Teacher Education and Teacher Quality
One of the sectors which fosters national development is education by ensuring the development of a functional human resource. The institution of strong educational structures leads to a society populated by enlightened people, who can cause positive economic progress and social transformation. A Positive social transformation and its associated economic growth are achieved as the people apply the skills they learned while they were in school. The acquisition of these skills is facilitated by one individual we all ‘teacher’. For this reason, nations seeking economic and social developments need not ignore teachers and their role in national development.
Teachers are the major factor that drives students’ achievements in learning. The performance of teachers generally determines, not only, the quality of education, but the general performance of the students they train. The teachers themselves therefore ought to get the best of education, so they can in turn help train students in the best of ways. It is known, that the quality of teachers and quality teaching are some of the most important factors that shape the learning and social and academic growth of students. Quality training will ensure, to a large extent, teachers are of very high quality, so as to be able to properly manage classrooms and facilitate learning. That is why teacher quality is still a matter of concern, even, in countries where students consistently obtain high scores in international exams, such as Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In such countries, teacher education of prime importance because of the potential it has to cause positive students’ achievements.
The structure of teacher education keeps changing in almost all countries in response to the quest of producing teachers who understand the current needs of students or just the demand for teachers. The changes are attempts to ensure that quality teachers are produced and sometimes just to ensure that classrooms are not free of teachers. In the U.S.A, how to promote high quality teachers has been an issue of contention and, for the past decade or so, has been motivated, basically, through the methods prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act (Accomplished California Teachers, 2015). Even in Japan and other Eastern countries where there are more teachers than needed, and structures have been instituted to ensure high quality teachers are produced and employed, issues relating to the teacher and teaching quality are still of concern (Ogawa, Fujii & Ikuo, 2013). Teacher education is therefore no joke anywhere. This article is in two parts. It first discusses Ghana’s teacher education system and in the second part looks at some determinants of quality teaching.
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2.0 TEACHER EDUCATION
Ghana has been making deliberate attempts to produce quality teachers for her basic school classrooms. As Benneh (2006) indicated, Ghana’s aim of teacher education is to provide a complete teacher education program through the provision of initial teacher training and in-service training programs, that will produce competent teachers, who will help improve the effectiveness of the teaching and learning that goes on in schools. The Initial teacher education program for Ghana’s basic school teachers was offered in Colleges of Education (CoE) only, until quite recently when, University of Education, University of Cape Coast, Central University College and other tertiary institutions joined in. The most striking difference between the programs offered by the other tertiary institution is that while the Universities teach, examine and award certificates to their students, the Colleges of Education offer tuition while the University of Cape Coast, through the Institute of Education, examines and award certificates. The training programs offered by these institutions are attempts at providing many qualified teachers to teach in the schools. The National Accreditation Board accredits teacher training programs in order to ensure quality.
The National Accreditation Board accredits teacher education programs based on the structure and content of the courses proposed by the institution. Hence, the courses run by various institutions differ in content and structure. For example, the course content for the Institute of Education, University of Cape Coast is slightly different from the course structure and content of the Center for Continue Education, University of Cape Coast and none of these two programs matches that of the CoEs, though they all award Diploma in Basic Education (DBE) after three years of training. The DBE and the Four-year Untrained Teacher’s Diploma in Basic Education (UTDBE) programs run by the CoEs are only similar, but not the same. The same can be said of the Two-year Post-Diploma in Basic Education, Four-year Bachelor’s degree programs run by the University of Cape Coast, the University of Education, Winneba and the other Universities and University Colleges. In effect even though, same products attract same clients, the preparation of the products are done in different ways.
It is through these many programs that teachers are prepared for the basic schools – from nursery to senior high schools. Alternative pathways, or programs through which teachers are prepared are seen to be good in situations where there are shortages of teachers and more teachers ought to be trained within a very short time. A typical example is the UTDBE program, mentioned above, which design to equip non-professional teachers with professional skills. But this attempt to produce more teachers, because of shortage of teachers, has the tendency of comprising quality.
As noted by Xiaoxia, Heeju, Nicci and Stone (2010) the factors that contribute to the problems of teacher education and teacher retention are varied and complex, but one factor that teacher educators are concerned about is the alternative pathways through which teacher education occur. The prime aim of many of the pathways is to fast track teachers into the teaching profession. This short-changed the necessary teacher preparation that prospective teachers need before becoming classroom teachers. Those who favor alternative routes, like Teach for America (TFA), according to Xiaoxia, Heeju, Nicci and Stone (2010) have defended their alternative pathways by saying that even though the students are engaged in a short-period of pre-service training, the students are academically brilliant and so have the capacity to learn a lot in a short period. Others argue that in subjects like English, Science and mathematics where there are usually shortages of teachers, there must be a deliberate opening up of alternative pathways to good candidates who had done English, Mathematics and Science courses at the undergraduate level. None of these arguments in support of alternative pathways, hold for the alternative teacher education programs in Ghana, where the academically brilliant students shun teaching due to reasons I shall come to.
When the target is just to fill vacant classrooms, issues of quality teacher preparation is relegated to the background, somehow. Right at the selection stage, the alternative pathways ease the requirement for gaining entry into teacher education programs. When, for example, the second batch of UTDBE students were admitted, I can say with confidence that entry requirements into the CoEs were not adhered to. What was emphasized was that, the applicant must be a non-professional basic school teacher who has been engaged by the Ghana Education Service, and that the applicant holds a certificate above Basic Education Certificate Examination. The grades obtained did not matter. If this pathway had not been created, the CoEs would not have trained students who initially did not qualify to enroll in the regular DBE program. However, it leaves in its trail the debilitating effect compromised quality.
Even with regular DBE programs, I have realized, just recently I must say, that CoEs in, particular, are not attracting the candidates with very high grades. This as I have learnt now has a huge influence on both teacher quality and teacher effectiveness. The fact is, teacher education programs in Ghana are not regarded as prestigious programs and so applicants with high grades do not opt for education programs. And so the majority of applicants who apply for teacher education programs have, relatively, lower grades. When the entry requirement for CoEs’ DBE program for 2016/2017 academic year was published, I noticed the minimum entry grades had been dropped from C6 to D8 for West African Senior Secondary School Examination candidates. This drop in standard could only be attributed to CoEs’ attempt to attract more applicants. The universities too, lower their cut off point for education programs so as attract more candidates. The universities as alleged by Levine (2006) see their teacher education programs, so to say, as cash cows. Their desire to make money, force them to lower admission standards, like the CoEs have done, in order to increase their enrollments. The fact that, admission standards are internationally lowered in order to achieve a goal of increasing numbers. This weak recruitment practice or lowering of standards introduce a serious challenge to teacher education.
The Japanese have been able to make teacher education and teaching prestigious and therefor attract students with high grades. One may argue that in Japan, the supply of teachers far exceeds the demand and so authorities are not under any pressure to hire teachers. Their system won’t suffer if they do all they can to select higher grade student into teacher education programs. To them, the issues relating to the selection of teachers are more important that the issues relating to recruitment. However, in western and African countries the issues relating to recruitment are prime. It is so because the demand for teachers far outweighs that of supply. Western and African countries have difficulties recruiting teachers because teachers and the teaching profession is not held in high esteem. Teacher education programs therefore do not attract students who have very good grades. It is worth noting that, it is not the recruiting procedure only that determines whether or not teacher education will be prestigious, however recruiting candidates with high grades, ensures that after training, teachers will exhibit the two characteristics essential to effective teaching – quality and effectiveness. Teacher education can be effective if the teaching profession is held in high esteem and therefore able to attract the best of applicants. Otherwise, irrespective of incentives put into place to attract applicants and irrespective of the measures that will be put in place to strengthen teacher education, teacher education programs cannot fully achieve its purpose.