Talking point. Teacher training - a miserable failure?

J.R.A. Williams

Teacher training is a miserable failure as a change agent. This has been accepted in the North, where 'on-the-job' in-service teacher development is increasingly emphasised, with up to 60% of a pre-service course consisting of practical experience in schools. Still international agencies persist with the myth of 'training'. It is what governments want them to do to fit into established structures. It also fits neatly into business-style project cycles.

Training for change doesn't work - for the same reason that the medical model of disability doesn't work to change policies and practices concerning disability. It focuses on the individual - the teacher to be trained and changed - rather than on the systems and mentalities surrounding the teaching/learning situation, which actually determine what happens in classrooms. These systems are inherently conservative. Without intervention, methodologies and curriculum, relationships and environment revert to the 'known' - i.e. what teachers have experienced through their own schooling. A trainee can be fully acquainted with and support new theories, techniques and practices. But when he or she returns to the school and the community, which has not had the benefit of such enlightenment, within a year inertia takes over and the expensively trained teacher will either have resigned, or reverted to the 'norms' surrounding them.

Like the social model, inclusion must concentrate on the totality of the environment. 'Training' is of course a component of this, but to be effective it cannot be treated separately from all other aspects of school life. Indeed it must be intrinsic to change: preferably brought about by the school community (because they can see the need), but necessarily including the school community in the planning, implementation and monitoring.

Teachers often say they want training, especially when faced with the challenges of 'becoming inclusive'. But what they actually want is to be able to manage the demands placed on them and to cope with the changes they are told are coming. They conceptualise this as training because this is what they have been told is the key to their success. Delving more deeply, though, we find that teachers actually attribute their professional development and know-how not to training, but rather to watching experienced teachers teach, talking to them, trying things out and thinking about them. It is this cycle of co-operation, action and review among colleagues which is the organic process of teacher training in action. This cycle helps to challenge existing cultures, and develop inclusive thinking, practices and actions. To be 'allowed', however, it has to be done in the context of change across the whole school, in partnership with children, their families, non-teaching staff, etc.

Save the Children UK uses the Index for Inclusion in the Arabic World to promote teacher development and whole school improvement. A Moroccan teacher reports that the Index has influenced her to "think more about the situation of the school". It has also helped her to "find new perspectives" in the context of developing "partnership between pupils, teachers, parents and families" and "explaining the realities of the inclusion approach".

Jamie Williams is Education and Early Childhood Care and Development Advisor for Save the Children UK in the Middle East and North Africa region. Contact:
Save the Children UK
25 Dimishq St.
Cairo, Egypt.
Tel: +202 345 9322

Right to reply

Jamie makes some important and challenging points. Comparing current teacher training with the medical model of disability, and the need for radical change as akin to the social model is very helpful. Schools are among the most difficult institutions to change, and higher education is even harder. We don't want to abolish teacher training - but it needs to be significantly changed if we are going to help schools make the move towards inclusive education. However, there are no pre-existing perfect solutions to this challenge. So we invite all readers to engage in debate - with EENET, with the authors published in this newsletter, with each other - about how to move forward with teacher education. We want to hear your views!

Mel Ainscow, University of Manchester

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