TEACHER EDUCATION IN THE COMMONWEALTH CARIBBEAN: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS – Belize 2010

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Errol Miller

INTRODUCTION

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen all let me thank the University Centre, and particularly Mrs Jane Bennett, for inviting me to give this public lecture this evening. I welcome the opportunity to speak in Belize on a subject with which I have been engaged continuously in the Commonwealth Caribbean for the last 35 years. Having retired from the University of the West Indies last year and having worked with teacher educators in Belize over the last 26 years I am approaching this lecture from the perspective of an oldster exiting the scene having a conversation with the generation that must continue the work that some of us took over from our elders in the profession. More than giving the Lecture I look forward to the question and answer session.

It is important in the Caribbean that we remember that we are still young countries in terms of governing ourselves and in the process of transformation from being colonial societies to being self-directed national societies. What is being transformed was formed over centuries. It will take generations to complete the transformation that is required. It is critical therefore as educators we see ourselves in a continuous line of succession, where each generation takes over from the other and continue the task of transformation. It is therefore very necessary to be cognisant of critical features of the colonial past as well as to learn from our collective experience as a region.

Alfred North Whitehead, that great philosopher of science, and also of education, said that if you wanted to know where any system of electronics in an atom would be in the future you need to know two things about that system. First, where is that system of elections coming from and second what are the dynamic forces currently at work on that system. Before diving into to current challenges and prospects it is necessary to sketch, briefly, where the teacher education sector is coming from and the dynamic forces currently at work on the system.

The teaching occupations and society in the Caribbean

From a sociological perspective, teaching is not, and has never been, a single occupation. Sociologically, teachers in the Caribbean are not a unitary category. Using the social criteria of ethnicity, gender, social class and occupational prestige, it is possible to identify at least four teaching occupations within the region. Roughly, these four teaching occupations are:

  1. Community based pre-school teachers comprised largely of unqualified persons who come almost entirely from the lower socio-economic groups in the society.
  2. Public and private primary school teachers drawn largely from the same ethnic groups as the mass of the student population served by these school systems.
  3. High school and college teachers drawn largely from the traditional middle social strata but with a minority coming from the emerging middle class, based on educational achievement.
  4. University teachers drawn largely from the traditional middle strata with an even smaller minority from the emerging middle class.

Historically the first teaching occupation to arise in the region was private and public elementary school teaching. This occupation can trace its beginning to the seventeenth century. The high school and college teaching occupation arose in the 19th century. The community –based pre-school and the university teaching occupations arose in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The Inauguration of Teacher Education Capacity

The Caribbean has been part of the Western World for the past 500 years. The development of teacher education capacity in the Caribbean runs parallel to similar development in the Western World.Accordingly the capacity to train teachers in the Caribbean begins 19th century. For the purposes of this lecture I will focus on the challenges and prospects with respect to teacher education relative to the primary and secondary school teaching occupations and make only brief references to preparation for teaching at the early childhood and university levels.

Training of teachers for early childhood education

The training of infant school teachers began in the nineteenth century but eventually became subsumed as a part of elementary school teaching. The training of teachers specifically for the early childhood level resumed in the 1970s. It remains very much a work in progress in the region. This is related to issues involving the definitions of pre-school education and the inclusion of pre-schools within the public sector.

Over the last decade, Shortwood Teachers College in Jamaica in conjunction with the University of the West Inides, UWI, Mona, has been offering a Bachelor in Education Programme in Early Childhood Education. With assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank the School of Education, University of the West Indies, Mona established a Master in Education in Early Childhood Education to train the leaders, managers, trainers and curriculum developers for early childhood education.

In essence, with colleges offering Diploma and Bachelor Degree Programmes in early childhood education as specific teacher education credentials and with UWI providing for persons to work as teacher trainers, curriculum developer and managers of early childhood operations the foundations are being laid for self-sustaining development at this level of the education system.

The Training of University Teachers

In the case of university teaching, professional preparation for teaching at this level could be said to be in the early stages of its infancy. The only formal programme for university teaching of which I am aware is the Post-Graduate Diploma in Education for University Teachers developed by the Faculty of Education and Liberal Studies of the University of Technology, Jamaica that is designed to help to upgrade and improve teaching competence in the University. At the UWI, Mona an Instructional Development Unit has been established to provide in-service courses and assistance to staff in the various Faculties with respect to their teaching duties. However, the general pattern within universities in the Caribbean is that outside of Faculties of Education, lecturers have no professional training in pedagogy. With pressures from students, however, university administrations are being to take measures to improve teaching through the provision of training. Such developments, however, begun within the last 15 years.

The Training of Primary School Teachers

The first college was established in Jamaica in 1830. It was a college started by the Moravian Church to train Brown Ladies to become teachers. The significance of this College is not that it survived by it marked the beginning of the creation of the indigenous capacity to train primary school teachers. By the end of the nineteenth century Antigua, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago had developed training colleges that trained primary teachers for the region.

 The modesty of the first 125 years of training primary school teachers in the Commonwealth Caribbean is clearly shown by the fact that in 1955 the proportion of trained teachers in the primary school systems in the various countries of the region ranged from 7 to 45 per cent. In essence the colonial pattern of staffing primary schools was to training a relatively modest number of teachers through formal programmes in colleges and to staff the schools largely by untrained teachers who were given some modicum of preparation through the Pupil Teacher System.

The impetus to substantially expand the training of primary school teachers and to aim for a fully training primary teaching force came from the move to full internal self government in the 1950s and to independence beginning with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in 1962. Put another way while the Commonwealth Caribbean can proudly point to the beginning of teacher education in the region at a time in the 19th century that parallels similar developments in Western Europe and North America, those initiatives were very modest and remained so until the latter half of the 20th century.

The real irony of the colonial provision was that while training colleges were very small institutions and their output quite insufficient in terms of the supply of primary school teachers, these colleges along with theological colleges represented the largest part of the tertiary education provision in the Caribbean. As a result teacher training colleges became institutions that trained personnel for several occupations other than teachers, as trained teachers left the classroom to take up opportunities in other sectors. This pattern expanded in the latter half of the twentieth century when not only training colleges expanded but also economic opportunities in other sectors of the society.

Currently the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados leads the Caribbean in staffing their primary schools with college trained teachers. Indeed, 1999 Bahamas adopted the policy that all new teachers employed in primary schools would have to hold a bachelor degree in primary education. In Barbados 53 per cent of primary school teachers have bachelor degrees. With few exceptions more than 75 per cent of teachers on the staff of primary schools in the countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean are college trained.

The Training of Secondary School Teachers

Prior to the University College of the West Indies establishing the Diploma in Education in 1953 there was no capacity to train secondary school teachers in the Caribbean. The teacher supply pattern for high schools that had evolved during the colonial period was the recruitment of qualified teachers mainly from Britain and the employment of unqualified locals from among the most able school leavers. The creation of an indigenous capacity to prepare secondary school teachers began in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The main categories of the secondary school teachers’ preparation programmes that were created can be summarised as follows:

  1. The provision of professional training to university graduates through Diplomas in Education.
  2. The training of secondary school teachers by training colleges offering three-year Diplomas in Teaching.
  3. The training of secondary school teachers through four-year bachelor degree programmes.

The major accomplishment of the establishment of an indigenous capacity to train secondary school teachers is that by the 1980s the region had phased out the recruitment of qualified teachers from Britain and elsewhere. In the main Caribbean nationals now staff secondary schools across the region. Notwithstanding this accomplishment the goal of staffing secondary schools with trained graduates is still to some way off for most countries. Further, the level of professional training of secondary school teachers is still a matter of concern is several countries. Again the Bahamas and Barbados leads the region in the level of academic and professional training of teachers staffing their secondary schools. In Barbados 80 per cent of secondary school teachers are university graduates, however, only 61 per cent are professionally trained as teachers.

Developments in Teacher Education over the last 50 years

Hopefully the point that has been established that since the 1950s as Caribbean countries assumed control of their education systems through full internal self-government and political independence they moved to substantially expand the meagre provisions that had been made for the training of primary school teachers and to establish indigenous capacity for the training of teaches those levels of education system for which no provisions had been created. It is important to take note of the features of the systems that have been expanded or created. For reasons of economic a brief listing of the main developments are recorded here:

  • The realignment of the primary teacher preparation within the education system. In the colonial system of primary school teacher training, training colleges virtually overlapped with high schools. Admission requirements were predicated based on performance in Pupil Teacher Examinations, which were given different names in different countries. Over the last fifty years Pupil Teacher Examinations have been abolished and entry to primary school teacher education programmes have been prescribed in terms of successful completion of high schools, that is, in terms of CXC and GCE passes. This has effectively realigned teachers colleges within the education system from being institutions that overlapped with secondary schooling to being tertiary institutions.
  • The emergence of different institutional frameworks in which to deliver teacher education programmes. Historically the institutional frameworks for the preparation of teachers were: primary school teachers trained in teachers’ colleges and secondary school teachers trained in universities. Developments in the Caribbean over the last fifty years have destroyed this dichotomy particularly with respect to the training of secondary school teachers. The institutional arrangements for have included placing secondary teacher education programmes in colleges that previously trained primary school teachers; in community colleges, in colleges offering various specialisation for example technical education, agriculture, physical education and sports, and the visual and performing arts. The challenge of teacher training colleges taking on secondary teacher education programmes has been to strengthen their capacity in the academics. On the hand, the challenge for institutions with strong technical and academic capacity has been to develop a pedagogical structure and capacity appropriate for the training of teachers. The while there are examples of teachers colleges becoming multidisciplinary institutions, the only instance of primary teacher education being provided outside of teachers colleges in the Caribbean is the recent Belizean policy to allow sixth form colleges to offer primary teacher preparation. One would think that these colleges would face the same challenge as specialised colleges offering secondary teachers education, that is, the development of a pedagogic culture and capacity appropriate for teacher preparation.
  • A wide variety of models of delivery of initial teacher preparation education have been created. These include the two-year intramural plus one-year internship model that was developed in the Western Commonwealth Caribbean from the 1960s to the 1980s; the three-year intramural programme now employed in The Bahamas, Guyana and Jamaica; the two-year intramural model common in the Easter Commonwealth Caribbean; the three-year school experience model that was used in Belize for about fifteen years, the 90 Credit Associate Degree model now being practiced in Belize; The four-year Bachelor Degree model now being practiced in the Bahamas and at the University of Technology; the Diploma of Education model for university graduates, and the Advanced Placement model where trainees with Bachelor and Associate Degrees and GCE ‘A’ levels can be credited with subject content and follow a one-year programme of professional training in colleges offering teacher education.
  • In-service education has been used as a means of delivering formal teacher education particularly with respect to removing the backlog of untrained teachers in schools. These have included the In-service Teacher Education Thrust, ISTET, in Jamaica, the In-service Diploma of Education of the three Schools of Education of UWI, the Distance Education Programme of the Belize Teachers College and the Distance Education Programme of the Cyril Potter College of Guyana. The most radical use of the in-service modality to deliver formal teacher education occurred in Grenada and Dominica which suspended their full-time programmes and instituted in-service programmes to train teachers. Both of these programmes failed.
  • Upgrading the standard of the output from teacher education programmes. Numerous measures have been employed to improve the standard of the output from teacher education programmes. These include curriculum reform, staff development, institutional development, material development and the use of information and communication technology. As a result of these measures several colleges training teachers have been able to embark on the process of upgrading the level of teacher education programmes from the certificate, diploma and associate degree levels to the bachelor degree level.
  • The establishment of regional quality assurance mechanisms at the Certificate, Bachelors and Associate Degree levels through a partnership between Ministries of Education, the University of the West Indies, Teachers Unions and Associations and Colleges training teachers. The Joint Boards of Teacher Education established by the Governments and UWI in 1965 have performed this quality assurance role. Belize has been a member of the JBTE, Mona since its inception.
  • The use of colleges training teachers as loci of interventions to reform programmes in schools or to tackle entrenched problems. Two examples of the development are the Reform of Secondary Education Programme, ROSE, in Jamaica which used five colleges training secondary school teachers to deliver the in-service training component of the project. This created an in-service training capacity in the colleges and created a measure of cross-fertilization between in initial teacher preparation and the in-service experience. Another is the Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Teacher Training, CETT, being currently implemented in eight Caribbean countries, including Belize, which is attempting to tackle the entrenched problem of under-achievement in literacy at the primary level. The success of both of these initiatives is pioneering a new relationship between colleges and universities training teachers and schools.

If there is one lesson that has been learned and needs highlighting from reviewing developments in teacher education in the Commonwealth Caribbean over the last fifty years it is that countries that have made radical and relatively frequent changes in teacher education have not been as successful in the improving the proportion of qualified teachers in primary and secondary schools and the standard of output from colleges as countries that have taken a more evolutionary, systematic and sustained approach. Belize would do well to take note of this lesson.

Challenges currently facing Teacher Education

Despite the positive developments that have taken place with respect to quantitative and qualitative improvements in teacher education in the Commonwealth Caribbean in the last fifty years the challenges currently facing teacher education has shifted the ground from celebration to dissatisfaction if not despair. The main currently challenges facing teacher education can be listed as follows:

  • While teacher education had advanced over the period, teacher status had declined. One of the roots of this decline is the advance in the general level of education of the population. Teachers, who in the past had commanded respect on the basis of their superior education compared to the vast majority of parents and the general community, no longer hold such an overwhelming advantage. While the content of the teacher credential had improved, teachers are still being certified mainly through certificates and diplomas in circumstances where persons with degrees are becoming more numerous in the general population.
  • The rapid rise of global economy combined with the spread of democratic process throughout societies demand workers who are self-directed and citizens that participated in the apparatus of the states and the enterprises within civil society. These imperatives dictate changes in teachers’ roles and relationships among themselves and with students and parents. Traditional authoritarian, teacher-centred sage on the stage teaching methodologies which give priority to teaching, has to give way to teamwork and collaboration, greater networking with communities and parents.
  • Shrinking public resources and therefore greater competition for the resources that are there pose great risks for the acquisition of the capital resources that need to be invested in teacher education to bring about the desired advances. Further, given the increased cost to recurrent budget of better qualified teachers, some governments are cautious in the approval and funding of programmes that increase the supply and upgrade the level of qualification of teachers.
  • The world is not only globalising it is regionalising. In response Caribbean Governments have responded by attempting to create the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, CSME. The rationale for CSME resides in the logic that adaptive advantage resides in unity among these small vulnerable countries in the Caribbean. Unity has a higher survival coefficient than bilateral exposure to the economic shocks and political threats that are almost certain to come to each of these countries from the countries holding power in the world. However, this unity will only increase the chances of survival it will not eliminate the shocks and threats. The clear implication therefore is that the education and training of present and future teachers in the Caribbean must be so structured and organised that teachers become principal agents in constructing Caribbean unity and in facilitating Caribbean integration.
  • Advances in information technology that has transformed factory and home production, entertainment, transportation, and communication, and has made many management and instructional processes used in colleges and schools obsolete. In the emerging knowledge society and economy teachers who are among the most knowledgeable in Caribbean society are among the most technologically challenged.
  • There is high attrition from schools of college and university trained teachers. While the Commonwealth Caribbean countries compares favourably with the industrialised countries of the world in providing early childhood, primary and secondary education to the populations, they lag behind almost all other regions of the world in providing tertiary education to students qualified to receive it. Further competitive economic advantage in the world now resides in tertiary education. Because teacher education is one component of a very modest tertiary education provision, college and university trained teachers have many more opportunities for socio-economic advancement than in teaching. Teacher education therefore provides personnel for many other occupations than teaching. School therefore suffer from high attrition rates, especially among trained teachers.
  • There is a global shortage of teachers. Apart from the long established pattern of Caribbean teachers migrating in search of better economic opportunities, several English speaking industrialised countries are actively recruiting teachers from the Commonwealth Caribbean. This further compounds the problem of attrition of qualified teachers and the issue of the output of teacher education programmes to satisfy the needs of schools.
  • While the region has in place quality assurance mechanisms for teacher education programmes at the Certificate, Diploma and Associate Degree levels, no such mechanism exists at the bachelor degree level. Currently the CARICOM Secretariat is facilitating the exploration of the establishment of a Teacher Education Accreditation Authority which would fall under the umbrella of the CARICOM Accreditation Agency. Hopefully, the exercise will be concluded with the establishment of such an Accreditation Authority for teacher education.
  • Increasingly greater economic and cultural linkages between Caribbean countries and across language groups have stimulated greater demand for foreign language acquisition. Before schools can expand foreign language teaching more foreign language teachers need to be produced by colleges.
  • Accelerated social decline fuelled by the rise of the drug culture and breakdown of essential family and community structures have accentuated the need for the education system to play a more definitive role in the affective development of students.  Greater prominence needs to given to the inculcation of attitudes, values and behaviours appropriate to the “Ideal Caribbean Person” through the achievement of social skills such as conflict resolution to ensure peaceful co-existence in a multi-cultural society.  The growing marginalization of young males from disadvantaged socio-economic circumstances is also an important trend that must be addressed.
  • Many persons who are engaged in teacher education have no formal preparation for this responsibility. Even the minimum standard of a bachelor degree, plus initial professional training as a teacher and five years teaching experience is breached in some cases. The arrangements currently in place to produce teacher educators are quite ad hoc. Very few if any Ministries of Education have formulated policies or put in place systematic measures to ensure the preparation of teacher educators. While the School of Education of the UWI have put in place an on-line Masters in Education Programme in place to meet this need, it is patronised mainly by interested individuals and the numbers enrolled in this programme are quite small compared to the number of persons engaged in teacher education. With the retirement of many experience teacher educators, colleges are often left with inexperienced staff manning their teacher education programmes.

Prospects

There can be no question that the challenges currently facing teacher education across the Commonwealth Caribbean are quite substantial and even daunting. At the same time there are by no means insurmountable. Looked at historically it is fair to say that the region is in a much better position to tackle the current challenges that it was in facing comparable challenges in the mid 1950s. It is important to take stock of the assets that are currently in place.

  1. There is a broad based institutional infrastructure in place that can be expanded, re-designed and upgraded to accommodate all levels and aspects of teacher education.
  2. The region has long and successful experience in producing teachers. Caribbean teachers are sort after and have held their own around the world. There is a known and recognised Caribbean brand when it comes to teaching.
  3. The expanded secondary school system is producing suitable qualified school leavers who meet the admission requirements of teacher education programmes.
  4. There is a quality assurance mechanism at the Certificate, Diploma and Associate Degree level that can be readily re-directed to perform similar functions at the degree level.
  5. Through the Joint Boards of Teacher Education, regional partnership arrangements have been established which can be built upon for further regional cooperation in teacher education.
  6. UWI has established a capacity to train teacher educators which can be expanded and supported to meet the needs in this area.

The circumstances of a lecture do not allow even the proposal of an outline of a plan by which the challenges outlined could be tackled. However, it is possible to sketch the broad outlines of an approach that is likely to be successful. This approach can be sketch in terms of eight contrasts:

  • Adopting a comprehensive long-term and not a short-term crisis perspective.
  • Building on past accomplishments instead of wiping the slate clean and attempting to start from scratch.
  • Planned and not ad hoc actions.
  • Systematic and not impulsive interventions.
  • Collaboration among institutions instead of one-up-man-ship between institutions
  • Regional collaboration instead of isolated nationalist measures.
  • Caribbean driven initiatives instead of donor-driven adoptions and adaptations
  • Confidence in ourselves instead of doubt about Caribbean capacity to succeed.

Utilising the assets that the region has developed and possessed of the approached outlined I am confident that teacher education in the Caribbean can produce by 2020 appropriately educated and trained graduate teachers sufficient to fully supply the needs of all primary and secondary schools and to also supply some of the teachers needed by Caribbean students living in industrialised countries.

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