Good teacher training must be given priority
Improvement in educational levels must begin, not only with teacher training, but with better teacher training. A visiting scholar from Harvard university, Dr David Williams, last week identified inadequate training as a core reason for the poor academic performance of Caribbean secondary school students. Citing a 2008 report on literacy and numeracy in the region, Trinidad-born Dr Williams said, "The report I refer to identifies multiple concerns to poor academic performance, among them were inadequate teacher qualification, low teaching quality, and insufficient instructional material."
In Trinidad and Tobago, only 45 per cent of students writing the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination get five or more subjects. And less than 50 per cent pass the core subjects of English Language and Mathematics.
Most teachers, naturally, do not blame themselves for this unsatisfactory state of affairs. In a 2004 report on delinquency in schools prepared by Prof Ramesh Deosaran, 34 per cent of the teachers identified "parental neglect" as the main cause of delinquent behaviour, while only five per cent cited "poor teaching". It is quite likely that similar results would obtain if teachers were asked to identify the causes of poor academic performance – i.e. teachers would blame parents, peer pressure, poor school management and a host of other factors before they blame their own pedagogical defects.
While it is a fact that all such factors contribute to school problems, it is also a fact that effective teaching is the key to solving them. But persons who are naturally good teachers are few and far between. And even the best teachers – meaning those who can make their subjects interesting, understandable, and who can engage their students – can have only limited effects. Effective education systems are exactly that – systems. This is why teacher training is essential for good educational outcomes from students.
But effective training doesn't mean just teaching teachers about classroom management and how to prepare lesson plans. Almost half of T&T teachers are trained, yet this has not made much difference to educational results. This implies that the training the teachers have been getting is inadequate to meet the challenges they face in schools.
Proper teacher training is also about showing teachers how to create their own pedagogical techniques. Ideally, teachers should be an intellectual cadre capable of research, innovation, and implementation. Additionally, in all countries with excellent education systems, teachers consult and help one another. Here, the Education Ministry rarely arranges such exercises, while the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association does not even produce scholarly publications.
There are many reforms needed in T&T's education system if our young people are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Revamping and improving teacher training might be the best place to start.