Auckland University

Is the future post-graduate?

In June the government called for tenders for new initial teacher education qualifications – “exemplary” qualifications to be delivered in partnership with schools. There are two rounds with funding for…

In June the government called for tenders for new initial teacher education qualifications – “exemplary” qualifications to be delivered in partnership with schools. There are two rounds with funding for a total of 315 equivalent full-time students. Winners get an extra $4000 per student on top of the usual funding. The first round finished in July for programmes to start next year, and the second opened in September, bidding for 2015.

The aim is a different form of initial teacher education (ITE) more closely connected to schools,involving them in the delivery and co-teaching of the programme, and with stronger links between theory and practice. It’s all part of Education Minister Hekia Parata’s quality teaching agenda – a fundamental change to ITE provision “to secure a step change in the quality of graduating teachers”. The 2010 workforce advisory report said New Zealand should follow the international norm of a three-year undergraduate plus a postgraduate
qualification. It recommended restricting entry to graduates and matching student numbers with placements” easier with a one-year qualification.

The Finns, regarded as among the best educators in the world, select rigorously into teaching and insist on five years of education study – all teachers have a Master’s degree. But our proposed one- year postgraduate qualification looks like being an add-on to any old undergraduate degree. Will it be enough to prepare generalist educators for the primary education sector?

Two years better?

Some, such as Waikato’s Dean of Education Professor Roger Moltzen” would like to see a two year postgraduate qualification comprising a year of study and maybe a year’s internship or some in-school work” it could be master’s level with the second year practice related. He says it must balance curriculum knowledge with critical thinking, analytical skills and research abilities. But the cost for students is even more of an issue now that the government has scrapped the student allowance for any more than four years of study. A postgraduate qualification that requires five years of study could shut out those from disadvantaged groups. Massey University Institute of Education Professor John O’Neill says the government has stripped out funding from ITE. Students now pay more than half the cost and to survive they have to work while they’re studying, so they can’t get a fulltime teacher education experience. He says ITE needs to provide structured, supportive and diagnostic practicum experience that prepares teachers to engage with diverse students. The reason it generally doesn’t, he says, is because there’s not enough money in the system.

Working together

One of the tender winners is likely to be Auckland University. Professor Graeme Aitken says the proposed programme moves away from the idea that the university does the theory and the school does the practice. “We do this work together” we not only engage and use staff but we pay and reward them properly to do it.” As well as university staff being more closely connected to schools, school staff will also be observing, giving feedback, sharing some of the teaching “in partnership with us”. He says it will probably mean moving away from associate teachers towards mentors and adjunct lecturers – a more serious and substantial role” and better rewarded. Aitken says a worst-case scenario currently is that a student is sent to a school for six weeks, the teacher observes, university lecturers come out once or twice, write some notes, and then at the end “miraculously” come to some sort of decision about the student. He says Auckland University has already moved away from that. “We’re trying to be much more present in the school, much more available, seen by staff as someone working with them and the students.”

Government’s silver bullet

But O’Neill says the government has a very crude view of how to improve teacher quality, and its silver bullet is to move to postgraduate education. He says calling for tenders is a “very clever way of (the government) regaining control of the teacher education curriculum” and predicts a gradual move away from universities basing ITE programmes on what they believe is an appropriate credential structure. Even now, students are getting a very perfunctory introduction to most learning areas of the curriculum, he says, other than in literacy and numeracy.

“Teachers are there to serve the needs of government” they’re not there to be creative, interesting teachers anymore.” Roger Moltzen of Waikato University echoed those views when he spoke to EA earlier this year. He said the curriculum supports innovation and creativity and offers teachers opportunities to support children’s development as citizens of the world. But it’s under threat from accountability pressures such as performance-based pay, which would reduce teaching to a simplistic and quantifiable activity. “One of the joys of teaching is being able to develop children’s creativity” we don’t want that to be undermined.” He says teaching is a complex task and the complexities have to be acknowledged.

The third space O’Neill says the question to ask is where is the best place to learn the knowledge of teaching and who is best to assess it. He says there’s a recognised need to create a “third space” for both tertiary-based and school-based teacher educators to learn the knowledge of teaching” research-based knowledge/theory as well as the practical skills of becoming a beginning teacher. O’Neill says the period of ITE is about opportunities to show competence as a teacher” either via direct observation or indirect assessment, or showing you know what the research literature says or what the theoretical basis of teaching and learning says. But the contributions of the partners need to be balanced. “Just because people are experienced teacher educators doesn’t mean they are equipped to do all the necessary guidance, mentoring, support, challenge, and assessment of teaching candidates.” Provisionally registered teacher Vaughan Smith agrees. He says since 2004, the requirements of the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) for lecturers to bring in funding have devalued the qualities needed to inspire students to be great teachers.

ITE is richer

He says in his experience the best teachers are often not the best researchers, and vice versa. But Victoria University’s Louise Starkey says the emphasis on research has made ITE a lot richer. Most lecturers are still experienced classroom teachers and the research is always leading to the question “what does it mean to you as a teacher?”
“We really value the experience teachers bring to being teacher educators – the fear that there would be too much focus on research and not enough on classroom practice certainly hasn’t come to fruition.” It’s unlikely postgraduate ITE will replace undergraduate programmes.
Aitken says the two paths suit two different types of people – some know very early on they want to be teachers and go straight to an undergraduate degree. He says it’s more likely the postgraduate degree will replace the graduate qualification. “It will require teachers to use the teaching as inquiry process in a much more rigorous way than in the graduate programme.”