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Double responsibility: Balancing act

June 30, 2013

A survey of private and public institutions that offer degrees in teacher education, ie, BEd and MEd in Karachi and Lahore have brought forward interesting results. The first factor that is surprising is that these institutions are very few in number. The vast majority of the institutions in the government sector offer the Primary Teachers Course (PTC) and Certificate in Teaching (CT); none of the private sector institutions offer these certificates choosing to offer either only degree programmes or other certificates to suit their clientele.

Though the study surveyed 16 institutions in Karachi and Lahore, however, there are not many that were left out as there did not seem to be more than 20 institutions in these two cities that offer degree programmes in teacher education. Hence, the survey of the 260 teacher educators of which 184 responded captured a majority of teacher educators in these two cities. Considering that Karachi and Lahore have a very large number of teachers employed in both public and private schools this number of teacher educators is indeed small.

More than half, actually 61 per cent of the surveyed teacher educators were older than 40 years and a full quarter of them were older than 50 years. To become a teacher educator is likened to entering a secondary profession. A large majority of teacher educators in Pakistan and abroad either teach in schools or are employed in other professions before they choose to become teacher educators. Many have taught in schools for as long as 25 years though a majority make this shift after more than a decade of teaching in schools.

Generally, teachers think of moving to teacher education after they see that they have skills in teacher development and are serving as coordinators, heads of departments or at other leadership positions in schools. Hence, it is understandable that the median age of teacher educators is high and they are older in age when they enter this profession. It also makes it very difficult for them to take up new methods of teaching particularly those that require the use of IT and computers. They themselves have never been taught or have taught using new and innovative methods of teaching. Many of them have not been exposed to new methods of teaching through professional development. Or more likely have been exposed to one-shot workshops that do not influence practice.

Hence, when the new education policy suggests that teachers use student-centered methods of teaching the teacher educators are themselves at a loss as to how to model them in their own classrooms. Barring a few exceptions the majority of teacher educators were seen to use the lecture method of teaching. They were not seen to model the methods of teaching they wanted the teachers to use in their classroom.

The survey shows that more than 60pc of the teacher educators enter this profession after teaching in schools. This a great advantage for the teacher educator to know the reality of the classroom where over 40 students vie for the teacher’s attention. Exemplary teachers make good teacher educators. However, the difficulty is that teacher educators have spent such a large part of their lives teaching school subjects such as science, mathematics or English that they continue to think of themselves as subject teachers in the classroom. They tend to teach the subject rather than how to teach the subject. This is not to say that one can teach new and innovative methods of teaching in a vacuum without taking the subject matter into consideration.

However, the teacher educator’s job is to skillfully merge the subject content and the pedagogy. As mentioned earlier the teacher educators in Pakistan themselves have had virtually no exposure or experience of teaching or learning using innovative teaching methods hence they continue to think of themselves as subject teachers. For example science teacher educators consider themselves to be science teachers first and science methods teachers second.

Research has shown that it is very difficult for teacher educators in Pakistan as well as those abroad to distance themselves from classroom teaching. They continue to teach the subject rather than teaching pre-service and in-service teachers how to teach the subject. What is ironic is that slowly the teacher educators lose cutting edge knowledge of their subject as they teach the subject to prospective teachers at the middle and high school level and not at the undergraduate or graduate level. The pre-service and in-service teachers more often than not have a very basic knowledge of the subject and hence teacher educators, even if they want to, cannot teach at a very advanced level. So schools consider teacher educators out-of-date as far as subject content is concerned and universities consider them to be second order tutors as they hardly ever engage in research. Even if they do they explore issues in education rather than the subject itself.

Thus teacher educators straddle two worlds, one of school children in the classrooms and the other of adult pre-service or in-service teachers enrolled in a university programme. It is a very difficult task to do justice to both and be a citizen in both worlds. Dual citizenship is possible if teacher educators keep themselves updated in their own subject as well as becoming experts in the scholarship of teaching. For that regular and continuous professional development is absolutely essential.

The writer is a professor at a private university.