THE NEXT 7 YEARS: FOCUSSING ON QUALITATIVE IMPROVEMENTS TO ENHANCE THE EDPRS – KEY ISSUES
The Rwandan experience of the last 7 years indicates that the Ministry of Education had tended to place emphasis on the provision of Basic Education and expanding access as a primary route to social transformation in order to enhance the EDPRS.
However, the link between attainment at that level and social transformation which includes economic performance and fighting poverty remains only basic in nature. JOHN RUTAYISIRE Executive Secretary Rwanda National Examinations Council last week gave The New Time’s GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA the insight.
This is also complicated by the fact that social transformation in Rwanda through curriculum reform has to consider other aspects such as peace and reconciliation following the 1994 genocide, human rights, gender equity, the environment which includes ecological resource scarcity, population explosion and most importantly, the HIV/ AIDS pandemic.
The Rwandan epidemic is not as severe as was previously thought. However, HIV/ AIDS remain a substantial public health and a societal problem that creates extra obstacles to achieving education and development objectives which could hinder the EDPRS if not checked through appropriate educational interventions.
Thus, curriculum reform has to factor in all these aspects of the Rwandan social fabric, and the importance of leadership and management in the process need not be overemphasized.
Also, curriculum has been used sometimes as a blanket term to describe anything and everything that goes on in a school or including teaching and learning. Therefore, the curriculum provides a basis through which teaching and learning occur.
And in the next 7 years, the Ministry of Education will have to seek to improve its understanding of this phenomenon, because the better able we are to reflect upon what we do and the set up of our primary and secondary schools, the more we will be able to improve the quality of educational outcomes.
For this reason, if the Rwandan curriculum is to be practically effective and productive in the next 7 years, it must offer much more than a statement about the knowledge (content), which teachers in the primary and secondary schools teach or transmit.
The Rwandan curriculum must go far beyond this to an explanation and indeed a justification, of the purposes of such transmission and an exposure such knowledge and such subjects is likely to have, or is intended to have on the Rwandan children and society at large with the aim of enhancing the EDPRS.
This is because the curriculum is a social construct designed to transmit the characteristics of the society from one generation to another. The Rwandan generations must be free from poverty, and for this to happen, in the next 7 years, the Ministry of Education will need to develop and martial all possible energy, will power and skills necessary in order to set direction, aims and objectives; planning how progress will be made or goal achieved; organising available resources (people, time, materials) so that education plays the role of social, economic and political transformation which can realistically be achieved in the planned way; controlling the process that is, measuring achievement against the plans, and taking corrective action where appropriate; and setting and improving organisational standards.
This means that, how we manage the curriculum in the next 7 years, will reflect on how we will be implementing national directives on what should be taught and how; and the means of assessment and the expected outcomes. And that has implications for the EDPRS.
This will, however, depend on the internal arrangements within our primary and secondary schools to facilitate learning in an organised learning process.
Thus those who manage Rwandan primary and secondary schools will need to change their attitudes and develop a new mind set which recognises that managing the curriculum involves not only the formally recognised process of teaching, but all other processes.
Therefore, managing the curriculum is in fact, equivalent to managing the whole institution which demands effective teaching and learning to improve student performance and achievement and in turn enhance the EDPRS.
PEDAGOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS TO FOCUS ON IN THE NEXT 7 YEARS
In last 7 years, the Government of Rwanda realised that to successfully implement the Nine Year Basic Education programme, the issue of teachers and teacher education needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency, in order to support the programme, and curriculum reform in particular.
Thus, if one sees teacher education as a lifelong process, then continuing professional development needs to form an integral part of the curriculum reform process.
This means that any plan to expand access to secondary school had to address the question of teacher supply, which involved considerations of the length of teacher training among others.
The important thing for Rwandan educational leaders is that policy decisions need to be made before substantial enrolment growth, so that trained teachers are available and that the proportion of untrained teachers does not rise.
The issue of teachers and teacher education in terms of continuous professional development is so crucial to successful education reform since educational institutions depend for their success on the people who work there; commitment and performance have to be actively managed rather than simply assumed or left to chance; and people and development are key elements in promoting enhanced levels of motivation amongst and contributions from staff.
There can be no curriculum development without teacher development, so schools will not develop unless their staffs develop and staff development means teacher learning.
The Ministry of Education will have to recognise that teachers are key players in the reform process and that how the Ministry approaches teachers and teaching will have a significant impact on the education reform process.
Thus, investing in the sustained professional development of teachers and providing them with a wide span of opportunities are key elements in the educational reform process.
THE NEED FOR MASTERY OF CONTENT
The importance of mastery of subject matter content in the teaching and learning process need not be over emphasized. Our teachers will need to learn aspects of lesson presentation and focus on whether the students understand, especially the science concepts, or to concentrate on trying to connect ideas and the practical activities within the lesson.
Otherwise, the current superficial teaching pattern reflects an educational culture which needs transformation in which Rwandan teachers focus more on conceptual change.
Teachers also need to recognise and appreciate that their students come to class with prior experiences which they can build on. These students are not empty slates.
Teachers should recognise that Rwandan students certainly come into the classrooms with preconceptions about the content which affect the way ideas and activities within each lesson link together, and how each lesson links to the next one.
Our students need to use the knowledge they already know to construct new knowledge. They should build on what they already know to make meaning of the new material.
ICT AS A TEACHING AND LEARNING RESOURCE IN THE NEXT 7 YEARS
Another way to improve teaching and learning in the next 7 years is for our teachers to appreciate and acknowledge the importance of students as teaching and learning resources.
Students always have something to offer back since they are capable of articulating their needs and concerns given their experiences.
Their teachers need to develop a sense of modesty and to accept that they too, could learn a lot from the students.
In the last 7 years, the government of Rwanda has been investing very heavily in the development of ICT infrastructure, and a recent report ranked Rwanda as the third African country with the fastest internet broadband after Egypt and South Africa (The New Times, July 2010).
In addition, computers have been distributed to both primary and secondary schools and various internet connectivity mechanisms have also been installed for educational purposes.
An important consideration therefore, is for both the Rwandan teachers and their teacher educators to develop knowledge about a variety of teaching resources and technologies.
Today, different forms of knowledge can be found all over the internet. The challenge for Rwandan teachers lies in acquiring skills for knowing where to find the knowledge, how to select from the myriad forms the most appropriate knowledge that one wants to use, and where and how to store it and retrieve it whenever necessary.
Rwandan teachers always do indicate that they are aware of the need to vary learning activities such as observations, discussions, and doing things, and this process of developing new skills requires Rwandan teachers to possess knowledge about teaching, and knowledge about finding and using a wide variety of resources from their environment.
The teacher’s role therefore is to help the students to learn how to find and use a variety of resources instead of relying on a sole source of knowledge from textbooks supplied by the national Curriculum Development Centre.
However, to be able to find a variety of resources demands collaboration in which teachers use interactions among students to enhance discourse and learning as well as improve coordination with fellow teachers.
Such interactions help teachers to develop abilities to analyse and reflect on teaching practice which in turn helps them to assess the effects of their teaching, refine and improve their instruction.
IMPROVE TEACHING METHODS
Pedagogically, experience is regarded as the best teacher. One of the basic reasons why experience is regarded as key to teaching and learning is that it aids the teacher in translating the aims of education into instructional objectives at the classroom level which determines the way the lesson will be presented.
Lesson presentation should be mostly learner focused with class involvement and students should demonstrate practical skills which should be an indicator of exposure to the practical equipment and materials in practical work.
Lessons should link with previous material and other concepts and teachers should learn to identify students of differing characteristics and give them attention according to their entry behaviors and abilities.
This process should enhance the use of groupings to encourage classroom interaction which in turn enhances motivation and arouses interest and curiosity through discussion and manipulation of objects.
The use of a variety of teaching methods in teaching and learning is essential as such approach recognises that the students have to construct their own knowledge in different ways. Our teachers will have to learn that their students exhibit individual unique characteristics which require individual attention.
For example, in science lessons, during the practical sessions when students are conducting experiments, the teachers should guide student investigations and learning in activities that incorporate raw data from the student observations and readings of scales, or other manipulative, interactive and physical materials.
Additionally, during the time that students are reporting back to the whole class the results of their investigations, teachers again should elicit students’ ideas, opinions and other points of view. Also, teachers should make an effort to follow-up student answers and re-directs them, prompt or probe to stimulate student involvement and discussion.
Assessment offers some incentives, both academic and behavioral to motivate students and arouse curiosity. Therefore, our teachers will need to offer student incentives which should come in form of continuous assessment or formative assessment to enable regular practice and feedback which is critical to learning.
Also, the teachers in training need opportunities to study and revise so that they could improve the quality of their thinking and therefore of their learning.
The students should be accorded enough time for discussions in which they learn to develop arguments together, to discuss some common problems and brainstorm possible solutions which could aid their understanding and develop a sense of community of practice.
Rwandan students should not be subjected to tests and examinations which are mainly terminal in nature since they come at the end of the course and are regarded as summative assessments.
The Ministry of Education will have to ensure that teaching in our schools does not emphasize only termly tests and examinations rather than the actual mastery of knowledge and skills.
Instead, teachers should make sense of national goals of education and interpret them into meaningful and positive learning experiences for students. Teachers should link assessment to the developmental needs of students.
Focusing on tests and examinations prevents the students from deriving their own interpretation of their learning experiences and events as they only received information from the teachers and text books and simply accept them without reflection.
In this way, they are denied freedom to think and reflect on the content knowledge they receive since what seems to matter to them is the tests and examinations that are mainly summative.