Sunday, 29 March 2009 6:22 PM

Tourism program at SICHE

I thank Victoria and Joe for sharing their views on the factors that constitute and contribute to an effective and engaging learning environment. It is encouraging to see students like Victoria and Joe taking a serious stance on ways that they would like to learn or be taught. This demonstrates a willingness to participate and engage in decision making about one's own learning and to ultimately take increased levels of responsibility for one's own learning. This is a healthy sign and should be encouraged in our schools and classrooms today to bring about a vibrant and rich learning atmosphere where all players, learners and teachers alike can professionally benefit.

Whilst it is encouraging to see the development and emergence of independent and responsible learners, we must also learn to trust the systems that we operate within. This entails becoming mature and open-minded enough to trust that the institution (in this case SICHE) and the programs it offers are of credible quality. Inevitably, this means trusting that the institution has adopted quality teaching and learning policies, applied quality procedures for course approval and accreditation and recruited qualified and competent staff so that we enter the institution, knowing and expecting a certain level of service. We can also expect to find quality assurance mechanisms in place to maintain standards, part of which should be the provision of clear avenues and opportunities for students and staff to engage in conversations about teaching and learning.

What I found disappointing in previous articles on this topic were the references made to local teachers as being 'lousy', 'lacking passion' and general under-performance. These labels are grossly unfair, when or whether being applied to locals or non-locals. To begin with, the teacher (with his/her knowledge, passion, capabilities etc) is only one variable out of a host of other forces at play within a given learning setting. Equally important are factors such as student-teacher ratio, student abilities and motivation levels, access to resources and equipment, choice of instructional methodologies and media support etc. All these factors have an impact on leaner outcomes so to attribute successful learning to just the factor of teacher knowledge, delivery method or passion is simplistic and unrealistic.

With regards to issues of teacher competence, enthusiasm and passion, my view is that we need to look beyond the classroom level for factors that might explain the abundance or the lack of such attributes. I think this is essentially a question to be asked in the context of resources as I firmly believe that given the right resources and equipment for planning and teaching, teachers will ultimately deliver. And combined with stronger support from the institution in the form of better incentives, clearer procedures for promotion and increased opportunities for ongoing professional development, I believe teachers will lift their game and improve overall performance. Similarly, passion will be rekindled as I believe teachers have always had this quality to begin with (I mean why else would you undergo many years of training only to receive low pay and then experience early career burnout!!).

The message I get from this discussion is that there is a need for systematic procedures for obtaining and gathering student feedback on teaching and programs and for teachers and the institution to use the information as part of their self evaluation and reflection to improve practice paradigms. The second is the recognition that teachers must be properly supported in their roles if they are to offer an enhanced and effective learning environment for their learners.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Irene Paulsen and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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