Pedagogy in school context : an intercultural study of the quality of learning, teaching and teacher education in lower primary classes in Southern Malawi
Calls to improve basic education, such as those made at the Dakar conference on 'Education for
All' , now stress the need for increased quality and not only increased enrolment in education.
Within primary education, many governments and donors suggest that teacher education to
introduce new pedagogy will lead to this increased quality. Within the' school effectiveness'
discourse dominant in international development, teacher education and qualified teachers are
viewed as inputs to education. The quality of education is also narrowly defined by quantitative
indicators. The thesis addresses the limitations of this perspective by looking in detail at the
processes of education and educational reform. It also challenges the frequent reliance on
universal recommendations on pedagogy that do not seem to take account of local contexts.
The thesis raises several issues concerning the definition and development of appropriate
pedagogy for rural lower primary classes in sub-Saharan Africa. The standard definition of
learner-centred teaching is questioned by case studies of some experienced lower primary
teachers and student teachers. These teachers work in challenging school conditions in
Southern Malawi and the strategies they use within this context are described. The thesis
suggests that indicators and interpretations of leamer-centred teaching that derive from Western
cultures are not so relevant in Malawi, particularly in rural areas. Teachers' use of songs, and
other aspects of oral culture, in their lessons show how they take account of the physical and
socio-cultural context of the learners. The thesis argues for the need to broaden and localise
conceptions of learner-centred education to take account of the cultural context. The strong
focus on individual learners that has developed in individualistic Western societies is less useful
in large classes in more collective cultures.
Attention then turns to the processes that develop and define appropriate pedagogy for
educational reform in countries struggling to include more children in formal schooling. The
thesis argues that some teaching strategies that work well in these Malawian classrooms are
omitted from, or even viewed negatively, in current teacher education reform in developing
countries. The way different people's knowledge about pedagogy is used in Malawian teacher
education programmes is described. Programmes with structures that allow local teacher
knowledge to be shared and developed are contrasted with programmes that favour more
universal prescriptions of the 'right way to teach'.
The thesis concludes with a discussion of how intercultural analysis could help make explicit
the assumptions and default decisions that are being made about pedagogy. Volet's work on
pedagogical transfer is adapted to suggest a model of the dynamics of donor technical advice to
teacher education reform in developing countries. This would enable the pedagogy of teacher
education reform to take more account of local contexts, and hence make its contribution to
improving teaching and learning in schools.