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!

Other considerations

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.

For course content that needs blocks of time for the trainees’ learning to be achieved, (such as with The Arts in Primary schools), schools are empty four times a year – use them. This also applies to any courses for parents.

When the University of Auckland vacates its Epsom campus next year, this would be an ideal site for an Education Training Centre.
While this proposal re-sites teacher education, regardless of location, the questions that follow affect schooling and teaching and therefore teacher training:
Schools are currently set up as independent, competitive institutions. Should this be largely reversed, so schools are grouped on a co-operative basis, ideally with shared administration?

Entry to Initial Teacher courses in 2018 shows huge gender imbalance – almost all female for ECE (97%), a clear majority of female for Primary (80%), and Secondary 57%. (Of ECE and Primary trainees, most were under 25, while in Secondary, slightly more from 25-34 years.)How can a better gender balance be achieved in those training for Teaching as a whole?

Further, should Early Childhood Education become compulsory for young children from 2-4 years and closely linked to Primary schools?

As the original intention of Intermediate schools has long-since departed, should they be merged with Primary and Secondary Schools?

Traditionally we have schools with classrooms, but with technology, the classroom ‘walls’ could collapse – what further consideration should be given to the future form of ‘classroom’ and ‘school’?

Again, schools operate in single shifts – why not in double shifts?
To foster creativity, which will need to become core learning, how can a better balance be achieved between so-called core subjects and the rest, many of which, notably The Arts, are inherently creative?
A reality?
There remains one major restriction on making re-imagining a reality, it is the natural reluctance of people to accept change – teachers are not immune from this and educational systems similarly are bastions of inertia. Change is often seen as making course content more prescriptive, sadly, this reduces flexibility and stifles imagination, leading to stagnation.
In the future, if inaction prevails, there is a real danger that digital developers will decide what students should know and provide it, on demand, with attractive packaging and ‘teachers’, using AR (Augmented Reality) and/or VR (Virtual Reality), perhaps even holography. This would complete the separation of child-preferred learning from prescribed learning. So, like that strange stuff called film, teachers could largely become redundant, replaced by digitally-driven technology and commercial interest – now imagine that!



    • Beatrice,

      Your Comment was based on an abridged version of the article.
      Please see the full version which includes the sub-headings: ‘Context’, and ‘A reality?’.

      ‘Context’ shows a range of issues relevant to Teacher Education (ECE through to Secondary) – for example, “Schools are currently set up as independent, competitive institutions. Should this be largely reversed, so schools are grouped on a co-operative basis, ideally with shared administration?”

      ‘A Reality’ states, “There remains one major restriction on making re-imagining a reality, it is the natural reluctance of people to accept change – teachers are not immune from this and educational systems similarly are bastions of inertia.”


  1. Ideally, a learner benefits most educationally when absorbed and included directly with the learning situation. When all senses are aroused and exposed and actioned. Teachers can not always deliver this type of learning situation and perhaps ‘delivery’ is not the way to teach. By being a fascilitator and triggering the desire to become a life long learner, sharing and travelling the journey as learners together may be the role teachers take. Learning how to learn, desiring knowledge using a variety of resources, to continue gaining, experiencing and applying what is learnt alongside fellow learners through all ages and stages of life.

    • Erris,

      “Delivery” is the way knowledge is served up. This involves many modes (ways of mental processing, such as verbal), media, and techniques (ways of using the media), and ways of transmission (mechanisms for sharing an outcome). Student motivation is essential in achieving long-term learning.

      The problem in training teachers, especially Primary (who are generalists, invariably in need of further knowledge missed during Secondary schooling), is how to deliver across the curriculum. As indicated in the article, such initial training requires on-going professional development for the rest of their careers.

      You seem interested in multi-sensory learning. In educationcentral, try going to CHALKTALKS, then in Search, enter: OLPHERT. This should show some other articles. Try, “Opinion: Having your say … visually”, July 10, 2018 – at the bottom of the text, find, “Visual Learning is fully explained here” – then click ‘here’ (and enjoy a break from organising relieving teachers)!


  2. Small point, but significant.
    Teachers College was the name for training institutes 50 (+) years ago.
    They trained teachers in how to teach Children, whereas universities lectured in a specialist field, then those wishing to teach at Secondary level did a 1-year (post-grad diploma) on Education, and went on to teach subjects.
    There was a Huge “snobbery” from 2ndary teachers towards primary teachers. “Oh, you aren’t really qualified if you haven’t got a degree,” I heard at Four 2ndary schools.


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