March had us moving into the C Session trainings, the last chapter of our curriculum revision and teacher training program. I’m now in Ainaro, where this blog began, and it is great to see the teachers again, check how they’ve been doing, and enjoy the cool mountain air and stunning scenery. I’m team teaching with Mestre Tito in the mathematics group, and the pratika of these final sessions are some of the most fascinating we’ve got. More on these activities later, but first some thoughts on why we’re here and how we’re doing.
As I’ve described in previous posts, most of the teachers we work with have inadequate background to be teaching what they are charged to teach. In essence, they’re the best that could be found at the time of their hiring. New young teachers are exiting university programs each year, presumably better qualified than many of these current teachers, and the Ministry of Education is grappling with the dicey challenge of replacing incompetence with competence.
It is no easier to fire a teacher here than it is in my home country. And here there are even fewer peripheral positions – reading specialist, after-school coordinator, etc. – into which a school can shunt teachers that have proven to be ineffective in the classroom. The easiest avenue is to wait for them to retire, and many are indeed approaching that age.
But young or old, competent or not, our chore is to inspire these teachers to improve their pedagogy by means of pratika. As mentioned before, we see three levels that teachers go through toward this end:
- Having an authentic learning experience themselves from hands-on, inquiry-based lessons based on local resources and locally relevant connections to the curricular content.
- Reflecting, analyzing and gaining consciousness as to how that learning happened for themselves and how it can happen for their students.
- Creating opportunities for their own students to have the same authentic experiences.
For years, SESIM has been wildly successful on the first level. Teachers rave about our trainings, and we see them learning new, vital things through pratika, right before our eyes. This is easy, even fun. And we often make efforts to raise consciousness about the pedagogy, stopping them in the midst of the process, point out what is going on, and discuss its enormous advantages over the standard lecture-and-listen education that is happening in most schools.
It’s that third level that is the tough nut to germinate. We’ve made this set of pratika a mandatory part of the national curriculum, and we’ve provided all the materials that are not easily available. We’ve written a calendar that shows when each pratika is to be done and ensured that questions about the pratika will be included in the national exams. We visit each school to help them carry out at least one pratika. But still, when we check in with students, as we do wherever we travel, we find that few teachers are doing as well as we’d like in carrying out all these pratika.
Gandhi said that the effort is more important than the results, but in this case, the teachers’ effort is the result we’re looking for! These things take time, but as Martin Luther King Jr. said, time alone changes nothing; it’s the struggle that produces change.
Thus, we struggle. We frame it in terms of ethics: these students deserve a better education. We put it into legal context: this is the official curriculum, and you’re official teachers! We use scare tactics: inspectors may cut you down on evaluations if you’re not teaching up to par. We try to get them to look to the future: if current students don’t learn science and mathematics well, who will be the nation’s engineers, doctors, businesspeople, accountant, and technicians when we’re all old and grey? Do you want to rely on foreign experts forever?
One of our primary sources of hope is the enthusiasm of the students. We believe that if students get wind of the phenomenal amount to be learned from pratika, they’ll give positive pressure to their teachers to bring it on. Likewise, we coach teachers on how to harness students’ creativity and energy to carry out these sometimes logistically complex activities.
In our darkest moments, when we visit a school and find the teacher has veritably fled from the pratika we’ve trained them on, our solace is that even attaining the first level objective is positive, and most teachers we’ve seen are working on or have attained the second level too. And then we redouble our efforts toward the third. A luta continua.