TEACHING TEACHERS

Why plan to scrap Education degrees is a bad idea

Other issues educators need to discuss that could affect quality of the teachers we produce are class sizes and the place of induction of teachers

In Summary

• In the proposed change, aspiring teachers will study a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree before a Postgraduate Diploma in Education.

• The Bachelor of Education is a 'mixed-grill, where the student emerges from content class straight to a professional class.

Graduates Emma Murenji, Karinamaryo Gael, Boniface Nyamos and Gatete Gerald celebrate during their graduation from Mount Kenya University
WE MADE IT! Graduates Emma Murenji, Karinamaryo Gael, Boniface Nyamos and Gatete Gerald celebrate during their graduation from Mount Kenya University
Image: FILE

The Star on Tuesday reported plans by the Ministry of Education to scrap the Bachelor of Education degree.

Many universities offer this programme and it's one of the qualifications of the Teachers' Service Commission for teaching.

The suggestion has been attributed to teachers’ unions and the Kenya Secondary School Principals Association. Where and when this proposal was raised and the reasons have not been made public.

 

But now that the matter is here, as a stakeholder in the sector, I feel obliged to make an early plea that the plan (at whatever stage it may be) be reconsidered.

A number of reasons inform my position.

One, university or tertiary students ought to know/choose professions they are getting into and the required knowledge, skills and attitudes. 

Studying a general course such as Linguistics, History or Biology is not the same as taking Education/Teaching of, say, Languages, Humanities or Sciences.

One set of candidates desires to be linguists, historians or biologists, while the other aspires to be educators/ teachers of say English, History or Biology.

In the proposed change, aspiring teachers would be expected to study for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree before a Postgraduate Diploma in Education. True, the BA or the B.Sc will offer very in-depth knowledge of content, the basic ingredient for a teacher. 

An immediate question is whether this content, in terms of objective, scope and sequence, is intended for a linguist, historian or biologist or the teacher of one of these.

 

Arguably, the objective, scope and sequence of the general content courses, even if packaged or named as the school subjects, may not be necessarily the same as those for learning these subjects. 

For example, based on my more than 10 years experience of teaching in secondary schools, of being an educator, scholar and researcher in communication studies and English Language Teaching for about 15 years,  I observe that the objectives of learning Linguistics/English and Literature at the university are not exactly consistent with the aims of ELT as the secondary school level.

The proposal would supposedly address this inconsistency: Offering the teacher professional, pedagogical and practical knowledge, skills, attitudes and experiences relevant to teaching. But these would be offered independent of the content. 

To use a popular Kenyan food analogy, it is like cooking flour and giving it to a hungry person at lunchtime, offering them hot water at dinner and convincing them they have eaten ugali.

Granted, the content, then Pedagogy route to teaching has worked in some contexts. Indeed, even the content — only with a bit of induction into teaching — has succeeded in some contexts. How well they worked or not and how either programmes were conceived, objectified, scoped and sequenced is another debate altogether.

However, from my reading of ELT, contexts would package the content courses to suit the situations in their countries. For example, whether English is used in a country as a first, second or foreign language would need to be considered immensely.

So, why do I plead for upholding of the B.Ed model and not the BA or B.Sci, then PGDE?

This model offers (or intended to offer) content, professional and pedagogical knowledge, skills, attitudes and experiences ALL at the same time. That is, during the same academic years and semesters as the teacher-learner grows in the professional making process. 

The B.Ed is a "mixed-grill" experience where, ideally, the student emerges from the content class straight into a professional class then moves to a class of pedagogy and in perfect conditions straight into a micro-teaching, classroom observation (say on video) or actual classroom session in the adjacent secondary or primary school. 

In technical language, this arrangement is called pedagogical content knowledge as discussed by many scholars in teacher education (TE). In my own work, I use the acronym TEACHER to capture the knowledge — base for TE, specifically for ELT: Theories, English (Language Subject matter), Aims of education generally and of the subject matter in particular, Context of teaching and learning, the How (approaches, methods and techniques), Evaluation (of teacher, learners and other aspects) and Reasoning or Reflection of teaching.

Admissibly, in Kenya and many contexts, the ideal PCK has not been achieved, even in the B.Ed programmes. So, many TE institutions still offer content and professional/pedagogy courses from separate academic schools or departments, leading to a bit of fragmentation. The nearest we got to the ideal PCK is in Diploma teachers' colleges, where the same lecturers teach content and pedagogy and link it directly to what teacher learners are expected to teach upon graduation.

Be that as it may, the form of B.Ed is still a good enough blend. Teacher-learners interact with content, professional and pedagogical knowledge at more or less same time. They are thus able to discuss and relate with them as they know they are learning to be teachers. Faculty teaching content and pedagogy often meet to harmonise the semesters when relevant content, professional and pedagogical courses ought to be offered. 

This notwithstanding, issues have been raised about the adequacy of content, professional or pedagogical courses leading recently to the emergence of a Bachelor of Arts with Education (BAE) or Bachelor of Science with Education (BSE). 

This article lacks space for discussion of perceived merits or demerits of these.

Other issues educators need to discuss that could affect the quality of the teachers we produce are class sizes and the place of induction of teachers upon employment, especially considering the amount of time most of them have to wait before employment — sometimes doing tasks completely unrelated to teaching, including boda boda business.

The other issue is the cost of producing a teacher. Research has proved that three academic years of intense academic and professional engagement is enough to produce a competent professional within the Social Sciences. Other competencies are nurtured within the workplace environment.

This brings us to the much appreciated and very timely proposal by the TSC to introduce Continuous Teacher Professional Development (CTPD). All said, the proposed Kenya School of Education would be an excellent idea and place to offer the CTPD programmes.

Dr Charles Ong'ondo is a teacher educator at Moi University