KARACHI: School-based mentoring can be used to transform teaching and learning practices in science classrooms in the country, particularly in the rural areas of Sindh, said Prof Nelofer Halai, while speaking on Friday at the launch of her book, Enhancing Primary Science Teaching Through School-Based Mentors.

A professor of science education at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED), she said that “the purpose of writing this book was to add to the literature on teacher education in Pakistan and to advocate for mentoring as a way to improve teaching in the context of not only science but for other subjects as well.”

Prof Halai has been affiliated with the AKU for the last 25 years and holds a PhD in education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT), Canada.

The most common method used for addressing poor teaching of any subject including science is the one-shot workshop or series of workshops. “Teachers need much more than just workshops to bring a radical change in their teaching practices and understanding of science. They need post-training mentoring support to develop a habit of rethinking their teaching practices, learning newer methods of teaching and seeking guidance to constantly improve them,” said Prof Halai.

The book explores a multifaceted approach towards professional development. It focuses primarily on teacher education, and understanding school-based mentoring in government primary school environments, particularly in the rural areas of Sindh. Addressing the root cause of poor teaching and learning of science, the book is based on the findings of a research that studied a school-based mentorship programme implemented in the government primary schools of Sukkur and Thatta as part of the Strengthening Teacher Education in Pakistan (STEP) project of AKU-IED.

While this model was successful in bringing a drastic shift in the teaching practices, it also faced challenges due to inherent gaps and logistic issues. The author, besides highlighting the success of the mentoring programme, also takes a critical look at the gaps in the model and proposes a modified version for emulation.

Prof Halai proposes a roadmap for preparing primary teachers to become school-based mentors and suggests selecting in-service government primary school teachers with an academic qualification in science to become mentors through a rigorous programme at a teacher education institute or a university. This will prepare the mentors to take up the role of a guide, a coach, a critical yet trusted friend, an adviser, a content consultant and a manager for the learning process.

During the mentoring process the mentors remain connected to the institute/university that develops them for follow-up support. At the same time they remain anchored to their own schools continuing to teach their own classes. Based within the schools, the mentors make professional development and guidance more accessible to teachers who otherwise get ad hoc or no support to improve their teaching practices. The book provides teachers’ insights on how to develop themselves into mentors or teacher educators and thus enhance their impact in schools by not only teaching students, but also other teachers.

The book also offers guidance to teacher educators in government and private teacher education colleges on how to work with teachers focusing on some of the aspects that need special attention in teacher development initiatives. Insight is also provided for coordinators and heads of departments in schools who shoulder the responsibility of teacher development.

“Emerging from the local context, the book speaks to different audiences but a big chunk of it speaks to the practitioners. It also invites further research on bigger policy questions related to improving science education in the country”, said Dr Sajid Ali, interim director and associate professor at AKU-IED.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2019