Teachers have been handed a Hobson’s choice situation: Enrol for professional development programmes this year or simply don’t.
According to their employer, the Teachers Service Commission, those who do will place themselves in line for promotion, while those who choose not to risk being bypassed.
While the issue sounds like a no-brainer, what has hogged the limelight is the Sh6,000 fee for the course, which will take place over five years and will have to be footed by the teachers.
This charge is likely to be the fulcrum around which decisions of whether or not to take the course will be made and not the merits or demerits of the programmes.
Through the years, specialists in various professions have been taking what is broadly referred to as refresher courses to keep abreast of the latest developments in their careers, acquire skills to cope with new work demands and make themselves attractive for promotions.
Engineers, doctors, lawyers, pilots and even chefs continually upgrade their skills in the course of their careers to gain an edge over their colleagues and create some sense of invincibility in the industry.
For the modern teacher, continuous learning is especially dire because the 21st century learner is more informed, confident, curious, distracted and impatient — thanks to the digital revolution sweeping across the world.
While the average primary school learner is unlikely to own a mobile phone, they certainly have access to those of their parents or relatives and know how to navigate them for games, videos and pictures.
Those in secondary school will most likely have access to a phone during the school holidays and will certainly know how to use search engines, engage and connect with friends through social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram and download videos and games.
In a nutshell, they are in the words of American writer and educationist Marc Prensky, digital natives being taught by digital immigrants. They were born and raised in a media-saturated world, unlike their parents and teachers.
In a hugely interconnected and globalised world, schools must keep reinventing teaching and learning not only to remain relevant but to align themselves with the needs and nature of the modern learner. In the years gone by, teachers recycled the same teaching notes and skills year after year going through the motions like an undertaker — devoid of imagination, creativity, empathy or enthusiasm.
The learner too was forced to go through the dull paces with the submission of a patient to a dentist, which rendered the school environment morbid and enervated. This is why teachers need a quick jump-start to enable them change with the times.
Overall, teachers need to keep sharpening their instructional skills, deepen knowledge of subject matter and learn new ways of making teaching and learning more enjoyable and flexible.
In a sense, professional development programmes could — if carried out diligently and smartly — be much more critical for teachers than the pre-service training they go through. This is because teachers would have the chance to raise emerging issues which their pre-service courses did not prepare them for.
The transition from a trainee to an actual teacher often poses a reality shock which at times induces helplessness and fear of failure among new teachers. At a time that the education sector is transitioning from the 8-4-4 system to the new Competency-Based Curriculum, in-service courses couldn’t be more opportune.
Still, the mass transfer of teachers from their home counties to far-off schools to expose them to different cultures and delocalise institutions also presents a window for retraining on how to handle diversity and multicultural learning environments.
If the prospect for a promotion after taking refresher courses couldn’t be motivating enough for the teachers, then the chance to learn new ways of working surely must be.
However, the training must be well though-out, intensive and continuous in order to make a difference. It would be useless if the trainers just regurgitate old theories or introduce novel teaching ways just for the sake of it. New skills might not necessarily be better or more effective.
There can be room for debate about whether or not it’s the teachers who should foot the bill for the courses but none at all about the need for the programmes.
The author is Education Editor [email protected]