In a world where imagery increasingly dominates human communication, university education clings to its long-held use of language as the prime mode of thought and communication – verbal, which is good for describing. On the other hand, young learners gravitate to technology that is predominantly visual – good for showing how things are. The result is an increasing divergence between younger preferred learning and adult-provided prescribed learning, schooling. This presents a serious issue for teaching and in particular the training of teachers.
Who trains Teachers?
The Education Act of 1877 was eminently clear, setting out the requirement for the basic education of young people – it will be compulsory, secular, and free! The objective was to mould a society where the university was the repository of most knowledge and this was measured out to a few, literally by degree. Some of this was In turn handed on to teachers, who taught children in buildings called schools. Learning was sequential and teaching method modelled the university – “tell them and test them”.
After almost a century and a half, what has changed? Not much in terms of teaching method, but the world has changed and is changing exponentially with technology a significant means of transmission. The dominant mode (way brains process data) of university learning remains verbal, organised into related units of knowledge arranged in levels of attainment – subjects. This restricted teaching method unreasonably impacts on schools, particularly Secondary.
Around twenty years ago, teacher education was the responsibility of separate institutions eventually called Teachers’ Colleges and thence to Colleges of Education. Then the Government, for administrative nicety rather than on educational grounds, vested teacher education in the university. Since 2007 all Colleges of Education have been subsumed (as distinct from merged) into the universities. The stated aim was, “to strengthen links between research, pedagogy and practice”. However, as no national review of Teacher Education has taken place, there is no evidence that this aim has been met.
A time to re-consider the trainer?
Children don’t naturally learn in subjects and they best understand their world through a variety of modes: verbal, visual, numerical, kinesthetic … tempered by cultural influences. To varying extents these modes are associated with subjects.
Rather than ‘tell and test’ them, Initial Teachers must experience all learning modes and embrace a range of teaching methods in order to successfully engage their student learners. Similarly, to understand Child Development (growth in learning ability), Initial Teachers must see it through classroom observation rather than textbook.
How teachers are currently trained is usually divided into ‘pedagogy and practice’ (or theory-based and field-based learning). This is an inappropriate and artificial separation of knowledge and its application. This division should be fused as Teaching Method – how things are taught. What is taught can have the simple label, Content, which is a separate issue.
Rather than being university-based, perhaps training teachers should be directed elsewhere. Attention should also be paid to the training of teachers for areas other than schools – Polytech tutors come to mind, indeed University staff would benefit from improved skills in teaching method!
One of the difficulties with New Zealand education, and its roughly chronological sequence, is that it is fragmented – an optional pre-school area under the heading of ECE (itself fragmented, some say, fractured), followed by the compulsory areas of Primary, Intermediate and Secondary, then the highly variable optional area of Tertiary learning.
Any Teacher Trainee programme must address this whole sequence so trainees are familiar with the overall learning needs of children/students, before any focus on a particular area, such as Primary.
Historically, once Initial Training was completed, teachers were considered to be fully trained. If they could sustain interest, they could grind on in the same vein until retirement. Today, teachers should regard professional development as an on-going requirement. As it takes at least three years to begin to understand the complexities of the classroom – the optimum time to engage in Further Teacher Education begins at around the fourth year of teaching.
There is a need to clarify the position of parents/caregivers within the education system. A long-standing attitude is that parents hand over their offspring for up to sixteen years which relieves them of responsibility for unstructured teaching. Nowadays, the knowledge and skills acquired by the children may be considerably in advance of their parents. There is a strong case for education also being available to parents – parenting skills come to mind. This should be included in teacher training.
In contrast, it should be recognised that teachers are not necessarily fountains of all knowledge, and some parents have very advanced knowledge and skills. Attention should be paid to capitalising on this largely untapped resource.
The same applies to older children/students who could demonstrate their learning by helping younger students.
Last and often overlooked, how often are the clients of education, children/students, consulted regarding their learning experience?
Providing for these ‘Other considerations’ is likely to be beyond the capability of the university, so calls for a change of provider.
More than imagination
What are the alternatives to the university as provider? There are several: return to separate Colleges of Education, shift to Polytechs, return to Schools with Pupil Teachers (an early form of training through ‘apprenticeship’), or attach to selected groups of ECE centres and Primary, Intermediate and Secondary schools, but with independent control – for a name, try Education Training Centres.
This last possibility is worthy of more than just ‘reimagination’, it has great potential.
In effect, these Education Training Centres extend the purpose of existing Normal Schools (plus an ECE component), but would conceptually function as single Centres dedicated to Initial Teacher Training and in due course Advanced Training.
Technology makes it possible for part of the course to be home-based via high-speed internet connection.