By SHOAGA, Opeyemi (Ph.D)
Teachers and Integrated Curriculum Implementation: Matters Arising
Apparently, teachers’ related factors are likely to serve as clogs to this paradigm shift from the seemingly norm. Calman & Tarr-Whelan (2005) reported a strong consensus that the best early childhood education is delivered by well-trained and well compensated teachers; and Nigeria is currently facing a challenging time in providing her young citizens with quality education among which undefined curriculum and shortage of highly qualified early childhood teachers are prominent (Onu, Obiozor & Agbo, 2010).
Poor quality of teachers has been the bane of the education sector in Africa and specifically the Nigerian early childhood education. Keng (2010) underpinned this that in most countries, childcare providers and preschool teachers are inadequately prepared for the crucial task of caring and educating young children. Some of the people employed to teach the children are neither trained to teach nor do they know how to handle or relate to children. Moreover, as there is no standard curriculum to guide the activities of these teachers, such people might make the children lose interest in education as they would not be able to present learning experiences to the children in the stimulating and logical manner. Early childhood teacher is expected to have virtues, morality, degrees/knowledge and competence relevant to their responsibilities; maintain steady self-development; and be able to get along with professional inclination.
Dearth of early childhood educators is also an affront to the adoption of integrated curriculum. The imminent staff shortages may be explained by a combination of factors, but within the early child care sector, relatively low status, uncertainty about career paths, poorer work conditions and wages, are issues that merit attention (OECD, 2006).
Changes to the curriculum are effective only if accompanied by changes in teacher attitudes and behaviour. These in turn require changes to the teacher-training curriculum, including training in gender sensitivity and awareness, and approaches that help teachers become more reflective about their practices and the environments in which they work (Evans, 1998). They also require changes in staffing policies and practices in early childhood programmes.
Poor perception of the early childhood teachers is a major factor. Women are predominant in the early childhood professions. Taking care of young children has long been identified with motherhood and thus considered a female activity, associated with low pay and low status. It is often assumed that no specific training is needed to work with children. On the contrary, men working with young children often evoke suspicion or prejudice, or concern that they will threaten women’s sphere of power within early childhood institutions and even within the family.
Ejieh (2006), reported working in private nursery or pre-primary institutions that would probably have no attraction for specialist pre-primary teachers (early childhood educators) because of low wages and job insecurity associated with teaching in such institutions. He affirms that neither the Federal nor any state government has established any nursery or pre-primary schools where graduates of such a programme can be employed and be sure of commensurate remuneration.
Another problem that could be identified is the fact that most of the teachers do not have adequate training on the use of curricula that are project-based. Majority of them have been trained to teach curricula that are school-based and subject-specific. In view of this, a shift of focus from what the teachers are used to is seen as a means of distraction or a threat to their subject.
The mode of assessment has been seen as another great challenge to the teachers who adopt the use of integrated curriculum. There is the dilemma of which method is best to be used. In integrated programmes, there is no best method. Methods ranging from project-based tests, observation discussion methods are employed. Also, the assessment of pupil’s advances as teaching becomes more complicated.
Furthermore, gross incompetence of teachers to use the mother-tongue or local language effectively for instructions in early childhood institutions as stipulated in the National Policy on Education (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004) has been a barrier to the adoption of integrated curriculum. Alidou et al. (2005) reported that teachers and students communicate better when both are familiar with the languages of instruction. In primary classroom observations across Africa, thirteen (13) researchers found that the use of unfamiliar languages forced teachers to use ineffective and teacher-centred teaching methods, which undermine students’ learning (Alidou et al., 2005). The best language speakers are often not trained as teachers and may need support in bilingual instruction (Johnston and Johnson, 2002).
Operating Integrated Curriculum in Nigerian Early Childhood Education system: Way forward
- In order to make the incorporation of integrated curriculum workable in Nigerian schools, this paper has tried to identify strategic options that need to be considered for a successful adoption of the integrated curricula in the nursery and primary schools.
- Bearing in mind that most of the teachers have been trained to teach curricula that are school-based and subject-specific, professional development is necessary for teachers in order to adopt different roles and strategies. In order to get this actualised, in-service and on-the-job training should be made available to the teachers.
- Also, the curricula must not be imposed upon the teachers. They should be adequately involved since they are the implementers and the ones that have direct contact with the students. Hence, teachers should be drafted to become members of the curriculum planning committee.
- Encouraging more men to work in early childhood programmes could challenge prevailing assumptions about gender responsibilities in society; more generally as male child care workers can provide a role model of carers for boys and girls alike (Cameron and Moss, 1998; Cameron, 2001).
- To address the problem of local language deficiency of early childhood educators, bilingual teaching assistants should work in pre-schools and help to strengthen the mother tongue and build familiarity with the official language. Also, there is a critical need to adopt multilingual approach for early childhood education training programmes, and to train monolingual teachers in linguistic diversity.
- Considering the fact that this programme is pupil centred, facilities and relevant provisions ranging from toys and other play facilities to physical and human resources should be made available to the pupils in order to facilitate learning.
- Moreover, among the challenges faced through the implementation of this method is time. Time must be provided for both teachers and pupils. Teachers need time to plan their lessons. They also need time for the assessment of the pupils. Unlike what operates in the teaching and assessment of pupils under subject-based curriculum, the teacher needs time to observe, engage the pupils in discussions, and engage in project-based tests. The fact that teachers who plan and teach together have the same expectations across subject areas is a factor in the overall performance of the students (Kathy Lake, 2004).
- On the other hand, the pupils also need time because the method that is usually applied includes team-teaching which takes place in a more contextualized, pupil centred environment. In this case, students are not allowed to rush through their courses but they are encouraged to be active participants in their own learning while pupils are required to solve problems and complete tasks that are found in real life situations. In a nut shell, time is very crucial in this type of programme and as a result of this, time should be left at the disposal of both pupils and teachers.
Incontrovertibly, the real world does not work in absolutes neither does it work in individual subjects but it thrives on a whole. Integrated curriculum will move the Nigerian child from ‘what’ and ‘how’ to ‘why’. It will form a greater idea for children because it helps them to combine different skills. This makes learning more meaningful and balanced rather than learning in isolated subjects.
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Dr Opeyemi Shoaga is a lecturer in the Department of Educational Foundations and Management, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria. She holds a Ph.D in Early Childhood Education from the University of Ibadan. She has her bias in Philosophy of Education. Her research interests are on Early Childhood Curriculum process with special focus on the use of play in promoting learning in early childhood. She is a member of Early Childhood Education Association of Nigeria (ECAN), National Association of Educators for young Children (NAEYC) and Philosophy of Education Association of Nigeria (PEAN). A good number of her researches in her area of specialisation have been published in learned journals.