A life­long pas­sion for teach­ing

New Straits Times - - Higher Ed - DR RAMESH NAIR AND DR CHITHRA K.M. KRISH­NAN ADIYODI

RE­FORMS in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem are nec­es­sary to meet the de­mands of an ever chang­ing world. As stu­dent de­mo­graph­ics change and tech­nol­ogy evolves, so too must the de­liv­ery of ed­u­ca­tion to our chil­dren, and this re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­liver lies pri­mar­ily on the shoul­ders of teach­ers.

Be­long­ing to a pro­fes­sion that cre­ates all other pro­fes­sions, teach­ers are trained to adapt to re­forms in ed­u­ca­tion. They pos­sess spe­cialised knowl­edge to carry out their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and be­fore tak­ing up teach­ing po­si­tions, they re­ceive in­ten­sive train­ing that pre­pares them to be life­long learn­ers. All this is en­cap­su­lated in what is widely re­ferred to as teacher pro­fes­sion­al­ism. In ad­di­tion to pos­sess­ing ex­pert knowl­edge in their sub­jects of spe­cial­i­sa­tion, teach­ers are also part of a wider pro­fes­sional com­mu­nity which al­lows them to ex­change information and seek sup­port when needed.

Although teach­ers re­ceive in­ten­sive pre-ser­vice train­ing, the evo­lu­tion­ary na­ture of ed­u­ca­tion de­mands that life­long learn­ing fea­tures promi­nently in the ca­reer path of teach­ers. This is why we hear of teach­ers at­tend­ing reg­u­lar in-ser­vice train­ing cour­ses that form an in­te­gral part of their con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment.

To­day, the con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment of Malaysian teach­ers is shaped to a great ex­tent by the Malaysia Ed­u­ca­tion Blue­print 20132025, a doc­u­ment that charts the fu­ture di­rec­tion of ed­u­ca­tion in the coun­try. To en­sure that the next gen­er­a­tion of Malaysians is ready to face lo­cal, re­gional and global chal­lenges, the blue­print calls for eleven shifts that need to take place within the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. These shifts have to do with changes in strat­egy and di­rec­tion as well as op­er­a­tional changes for a move away from cur­rent prac­tices.

The sec­ond of the eleven shifts projects a vi­sion that ev­ery child that goes through the Malaysian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem be­comes pro­fi­cient in both Ba­hasa Malaysia and English. This spe­cific ref­er­ence to lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion high­lights the im­por­tant role that lan­guage teach­ers play in ad­dress­ing na­tional as­pi­ra­tions.

Over the years, a great deal has been said par­tic­u­larly about English lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion in Malaysia and the English Lan­guage Roadmap 2015-2025 has ad­dressed most of the con­cerns. There have been ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sions about the role of English lan­guage teach­ers in im­prov­ing the stan­dard of English among our stu­dents. If we are to achieve the tar­gets set in the Malaysia Ed­u­ca­tion Blue­print and the English Lan­guage Roadmap, sig­nif­i­cant changes must take place, and English lan­guage teach­ers have to lead some of these changes. How­ever, they must first be equipped with new knowl­edge and the skills nec­es­sary to make changes. The best way of en­sur­ing this is through con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment pro­grammes.

Re­al­is­ing the im­por­tance of con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment pro­grammes for English lan­guage teach­ers, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion Malaysia set up and tasked the English Lan­guage Teach­ing Cen­tre (ELTC) to of­fer pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment cour­ses for English Lan­guage Teach­ing prac­ti­tion­ers in­clud­ing teach­ers, lec­tur­ers, School Im­prove­ment Spe­cial­ist Coaches (SISC+), State English lan­guage train­ers and English Panel Heads. Nu­mer­ous cour­ses are of­fered by the ELTC through­out the year. One of the more large-scale train­ing pro­grammes man­aged by the ELTC has been the Pro­fes­sional Up-skilling of English Lan­guage Teach­ers or Pro-ELT pro­gramme. When the Pro-ELT pro­gramme be­gan in 2013, it was in­deed a huge un­der­tak­ing in­volv­ing some 18,500 English lan­guage teach­ers who needed sup­port in achiev­ing the de­sired C1 band in a CEFR-linked (Com­mon Euro­pean Frame­work of Ref­er­ence) as­sess­ment. Over the years, the pro­gramme has seen a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of teach­ers im­prove in their per­for­mance.

The Pro-ELT pro­gramme es­sen­tially sup­ports English teach­ers im­prove their pro­fi­ciency in English through a blended mode of face-to-face and on­line in­struc­tion. In this way, the pro­gramme al­lows par­tic­i­pants to take own­er­ship of their pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment. Also, the face-to-face and on­line phases of the pro­gramme pro­vide space for teach­ers to ask ques­tions and en­gage in ac­tive di­a­logue with peers. Teach­ers are con­tin­u­ously given sup­port for six weeks to en­gage in lan­guage based ac­tiv­i­ties by ex­pe­ri­enced train­ers from ELTC. Up un­til last year, a to­tal of 16,009 teach­ers were trained un­der the Pro-ELT pro­gramme. Another 650 teach­ers are ex­pected to be trained this year, while 800 and 1050 teach­ers will be trained next year and in 2019 re­spec­tively.

Feed­back from teach­ers who have com­pleted the Pro-ELT pro­gramme with the ELTC has been largely pos­i­tive. The par­tic­i­pants felt that the course was not just about help­ing them im­prove their per­for­mance in as­sess­ments; rather, it was about help­ing them iden­tify their strengths and weak­nesses and gain greater con­fi­dence in us­ing the lan­guage. A sig­nif­i­cantly high num­ber of Pro-ELT par­tic­i­pants also re­ported greater mo­ti­va­tion to mas­ter the lan­guage af­ter at­tend­ing the pro­gramme.

In ad­di­tion to the Pro-ELT, a va­ri­ety of other con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment pro­grammes are run by the ELTC for English teach­ers. These pro­grammes serve spe­cific pur­poses such as en­sur­ing that class­room prac­tices match pre­scribed stan­dards and com­pe­ten­cies. The Highly Im­mer­sive Pro­gramme and the

(PITO-BI) run by ELTC are among the ex­am­ples of pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment pro­grammes that fol­low a top-down ap­proach nec­es­sary to en­sure that teach­ers are equipped with the knowl­edge and skills nec­es­sary to trans­late poli­cies into prac­tice. Be­yond this, the ELTC also plays an im­por­tant role in cre­at­ing lo­calised com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice, an im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent for pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment. Work­ing closely with SISC+, the ELTC sup­ports the cre­ation of teacher net­works at schools and dis­tricts so that in­de­pen­dent pro­fes­sional com­mu­ni­ties of teach­ers are able to ad­dress lo­cal chal­lenges through a process of re­view­ing ex­ist­ing prac­tices.

In ad­di­tion to con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment pro­grammes that are or­gan­ised by au­thor­i­ties, there is a need for teach­ers to take own­er­ship of their own pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment. How­ever, the right con­di­tions are needed for this. There needs to be space for teach­ers to ask ques­tions, iden­tify is­sues re­lated specif­i­cally to their stu­dents, and en­gage in ac­tive di­a­logue. One way of do­ing this is by pro­mot­ing a re­search cul­ture.

To­day, there are many con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives around the globe that are get­ting teach­ers in­volved in ac­tion re­search. There is no doubt that teach­ers are re­searchers. They are con­stantly fac­ing chal­lenges in the class­room, and they ex­per­i­ment with a va­ri­ety of ap­proaches be­fore set­tling on one that works best for them. How­ever, this knowl­edge of­ten re­mains tacit. Given the right con­di­tions, more can be done to have teach­ers share their wealth of knowl­edge as part of their con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment. School heads and Par­en­tTeacher As­so­ci­a­tions (PTAs) could play a more sup­port­ive role in this by en­cour­ag­ing teach­ers to pre­sent their work at con­fer­ences and even pub­lish their re­search find­ings. It is im­por­tant that teach­ers see them­selves as dis­sem­i­na­tors of knowl­edge in con­tin­u­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment pro­grammes and not al­ways as pas­sive re­cip­i­ents of information.

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