New Era (Windhoek)

16 May 2007

Namibia: Teachers Still Struggle With Teaching Methods

Windhoek — Almost two decades after independence, Namibian teachers continue to struggle with learner-centred teaching methods, a concept formally introduced by the Ministry of Education.

This was said on Monday by professor Choshi Kasanda of the education department at UNAM at the opening of the second national Mathematics Congress for teachers at Swakopmund.

According to the congress organizer, Magret Courtney-Clarke, 140 mathematics teachers from around the country are attending the three-day event, which is hosted by the Ministry of Education.

"We are nowhere near to achieving learner-centred teaching in our schools. Indeed, many of our teachers feel the stress of examinations and rather stick to familiar territory," said Kasanda, whose topic was "The status of learner-centred teaching."

He told the congress that mathematics and science teachers in several regions are not at all using learner-centred methods in their approach to teaching.

"All is not really lost because some strides are being made by some teachers and trainee teachers, but the bulk of the teaching fraternity is not at all practising learner-centred teaching. I believe teachers and learners must change their beliefs about teaching and learning.

Teachers should view learners as able, while learners should be encouraged to assume power over their learning and be responsible for such learning," the academic urged.

Kasanda proposed a code-switching and a change of teaching methods for Namibian teachers.

"Many teachers tend to religiously use the question-and-answer method, and often the questions are of the convergent kind that encourage little reflection. Teachers should use different assessment methods, and the ministry should reduce the importance of examinations in the lives of teachers.

"Furthermore," he said, "mathematics teachers who have mastered the art of learner-centred teaching need to share their knowledge with their counterparts. In so doing, they can help each other along".

The respected professor of education also blamed the lack of proficiency in the English language for teachers having to use methods that do not encourage learner participation.

"Evidence exists that many mathematics teachers are still teaching as they have been teaching all along. Furthermore, the use of English as a medium of instruction to a large extent curtails learner participation. Change is also not always easy, especially if it is mandated from the top. However, mathematics teachers needed to have been part of the changing process. There is definitely a need for teachers to change their attitude and to start mastering learner-centred teaching," he suggested.

He intimated that a lack of information on what constitutes and characterizes learner-centred teaching is a big problem among teachers.

"For many teachers group work constitutes learner-centred teaching; hence the fact that desks in classrooms are permanently grouped. Learner-centred teaching regards both teacher and learner as partners in the teaching and learning process because both have experiences that can contribute to better learning," he stated.

According to Kasanda, the teacher is a facilitator of learning, a teacher, a friend and a mentor for the learners.

"Teachers are the creators of an enabling environment for learners to grow socially and academically. Teachers need to be professionally developed through refresher courses at regular intervals within the school set-up or by recognized experts. Teachers should also shed the fear of being sneered at when asking for advice.

"On the other hand, learners should contribute to the acquisition of new knowledge through interactions. They form part of a team cooperating with teachers to generate understanding and knowledge," Kasanda concluded.

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