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Teacher upgrade programme struggling on several fronts

Teachers in Samoa attempting to upgrade their diplomas to either a Bachelor or Postgraduate Diploma of Education under a Ministry directive are struggling against massive roadblocks on the path to success, a recently published study has revealed.

Technology, the English language, and most of all time and space to upskill are the biggest barriers teachers are facing when trying to ‘upgrade’ their qualifications, which the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) hopes all teachers will do by 2020.

Teachers in the study reported not being supported by their principals to undertake their studies, and principals struggling with poor communication between their Ministry and the University on how the programme is supposed to work.

The researchers, two from the National University of Samoa (N.U.S) Faculty of Education and one a University of the South Pacific fellow found teachers, principals and ministry staff each had their own problems with the programme.

“Challenges including time scheduling, teachers’ wider responsibilities, unsupportive school principals, and communication barriers with the National University of Samoa appear to have hindered the programme’s implementation,” the study states. 

What was supposed to have been an out-of-school-hours further education programme appears to be mired with scheduling and priority conflicts, where teachers in the programme are expected to attended classes, submit assignments or sit exams during teaching hours, leaving principals understaffed.

The teacher upgrade programme was launched in 2016, after the Ministry found fewer than 10 per cent of teachers held a teaching degree: just 129 out of 1,300 teachers.

In an ambitious five-year programme, M.E.S.C. ordered that every teacher should have at least a Bachelors of Education by 2020, and had N.U.S. devise programmes to make it happen. 

In 2019 alone, the programme cost the Ministry T$1 million.

It was hoped this would ensure teaching quality, and thereby the student learning experience would improve radically, especially considering the rapidly changing environment high school graduates find themselves in each year.

The United Nations Children’s Fund considers teacher upgrading “the only way forward for former colonised nations.”

But three years in, teachers and principals are reporting poor communication, either from each other, from the Ministry or from the University itself, low support and poor infrastructure is getting in the way of that goal.

“Upgrading teaching participants […] struggled with the amount and quality of support from the Ministry and their schools,” the study states.

One participant in the study told the researchers that, “good communication between the teacher and principal is not enough, and they need more support from [M.E.S.C.], parents and teachers.”

Two other major barriers were that the class materials themselves are all in English, and some struggled with poor and unreliable internet connections.

“Almost all participants had difficulties understanding the instructions and reading materials,” the study states. “Upgrading teachers identified terminology in the readings that was often difficult to understand.”

One participant told researchers: “poor internet services have a negative impact on my studies which contributes to difficulties in time management, and slow work progress.”

From the principal’s perspective, the teacher upgrade programme was largely interfering with in-class hours. That struggle with time management only exacerbated the problem, the researchers found.

Two principals interviewed by the researchers reported they talked to their teachers about “balancing their teaching and studies,” with one going so far as to tell their teachers to “leave whatever assignments they are doing for another time and concentrate on teaching.”

Other principals accused their staff of using the study time for personal hours, “pretending to be studying in order to get time of school.

“Balancing time between studies and teaching was clearly a challenge for the upgrading teachers, and also an area of conflict between the teachers and their principals,” the report states.

The fact that the Bachelors classes were happening during school hours was an unexpected problem that the Ministry states it has no control over.

One Ministry participant in the study acknowledged this in their interview, saying M.E.S.C. had assumed the classes would not clash with teaching.

“Evidently, there needs to be clearer communication between teachers, school principals, the Ministry and the University to ensure everyone has the same expectations and knowledge around classes and assignments, as well as when these are to take place,” the researchers conclude.

But generally the programme should work, the researchers stated, and has already proven some success, thanks to the teachers’ “aspirations, the Ministry’s determination and [N.U.S] support.”

“Upgrading to higher qualifications has become a milestone for many teachers, not only with the gaining of new knowledge, skills and techniques for teaching but for most of them, a promotion and salary rise.

Better support and infrastructure between M.E.S.C. and N.U.S. which in turn would mean better support by the principals of their teachers in the programme will ensure more come away with a Bachelors in Education which will improve education in Samoa, the study states.

“The Faculty of Education at the National University of Samoa (where two of the three researchers are employed) also has a role to play in ensuring that their services appropriately cater for the upgrading teachers, and that ongoing communication with the Ministry and the school principals are maintained.”

Lecturers at N.U.S need to help their teacher students more with the course materials, challenging as they are in English, the researchers recommend.

“It is vital for the Ministry and [N.U.S.] to provide the support needed by upgrading teachers to ensure that they are able to participate in the programme fully and acquire updated knowledge and skills. 

“Success in the upgrade programme also requires the Ministry and the National University of Samoa to establish strong systems of communication with both schools and teachers so that the current opportunities for miscommunication are eliminated. This will also ensure that all parties understand what is expected, where and when.”

The study was done by National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) Faculty of Education Head of Department Fuaialii Tagataese Tupu Tuia and senior lecturer Epenese Esera, and University of the South Pacific fellow David Fa’avae and was published in the Journal of the Pacific Circle Consortium for Education in December 2019.

All participants quoted in the publication were anonymised.

Due to the festive season closures, M.E.S.C offices are closed until Monday.

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