Educational Quality: Teaching

Actively engaged students in one of our Mongolian learning centers
Actively engaged students in one of our Mongolian learning centers

“The best teachers are those that show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” Alexandra K. Trenfor

Quality in Education is an important topic for educational systems. Monika Nowaczyk is Country Development Manager at BOOKBRIDGE and in charge of the quality of our learning center’s educational offers. In a multi-article blog series she writes the importance of quality in education. In this article, Monika covers the aspect of quality teaching in Cambodia, Mongolia and Sri Lanka.

Every one of us has memories of a favorite or beloved teacher from childhood. It might be of the teacher that always encouraged you to try your best, the teacher that gave you extra help after school on a project or a teacher that always made her lessons so interesting you looked forward eagerly to her class. Sadly, many of us also have memories of the teachers that demotivated us, were unfair, whose classes were tedious, or who really didn’t seem to care. It is not an overstatement to say that a teacher can make or break the educational experience for a child. Teachers are the backbone of any education institution and investing in teachers is one of the most important steps in ensuring educational quality.

How do we measure Teaching Quality?

In September 2015 and January 2016, an external consultant was hired to carry out an assessment on educational quality at our learning centers in Cambodia and Mongolia, respectively. One component of this evaluation, was teaching quality, which was assessed through a series of observations, questionnaires, and focus group discussions with teachers, students and Heads of Learning Centers. Teaching quality was assessed through four indicators: Professional Preparation, Lesson Planning, EFL Instructional Approach and Student-Centered Approach.

Professional Preparation and On-going Professional Development

In order to be effective in their jobs, it is important that teachers, like any other professionals, have the appropriate training or post-secondary education in the field. At the BOOKBRIDGE learning centers surveyed in the past year, most teachers have a post-secondary certification in education or English: 81% of learning center teachers in Cambodia and 90% of teachers in Mongolia self-reported to having a degree in education or English, with the majority of those currently without a degree, studying towards one. Only one teacher in each of these countries reported having neither a degree nor to be currently studying towards one.

In addition to having a higher degree in education or English, on-going professional development is vital to ensure teachers keep to-to-date with modern approaches and techniques, have opportunities for personal and professional growth and are able to share their experiences and learn from the experiences of others. In Cambodia and Mongolia, all staff training workshops take place twice a year, and all Heads of Learning Centers have the opportunity to join and engage in a variety of workshops related to teaching and center management. In early 2017, Sri Lankan Heads of Learning Centers will also have the opportunity to join the all staff training in Cambodia. The BOOKBRIDGE Professional Development Stipend will provide additional opportunities for further training.

A learning activity in one of our Cambodian learning centers
A learning activity in one of our Cambodian learning centers

Lesson planning

Lesson plans are an important tool for effective teaching. A simple lesson plan outlines the objectives, activities, exercises, assessments to be implemented during a lesson along with required materials and a plan for the division of instructional time. It allows the teacher to maximize the lesson for most effective use of time and ensures that all components of the lesson are geared towards the achievement of the set objective. In an English lesson, it also helps the teacher to ensure that all four areas of learning (reading, writing, speaking and listening) are covered. A lesson plan can be a complicated, multiple page document, detailing every stage of a lesson, planned minute-by-minute, or it can be a simple half-page of hand-written notes outlining the key objective and activities to be completed.

The results of the evaluation revealed that fewer than 10% of teachers in Cambodia and fewer than 20% in Mongolia regularly use lesson plans, despite this being a requirement or expectation by the Heads of Learning Centers/Learning Centers. Furthermore, observations throughout 2016 by the Country Development Manager, revealed that some lessons are taught without any clear or set objective and teachers simply follow a textbook or have students complete exercises from the textbook rather than plan a lesson.

EFL Instructional Approach

As all BOOKBRIDGE learning centers focus predominantly on English language instruction, a review of the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) approaches utilized by teachers were assessed. This indicator focuses on the various techniques used by teachers to teach English, from traditional to more modern language learning approaches. The instructional strategies most often observed in BOOKBRIDGE Mongolia classrooms were silent completion of grammar activities (94%), translation activities (94%), copying information from the board (91%), and copying teacher dictation (73%). In Cambodia the results were similar with repetition (78%), vocabulary practice (74%) and choral reading (68%) utilized the most often.

Such methods as listed above are helpful for developing a strong grasp of grammar rules and for building vocabulary. However, these methods have been repeatedly proven in research over the past thirty to be less effective in the development of communicative competence. The result is often students who can read and write at an intermediate to advanced level, but are unable to engage in even the most rudimentary conversation.

Little children participating in a learning activity in our learning center in Bandarawela, Sri Lanka
Little children participating in a learning activity in our learning center in Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

Student-Centered Approaches

Student-centered approaches to teaching and learning have been around for decades and research in this area strongly indicates that such approaches are more effective in enabling students to achieve learning outcomes, become active learners and critical thinkers and to develop into life-long learners (see a more detailed view on this topic). Such progressive approaches are no longer on the fringe of discourse in education, but applied in mainstream education systems around the world to varying degrees and are a key indictor in the UNICEF Framework on Quality Education. In Cambodia, the MoEYS teacher training curriculum introduces and recommends the use of student-centered approaches for most subjects, while in Mongolia standards-based curriculum for grades 1-12 likewise emphasizes student-centered methodologies. Most teachers in these countries will have had some pre- or in-service training on such approaches to teaching and learning, although with limited direct experience.

The student-centered classroom emphasizes collaboration and students often work in pairs or small groups. The teacher acts more as a facilitator for learning rather than an instructor who holds and then transfers knowledge to the students. Discipline in a student-centered class takes a more positive approach than in traditional settings, with the complete banishment of any forms of corporal punishment. Behavior expectations often set by students and teachers together in a participatory manner.

The overall score for student-centered approach in Cambodia was 41% while in Mongolia it was 56%. As with EFL approaches discussed above, learning center teachers tend to disproportionately favour teacher-centered approaches over student-centered ones. While teachers at our learning centers in Mongolia and Cambodia use traditional EFL and teacher-led approaches the majority of the time, it is important to note that many also apply modern, communicative approaches such as pair and group discussions, project work, role-plays as well as utilizing modern technology and incorporating fun activities like songs and games into their lessons. Improving teaching quality will mean finding ways to support teachers to tip the balance in favour of the student-centered and communicative approaches.

You can read more about student-centered teaching and learning in our blog post here, which discusses in more detail the challenges and obstacles faced at our learning centers in implementing them.

Improving the quality of teaching at our Learning Centers

Our learning centers are full of passionate people, who are committed to educating children and young adults and supporting them to ‘do what they really are.’ How can we support them to ensure they are teaching at the top of their game, using effective and appropriate methods and providing the best quality, supplementary education in their communities?

Investing in teachers is one of the best investments we can make if we are serious about quality. According to the evaluation, 100% of teachers in Cambodia, and 91% of teachers in Mongolia are interested in further professional development. BOOKBRIDGE recently launched a Professional Development Stipend program to support teachers at our learning centers to continue their studies or further their skills. By donating to this fund, you can support teachers to further improve their skills. Applications by Head of Learning Centers and teachers for support under the Stipend Fund are assessed by a selection committee established in each country and awarded based on the merit of application. Please note, we discourage direct support to learning center staff outside of this program.

Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (TESOL) or Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) courses are perhaps the best and quickest solution to the issue of quality teaching at our learning centers. All of our centers focus on English as their main, if not only, offering. TESOL and TEFL courses, some of which are available online or locally usually through institutions located in the capital city, provide foundational knowledge on EFL and student-centered approaches including communicative activities, lesson planning, effective and positive classroom management and scaffolding for learning. This, along with observations of lessons by qualified, experienced teachers would have a great and immediate impact on the quality of teaching.

Other teachers need to improve their English levels or their skills in other subject areas which they may be interested in offering in their learning centers. Online conversation classes or attending intensive English courses can help them improve and build their skills and more importantly, their confidence.

Quality of teaching is also a topic that needs to be examined and discussed by future Capability Teams as they work toward establishing new learning centers. They will need to work with the future Head of Learning Centers to ensure that recruitment of new teachers is based on fair assessment of qualifications and skills and to provide access to additional training as necessary and if possible before the opening of the center. Teachers also need to be provided with a positive work environment and good working conditions with fair remuneration and benefits such as health or social insurance premiums based on national programs.

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