An Open Letter to Dr. Abdalsalam Al Joufi, the Honourable Minister for Education”Let’s professionally equip our teachers to teach under difficult circumstances” [Archives:2004/702/Education]

January 12 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Dr AbdalSalam,
Sometime ago, in an interview to the Yemen Times, among several plans to improve the educational system in this country, you expressed your desire to improve the teacher training programmes, especially for teachers in service. I, as a teacher educator in India and Yemen for the last 35 years, want to bring to your attention some of my ideas about teacher training in this letter; I am sure you will find them useful. These ideas are the result of my experience as a teacher educator for about 6 years and my interaction with a number of teachers in schools and a few school inspectors in this country. Though, as a Minister for Education, you have spoken in your interview about the training of all teachers in schools, I am confining myself to the teaching of English, which is my area of specialization and interest.
As you are aware, these are days of teacher education rather than teacher training: the difference is important in that training has narrow objectives whereas education has broader objectives; we want to educate our teacher trainees so that they are equipped with the skills to teach in any situation, making the best use of the available resources and they are supposed to continue their education even after becoming teachers. That is what our Faculties of Education are supposed to do. Though the Faculties are doing their best with regard to the pre-service teacher education, much more can be done with regard to the in-service teacher education. I will elaborate my point further below.

Pre-service teacher education
The pre-service programmes carried out in the Faculties of Education in this country can be improved, especially in terms of the curriculum, if more attention is paid to the needs of the teacher trainees vis-a-vis the learners of English in schools. The courses offered at present hardly meet their needs, resulting in a mismatch between what the teacher trainees need and what is offered to them; the courses on teaching methodology, in some Faculties are offered by those who have had no exposure to classroom teaching; more importantly, the Practicum component, the essence of the pre-service teacher education, is handled haphazardly, classroom teaching being supervised by those who are not aware of the basic teaching methodologies or have had no professional training themselves. As a result, most of the teachers find the courses offered in the Faculties of Education not useful to them when they face classroom realities in their schools. A committee of experts can undertake a survey at the national level to study the professional needs of the teachers and the English curriculum of the four-year courses offered in the Faculties of Education can be revised based on the results of the survey; small-scale surveys are being undertaken and a few changes have been made as a result of them in a few Faculties, but a large-scale revision is necessary in order to revitalize the English courses offered in the Faculties of Education.

In-service teacher education
A well-planned pre-service teacher education can minimize the need for in-service teacher education; however, a teacher-in-service needs to update himself/herself periodically in order to keep pace with the changes taking place in his/her field of study; this is more true of the teachers of English, as English is a foreign language and the teacher has to refresh his/her own English as often as possible. The following are a few suggestions for organizing in-service teacher education programmes for the teachers of English that will be effective and economically viable.
1. The Faculties of Education can organize short-term intensive courses (say 2 or 3 weeks), one in each semester, for the teachers of English in the schools; classes being organized in the afternoons so that the regular classes in the faculties and schools are not disturbed. At the end of these courses, the best participants are selected through tests and interviews and these teachers (Resource Persons) can be asked to run similar refresher courses in their schools for the other teachers of their schools as well as the teachers in their neighbouring schools in consultation with the teacher educators in the Faculties of Education. Such two-tier courses have several advantages such as (i) they will help identify the potential in the teachers in the schools (ii) as the second level courses are run in the schools, teachers who attend these courses will not have any difficulty in attending them (iii) as the Resource Persons (the best among the participants trained on the first level courses at the Faculties) are available in the schools where the second level courses are run, the other teachers have access to them whenever they need their help (iv) the expenditure involved in running these in-service courses will be minimum, as the resource persons and the participants need not travel a lot to attend these courses (v) the in-service courses can be organized taking the convenience of the participants into consideration in order to have maximum participation and (vi) the Resource Persons are practising teachers and so will be aware of the actual problems of teaching English in the schools and these can be teased out in the courses they run for other teachers better than what the teacher educators at the Faculties can do. The only caution one has to take in implementing this programme is that the first level courses at the Faculties of Education should be planned and implemented carefully involving teacher educators who are professionally trained and experienced in school teaching.
2. Alternatively, each Faculty of Education can have an Extension Wing, which can have the following responsibilities: (i) conducting in-service courses for the teachers in schools periodically, two or three courses in a year, each course for three or four weeks (ii) conducting in-service courses for the School Inspectors periodically to update them in English and English Language Teaching (iii) visiting schools with the Inspectors for guiding the teachers' classroom teaching (iv) helping the Ministry of Education in the selection and preparation of teaching materials, in the revision of curriculum, in designing and revising the evaluation scheme for the country and other such tasks.
3. The Faculties of Education that do not offer the four-year courses in English can run in-service programmes periodically for all the teachers of English in the country, two or three courses in a year, each course for about three weeks so that all the teachers of English in the country will have attended at least one refresher course while in service.
4. In the meantime, the inspectors of schools can be oriented towards the recent thinking in teaching methods and materials, classroom observation and other necessary techniques on short courses (to be conducted by the Faculties of Education); they in turn can visit schools more often they do now and guide the teachers of English, especially in how to teach the new English course books. It is unfair to expect the teachers to teach these courses effectively without any guidance given to them.

Necessity for in-service teacher education programmes
Mr. Minister, I fully agree with your statement in the interview that teachers need continual training while in service, because teacher development is an ongoing process and it has a direct bearing on the improvement of the learners. So, attending the in-service courses should be made mandatory for the teachers of English and at the same time those who do well on these in-service courses should be rewarded in some way or the other, either by giving them an incentive or recommending them for scholarships for higher studies.
I am confident that this letter will draw your attention and you will find some of these ideas feasible. I am sure, as an educationist with rich experience and knowledge, you will be able to achieve all that you have planned for the teachers and students of this country as has been pointed out in your interview. Good luck.
At your service in the interest of the teachers of English,