Universities should support schools and student teachers
According to Collins online dictionary, teaching practice is a period that a student teacher spends teaching at a school as part of his or her training. In Uganda, teaching practice is mandatory for all students pursuing undergraduate education programmes, and it is an opportunity for aspiring teachers to understand the role and operation of how the business of teaching is done.
In Uganda, in the pre-Covid-19 period, teaching practice was usually done during school term one and two. This year though, some student teachers are undertaking school practice in term three, partly as a result of the disruptions in university/school calendar occasioned by Covid-19.
School practice provides an opportunity to strengthen academic collaboration between schools and universities. This collaboration would form the foundation of continuing support accorded by schools to their alumni, and that university uses to strengthen teaching/learning and research.
Yet, that is not the case. Oftentimes, student teachers struggle a lot when they go for teaching practice. Take Ruth for example. Ruth (not real name) was sent for teaching practice in one of the secondary schools in Lira city.
I am using the word “sent” because they were simply assigned to schools within the city that are easily accessible to lecturers. The university never gave them an opportunity to look for schools most convenient for them or closer to their homes. She encountered multiple problems: rent, transportation, feeding, lack of scholastic materials, and hostile environment from school, partly because she was “sent from above.”
For practicing senior teachers, having student teachers helps relieve the pressure on them, by reducing teaching and marking load. However, student teachers are also a burden to schools, because hosting them results in a significant increase in the daily budget. Costs such as feeding, water, allowances (for schools that pay), and scholastic materials. Due to these issues and more, some schools limit the number, or completely do not accept to host student teachers. This is bad for the education sector.
The good thing to do is for schools to host student teachers, and to ensure we have win-win arrangements, collaboration is vital. And there are many ways to do that.
First and foremost, universities should allow student teachers to get placement in schools most convenient for them. This will provide three benefits, namely; reduce living expenses, enable remote schools with fresh faces, and skills, and help student teachers build rapport with the school and senior teachers. The acceptance of students on placement must be at the discretion of the school authorities. The university/college should avail student teachers with letters of placement and give them liberty to look for schools on their own.
Secondly, universities should design cost-sharing or benefit-sharing mechanisms with participating schools, with the core objective of enriching teaching practice. The way it is now, universities get money (part of tuition) from second year students in order to undertake teaching practice or internship. This money can be shared with participating schools (for example 20 or 30 percent), or provide start-up kits for student teachers, for example stationery. Cost or benefit-sharing will incentivize schools and organizations/companies to take more university students, and establish a formal working relationship between the institutions involved.
Thirdly, provision should be created to engage external supervisors in addition to using university/college lecturers to assess the students on teaching practice. And external supervisors can be senior teachers within the schools where teaching practice is being conducted, for example, the Director of Studies (DOS) can be an external supervisor. This will make sure student teachers receive feedback from two fronts, from the lecturers that teach them, and from senior teachers in active secondary/primary teaching service.
World over, teacher quality is one the most important school variables that influences the achievement of students/pupils. Consequently, the making of a quality teacher starts at the university. This, therefore, places enormous responsibilities on universities because the provision of initial teacher education is an important and demanding activity and is seen nowadays not as an end in itself but rather as the launching-point for the continuing professional development of teachers.
Universities should not view teaching practice at only one angle – as an opportunity to student teachers’ work in the classroom. In conclusion, learning to teach should be taken as an opportunity for universities, schools, and communities to make their contribution in the making of future teachers.
This article was also published in the Daily Monitor.