children."

This may mean buying breakfast or nurturing the children to build self-esteem, and while those things are important, Gentles said teachers did not understand that their primary role was to efficiently and effectively teach the children.

Speaking passionately about the young teachers, Gentles lamented the lack of support for them. She was joined in this by Collins-Figueroa, who added that young teachers require nurturing and support as they develop in their profession.

"We are not realising that teachers learn over time. Their learning is connected not only to their pre-service training but also to their ongoing professional learning," said Gentles.

Trisha Williams-Singh, who has been thumbing through the Education Act, said it needs to reflect generational changes in education.

"A different generation is kicking in, and how they choose to learn is very different than learning 30, 40 years ago," she emphasised.

The youngest Fourth Floor participant, Romario Scott, a medical student, while observing that much of the learning was taking place outside the classroom these days, was concerned about the failure of boys in the education system and wanted to know what could be done to correct the situation.

He had this query: "Is it that we need more male teachers, or is it that we need to get our female teachers to understand the dynamics of how boys learn?"

In response, Gentles said: "I think we need to look at it from a curriculum perspective and also the pedagogy in the classroom. We are not teaching the boys according to the ways that boys learn best ... . We have been talking about it, but I don't know if we have been doing enough to correct it."

Dr Canute Thompson, UWI lecturer and leadership coach, believes that many of the issues concerning the learning of boys, children with disabilities or developmental problems, can be resolved to some extent by preparing the teachers.

"It may not be possible to prepare every teacher to be an expert in diagnosing developmental delays and difficulties, but you must have some appreciation and can take it to another level," he said.

Gentles cited this as one area that needs resources.

"You can't expect a teacher to have all the abilities and capabilities to assess children. So I agree they must be able to know enough to say, 'This child needs to be referred somewhere', but there is nowhere to receive them."

Various reforms have been undertaken in the name of education over many years, including revamped curriculum, shift system and free education, but the conclusion of Fourth Floor participants was that they all fall short of the impact of having a good teacher in the classroom.