Teaching the teachers

Teacher education programmes without any policy analysis and public debate serve no purpose

Teaching the teachers

Teachers, like engineers and medical practitioners, require initial preparation. Usually known as pre-service teacher education programmes, these are generally the first form of professional development that prospective teachers receive. In most countries, teacher preparation programmes are also linked to licensing regimes.

Pakistan does not have a system of teacher licensing so far but has been attempting to improve the pre-service teacher education for aspiring teachers for the last two decades or so. Recently, these efforts coalesced in the launch of a four-year long B.Ed. (Honours) Degree programme. The programme is currently being offered in schools across the country. Several observers have worries about the viability of this programme. In today’s column, I will discuss some of those worries while also noting how they could but did not inform a debate on teacher education.

Pre-service teacher education in Pakistan has assumed several different forms. Prospective teachers could enter a pre-service course after 10, 12, 14, or 16 years of education. These models were mostly referred to as 10+1 (PTC), 12+1 (CT), 14+1 (B.Ed.), and 16+1 (M.Ed.). By 2006, the PTC and CT had already fallen out of favour and were in the process of being phased out in some provinces and being replaced with a Diploma in Education and a one-year B.Ed. In addition to these +1 models, the education faculties at several universities also offered a BA and MA in education.

In 2006, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan began the development of a four-year B.Ed. (Honours) Elementary degree. Consisting of 124-136 credit hours, the new degree was to provide a comprehensive initial preparation to prospective teachers. The proposed programme leading to the award of this degree consisted of a set of core courses in general education, foundation courses in education, professional pedagogy courses, a sequence of supervised field experiences/internships in schools, and content courses to develop subject-matter proficiency in at least two disciplines. This degree programme was to be offered mainly at the universities and affiliated colleges and institutes.

The B.Ed (Honours) Elementary programme represented a significant change in the existing teacher education programmes, both in content and duration. Its advocates justified it mainly on the basis of two documents, the National Education Policy (NEP 2009) and the HEC Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF).

Pakistan does not have a system of teacher licensing so far but has been attempting to improve the pre-service teacher education for aspiring teachers for the last two decades or so.

Those who justified it on the basis of NEP claimed that the policy required all teachers to have a B.Ed. in addition to academic qualifications such as the B.A/B.Sc. and the M.A/M.Sc. Since the introduction of B.Ed. (Honours) seemed to make the duration of initial teacher preparation similar in length to other professional degrees, such as those in medicine and engineering, many prominent teacher educators in Pakistan also thought it to be a good idea. My observation has been that those who supported the proposal on the basis of NEP were either located in the erstwhile Ministry of Education or the stakeholders in teacher education outside of the university system in Pakistan.

At the HEC and in universities, the officials did not refer to NEP but to the Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF) of the HEC as a basis for introducing the B.Ed. (Honours). This sounds plausible since HEC had started encouraging the universities to begin this programme in 2006, which was three years prior to the release of NEP.

The HEC’s MTDF was, in fact, a roadmap for introducing a series of sweeping reforms in the higher education sector of Pakistan. HEC’s leadership justified these changes in terms of the need for Pakistan’s higher education system to catch up with the rest of the world. This catching up also meant, among other things, a need to increase the duration of undergraduate programmes. The universities in most countries had transitioned to a four-year Bachelor programme. HEC argued that a longer Bachelor programme would allow students to explore their interests, understand related areas, and specialise in core subjects.

A four-year long teacher education programme was bound to be more expensive than the existing programmes. We usually ask questions before we buy something, don’t we? Not so when it comes to spending from public funds and especially so when the funds flow from international supporters of education. The B.Ed. (Honours) being not an exception, no such questions about the technical or economic viability of the B.Ed. (Honours) were raised. HEC just announced it and called several academics from universities across the nation to develop its scheme of studies. Later USAID also supported the launch of this programme through its teacher education project.

The programme started and, according to many institutions that have the programme on offer, has already run into problems. I am revisiting its rationale and possible flaws in it not to undermine the good efforts of all those involved in its design and implementation but to make a general point about the need for ex ante policy analysis before introducing any sweeping changes.

Did the NEP or MTDF indeed require introducing a four-year long teacher education programme? Let’s begin with the NEP. Read the policy closely, and you will realise that introduction of a four-year professional degree programme did not follow from the requirements of the NEP. NEP had only called for a "Bachelors degree [together with a B.Ed.] as the requirement for teaching at the elementary level" and a Masters degree with a B.Ed. for the secondary level.

A proper response to NEP did not have to be a new and longer programme but revision of the gatekeeping [or service] rules to restrict the teaching jobs only to individuals who had achieved the minimum requirements mandated by the NEP. The requirements of the NEP could be met through amendment of the service rules rather than an overhaul of the B.Ed. programme.

From the perspective of the current service rules in different provinces, it was the number of years of education that would count toward getting a job as a teacher. These years did not have to be spent in a teacher education institution. So NEP’s condition could be met by obtaining bachelors in any discipline together with a one-year B.Ed. programme. If this were true, which indeed it is if one looks at the hiring practices of teachers in all provinces, then the NEP did not support the four-year Bachelors of Education (Honours) Elementary. It just required teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. If so, the four-year programme was merely one more programme in addition to several other teacher preparation programmes currently on the offer. In the absence of service rules that supported the graduates of this programme, its long-term viability was at risk.

What about HEC’s MTDF? It was used as a basis for justifying the new B.Ed. Here too, we find that MTDF’s focus on the development of higher education is more on the bachelor level preparation in academic disciplines and not professional training. MTDF makes no mention of targeting professional preparation programmes.

But while the MTDF focused solely on the undergraduate programmes in academic disciplines someone at the HEC must have decided to extend it to the professional teacher education. The duration of the engineering and medicine programmes was already four years, so MTDF did not apply to them. As it often happens in a rush of excitement, no one felt the need to debate the proposal.

In retrospect, we should have focused on improving the college education, which is where students learn their content knowledge. The biggest problem that we continue to ignore is teachers’ content deficit. Where the college is failing, a teacher education institution cannot succeed. Those who know them well will agree that colleges of education are not the best places to learn the subject matter. Moreover, any teacher education programme is just good as the quality of its teacher educators. The length of the programme may also have strong effects on quality of teacher education, but it will be moderated and nullified by other factors, most importantly the quality of teacher educators.

So before starting such a resource intensive teacher education programme, questions could have been raised about its need and economic viability. But then we are not used to long-term thinking. The students were initially encouraged to enrol in a long programme by providing them with financial incentives in the form of stipends and the programme kicked off because of these incentives, but it ran into trouble immediately afterwards.

Several researchable questions could be raised about the quality of existing teacher education programmes and to understand the reasons they were insufficient for professional preparation of teachers. Research guided by such questions could be potentially used to introduce incremental changes in teacher education.

If we had asked some real questions and sought to answer them through systematic research, we would have been in a much better position today. But we keep opening and closing programmes without any policy analysis. The past innovations in teacher education had not failed because of their less duration alone. There were other factors, which compromised the quality of these programmes.

Yet, in the absence of a systematic investigation, these factors remained invisible and, for this reason, unaddressed in changes in policy leading to sweeping changes in teacher education. B.Ed. (Honours) is not the only example of introduction of sweeping changes without public debate and analysis. But it does tell us that asking and answering some good questions and debate on education reforms can save us time and money.

Teaching the teachers