The predominant teachers’ professional development practice in Pakistan can be stated as limited, fragmented, short termed, and pre-packaged as it occurs on margins having more focus on training sessions rather than problem-solving. This qualitative study aims to share the results of a small-scale study, involving 12 college teachers working in public sector institutions on their perceptions of professional development and the support they get from their educational institutions. It then proposes a three-branched solution that includes: (a) government and institution supported PD; (b) availability and delivery of multiple PD approaches based on the needs assessment of the teachers; and (c) on-going follow-up and evaluation of teachers’ professional development system to suit the local context. This study recommends that effective PD, if considered wisely, can become the process through which educators can examine thoughtfully and critically the purpose, role, structure, and organization of the institutions concerning the increasingly diverse students and communities they serve. The educational field in Pakistan needs a new ethics for PD; one that is sincerely supported and reflected in the educational policies of the country.
Keywords: change for transformation, college teachers, needs assessment, professional development
Change and unpredictability of change are constantly held as the central character in the modern worldview of professional development. Changes observed outside the education and training sphere are made to back the changes within the domain of education and training environment. According to Hargreaves (2014), changes associated within the learning society and professional development are inevitable and constant. Within the learning organizations, individuals stay alert with the changes, which are the constant components associated with learning and growth. Nevertheless, learning and growth are not endeavoured by all contexts. Differences in values, political interests, and personal agendas may build a working culture in which changes are unidirectional and not orderly (Blossfeld, Blossfeld, & Blossfeld, 2015).
The predominant teachers’ professional development practice in Pakistan can be stated as restricted, patchy, short termed, and pre-packaged as it occurs on margins, having more focus on training sessions rather than problem-solving. Implicitly, more attention is given on the event with no attention on the continuous process (Nasreen & Odhiambo, 2018). A significant change is unlikely to happen in the instructional practice when teachers are passive participants in the one-shot in-service training sessions and the experts tend to expose the teachers to new educational ideas. Indeed, a large number of teachers fail to see a connection between such training sessions and their instructional practices. Therefore, it would not be wrong to state that institutionalised arrangement is missing in Pakistan for the provision of regular teacher training.
In Pakistan, teacher training institutions are not appropriately equipped in terms of staff, resources, and curriculum (Memon, 2007). Since the independence of Pakistan, six education policies have been developed, all aiming for high achievements and expectations; however, the frequent changes in government do not allow the policies to mature and fulfil their set objectives. All education policies in Pakistan have given teacher education its due importance, but the teacher education programs have not been receptive to the demands and needs of the fast-paced desires of the teachers. It is, therefore, natural that the products of the system are as good as where they are nurtured. Despite the report on Commission on National Education (1959) conceding that “No system of education is better than the teachers who serve it”, time and again directives have been issued by the government that the promotions of the teachers in the future would be linked to the status and training programs attended by them.
This paper tends to share the results of a small-scale study involving college teachers from the public sector on their perceptions of professional development and the support they get from their educational institutions. It then proposes a three-branched professional development system to suit the local context.
The research question that emerges for this study is:
Teachers’ PD can be stated as one of the most influential components that bring the changes required to address the irresistible challenges in public education. This is the reason why educational reports, literature, and legislative mandates have a common theme such as PD, which is vital for systematic educational reforms (Antoniou & Kyriakides, 2013). According to Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (2011), the establishment of professional development is a vital component of state reforms to meet the urgent needs as well as to develop new curricula appropriate for students’ needs for their success in the contemporary century. Professional development should be considered as an evolving process, rather than a one-shot and one-size-fits-all event, associated with the growth, reflection, and refined results. From the professional self-disclosure, if focused on job-embedded responsibilities and sustained through time in practise, a well thought and contextualized in-service training will enable the teachers to swim safely to the other side of the river. This will also improve staff skills and abilities in order to achieve great educational outcomes (Antoniou & Kyriakides, 2011).
For teachers, professional development includes formal pre-service and in-service education, assessment, and training. It also includes the informal modes of learning conducted by teachers on their own, or networking with others (Beck & Kosnik, 2017). The concept and the provision of professional development are highly complex and multifaceted. Nicholls (2014) defines it as a “Dynamic process that spans one’s entire career in the profession from preparation and induction to completion and retirement” (p. 37). The environment of administrators, teachers, and students in an educational institution is the one that changes. If this is the case, then the teachers must continue to learn and be seriously and continually involved in increasing their intellect throughout their career phase. In the same light, individuals and institutions also adopt change; therefore, to focus solely on the individuals in PD efforts and to ignore factors such as institutional features and system politics, severely hamper the possibility of success (Engestrom, 2015).
Career-long high-quality PD for teachers is a central and indispensable element of the larger effort to help students achieve high standards. Unfortunately, career-long high-quality PD remains a dream for almost the whole teaching community. Osamwonyi (2016) on the same line believes that, “In-service education is designed for the manpower development of the school system and the educational enterprise as a whole. If teachers are to perform their functions effectively and efficiently, it becomes imperative for them to require training in new skills and modern methodology” (p. 83). Therefore, the focus of PD is to improve learners’ outcomes through achieving the pre-determined goal in teaching, administering programs, and designing activities in particular for PD and changing instructional behaviour in general.
According to Smith and Sela (2005), professional development bridges the gap between where experienced and aspiring educators are now and where they need to be in order to tackle the new difficulties of guiding their pupils to higher educational standards. They further elaborate that “New teachers have been found to undergo observable professional development by conducting action research. They become more reflective, critical and analytical about their teaching behaviours. As a consequence, they gain an improved understanding of themselves as teachers, of their students and their roles and responsibilities as teachers” (p. 297). Hence, teachers need to be lifelong learners. Similarly, reasonable access for all educators to PD opportunities is an important element to develop their positive beliefs, attitudes, skills, and knowledge, which are essential to translate new concepts and ideas into specific and meaningful plans for change and innovations as well as to incorporate them into their day-to-day routine.
Grieve and McGinley (2010) argue that PD should be focused more on a continuing journey, rather than an objective to be achieved, that is undertaken within the context of its unique needs and circumstances. According to Aleandri and Refrigeri (2013), PD in various professions is seen as a fundamental component for economic development in the competitive global economy. Considering this perspective, Sharma, Loreman, and Forlin (2012) argue that teachers ought to establish a comprehensible and effective approach to PD, if they are to be prepared adequately to work efficiently in the classrooms.
Awareness must be raised among the teaching community regarding the importance of PD, which would enable them to demand access to opportunities that allow them to develop, recommend, and implement strategies for improving services. Multiple approaches should be integrated to address the complex and ever-changing characteristics of program contents and teachers’ needs; therefore, PD approaches must include opportunities for program as well as self-determined activities. Conducting a study on teachers’ professional development, Postholm (2012) contends that “Schools should have a support system for teachers’ professional development, and that teachers should be given the opportunity to plan, implement, and evaluate their practice based on reflection, starting from studies of their own practice” (p. 413).
The tail end of the twentieth century saw an upsurge in the recognition of the urgency of teachers’ PD. Almost all important educational proposals stressed professional development as an important means in bringing about the needed changes in the quality of education. Simultaneously, doubts regarding the efficacy of all types of PD activities in education were being raised and with these questions came the growing demand for tangible results. Stakeholders like policymakers, funding agencies, and teachers all wanted to know if the PD programs were effective, and if so, what evidence was available to prove it. Until recently, PD had focused mainly on assisting and facilitating teachers and administrators to develop secluded skills and strategies for improving various aspects of the educational process.
Conventional forms of PD that include lectures, workshops, and other modes of development and training are top-down and isolated from classroom realities to have an impact on teachers’ practice and are therefore, a waste of time. Although much of this criticism is probably warranted, there is a theory-demonstration-practice-feedback and follow-up model advocated by Joyce and Showers (1982) that emphasizes the importance of coaching and supporting in the classroom. Although an effective model, it involves time and resources on an ongoing basis. Researchers agree that the usual PD programs tend to be disjointed, having a weak effect on practice as they lack focus, intensity, follow-up, and continuity. DeMonte (2013) affirms that irregular and out-of-context training opportunities are ineffective and lack quality. Thus, such PD fail to reflect the complex relationships and interdependency among all aspects of the overall educational process (Woodcock & Hardy, 2017).
Using a qualitative research method, a small-scale study was conducted involving 12 college teachers working in eight public sector degree colleges in Karachi, Pakistan. Twenty-five percent (3) were male, while seventy-five percent (9) were female as the ratio of male teachers, especially in degree colleges is relatively very small. Appointments were fixed through the principals to conduct short 30-minute individual interviews to find out the perceptions of teachers regarding professional development by using a self-developed semi-structured interview guide. Individual interviews were preferred over focused group interviews as each college did not have more than two teachers and asking them to collect at a common venue for group interviews entailed a risk of dropouts that could have proved detrimental to the study. Secondly, the colleges were about to close for summer break, and asking teachers to collect in one place for the interviews would not have proved feasible. Despite careful planning, one teacher did not turn up for the interview without giving any prior notice. These interviews were recorded with the approval of the interviewees and it was also guaranteed that the names of the colleges and the interviewees would not be revealed publicly or on a personal basis. The data analysis spiral was used to analyse the data collected. According to Creswell and Poth (2018), spiral analysis includes: managing and organizing the data, reading and memorizing the themes that emerge, unfolding and categorizing codes into themes, and finally developing and examining interpretations.
Three distinct themes emerged: (a) institutional support; (b) professional development programs based on needs assessments; and (c) ongoing follow-up and evaluation. The overall findings revealed that despite having three to twelve years of teaching experience, a large number of teachers (75 per cent) were of the opinion that teachers’ professional development was not worth considering as they had a postgraduate degree and were well equipped to teach. For instance, a teacher said:
“If the Ministry of Education thinks that I need training after doing masters, it needs to review the master’s course in Literature. I have seven years of teaching experience and I know that I am doing a good job because there have been no complaints from the students and the results in the exams have been good.”
The fact is that the teachers after completion of master’s are asked to teach from the first day, though the opportunities should be linked with successful completion of ‘orientation program’ resulting in using the same approaches and methodologies that were used by the predecessor teachers.
A teacher from a degree college complained and exclaimed:
“I have been working for the past five years in this college and I’ve never had the opportunity to attend any workshop or seminar. I would like to know about the latest developments in my field, but the head of the department doesn’t allow us to attend seminars organized by universities and private institutions because of shortage of staff. It seems that she doesn’t believe in PD of teachers. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) should issue orders to release us for such academic pursuits at least once every three years and it should follow up to ensure that PD opportunities are offered to us on an on-going basis.”
It is manifest that no matter how excellent a PD opportunity might be, it is of little value if it is not accessible to those who need it the most at the right time or is available to a selected number of teachers resulting in negligible or irrelevant outcomes. The heads and principals of colleges and departments of the universities should realize the importance of the PD programs and make provisions to release the teachers. Professional development has not been considered as a fundamental part of making teachers adroit, innovative and productive in the classroom; thus, educational institutions do not normally incorporate time to engage in professional activities such as research, learning, and practising new skills, or participating in PD activities (Gopang, 2016). Administrators, parents, and legislators typically view anything that pulls instructors away from direct involvement with students as unfavourable. Indeed, faculty frequently feel guilty when they are away from their classrooms for reorganisation or staff development. On the other hand, a teacher from a government college situated in a very backward area of Karachi shared:
“My head is very supportive and encourages us to attend professional development activities and makes it a point to share with us any upcoming event, although we have to pay for it. We appreciate her support and encouragement.”
Some teachers shared that those who were motivated and wanted to pursue PD activities and were even willing to pay the fee, faced various obstacles and as a result had limited their academic activities to only teaching. A teacher reiterated:
“Even if I put in time, effort and money to attend courses, would the government give me any incentives in the form of promotion, increased pay or responsibility, or transfer to colleges in better areas of the city after I complete the course? I have a family to support, so I’d rather spend money on my children than on paying the course fee.”
It was also quite evident from the findings that the majority of the teachers were interested in attending PD activities with the condition that the courses fulfill their needs and the government provides them with some incentives on completion of the course. Among all of the participants, nine stated that they did not get any support or opportunity to clarify their aims and interests; therefore, PD had no value for them. When asked to amplify this point, a teacher vehemently stated:
“PD opportunities are not made open, but extended to those who have a supportive backing of the administration or those who have connections with the higher-ups. These handpicked teachers attend training programs not for professional growth, but to get themselves relieved from the drudgery and workload of teaching and other responsibilities. Furthermore, we are forced to attend in-service programs that are irrelevant to our jobs and needs. I don’t want to waste my time.”
One teacher shared:
“My friends work in private educational institutions and they are given opportunities to attend in-service programs. Their schools organize in-service programs for them during summer break based on their needs. They are also given opportunities to attend workshops and courses organized outside their schools and their institutions support teachers who are interested in attending conferences. One of my friends joined a well-known school as a class teacher and within three years she became the Academic Coordinator. What do we teachers get -nothing and then we are blamed for imparting poor quality education.”
The majority of the teachers voiced that unless changes were made in the existing curriculum, teachers would not be interested in involving themselves in any PD activities as was linked to both organizational and individual needs.
A teacher suggested:
“If you ask me, regular workshops should be conducted district–wise for government teachers so that everybody is given an opportunity to attend at least one course every five years. These should be quality courses planned to meet our needs and I would strongly recommend that these workshops should be developed in coordination with the local experts, and there should be a follow-up to make sure that what is learnt is implemented.”
In the same vein, another teacher expressed her views and opined:
“The resource persons should be carefully selected and whatever is taught should be contextualized. After the workshop or the course, there should be provision for follow-up to find out if the skills learnt are being implemented in the class and what further help is required.”
Two teachers summarized their academic responsibilities as taking classes and marking papers. Over and above this, they had no obligation towards their profession, with the result that most teachers had started considering their profession as ordinary jobs without understanding the value of their contribution to the growth of the society.
This deplorable situation is a reality of life for almost all teachers teaching in public sector educational institutions. Out of the top four barriers in attending in-service training as identified in a research carried out by Mincemoyer and Kelsey (1999), three were similar to the present study, that is, (a) difficulty taking out time from job; (b) scheduling conflict; and (c) in-service viewed as irrelevant to the job. If today’s teachers are to be adequately prepared to meet the challenges they are facing, this laissez-faire inefficient approach to PD must come to an end. We must start realizing that this concept has to be accepted and recognized by the teachers and the government as not only a welcome process, but one that is necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of professional competence. The needs are genuine and resources limited to simply continue or expand today’s inefficient and ineffectual arrangements. The present and future situations unless dealt with sympathetically, may lead to greater alienation from teaching rather than positive involvement (Nicholls, 2014).
Taking into consideration the present professional development situation in Pakistan, the following three-branched PD system would suit the local context:
Professional Development programs in reality should be the primary obligation of the state, to ensure that all teachers receive the training to carry out their job responsibilities effectively; however, the state policymakers have paid little attention to the form, content or quality of PD. To make PD more effective and more consistent, stakeholders from all levels of government, as well as other service delivery areas (teachers, administrators etc.) should be aware of the problems they are trying to resolve and the conditions under which teachers are likely to bring about change in their learning and teaching styles. The policymakers must also think about the quality and relevance of experience provided to teachers. Under the given scarcity of resources, the policymakers should strive to be efficient and allocate additional resources by making full use of local expertise. The government should develop a strong, but flexible framework to base the PD programs on it. It is a well-established fact that a framework can assist school leaders in the thoughtful planning, implementation and evaluation of professional growth and development experiences (Antoniou & Kyriakides, 2013).
Establishing and maintaining such a framework requires active support and involvement of individuals at state and local levels. Such a framework can easily fit in the local context as it does not require over and above human or capital resources. The government should contact key stakeholders such as educational institution administrators, teachers, and educational leaders and engage them in healthy discussions about the inadequacy of existing PD opportunities and the alternative plans required to support reforms in standards, curriculum, and instruction. At the same time, the government should review the policies, practices and programs that shape PD in Pakistan. It should set standards and priorities whereby guidance could be provided to develop, design, and conduct PD activities based on input from educators and linked to state performance and content standards. This could enhance the possibility of using time and resources dedicated to PD constructively. The most important responsibility of the government should be to involve educators and teachers in the planning and delivery of PD activities. Oversight by the government to use outstanding and exemplary human resources to lead PD, results in waste of talent, increases costs, and creates a rift between research and practice.
The government could also utilize the services of teachers to set standards for PD. A stark reality that comes forward is that the innovation procedures of teachers to PD courses are not transparent and fail to consider their basic PD needs. Consequently, at the time of selection, no distinction is made between inexperienced teachers and those who are experienced, qualified, and willing to grow. In the same way, the distribution of resources should be according to the number of schools, colleges and universities in each district rather than in cities and towns. The most important step that the government should take is to revamp the incentive system that affects teachers’ participation in professional activities and the contribution made by them in implementing new content or skills learnt in their teaching environment. Though the state will continue to play an important role in supporting and restructuring PD efforts, it should not be forgotten that the primary focus for change would continue to be at the institutional level, where realities and priorities for change can be best identified.
Since teachers are one of the agents responsible for implementing change, the PD process regardless of its form, must be relevant to them and directly address their specific needs and concerns. These needs should be identified by them rather than an outsider, who may not have taught for years and at the same time may not be aware of teaching-learning concepts or trends of the time. Teachers’ voices in determining their needs should carry weight in identifying the skills and knowledge areas on which activities are to be focused. Teachers should be introduced to the idea of planning their PD by realizing the qualities expected of the developing teacher and relating their learning to their personal experiences, as indicated through Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle, that is, concrete experience, observation and reflection, forming abstract concepts, and planning and testing. Furthermore, as teachers are active participants, needs assessment must form the base of all PD activities. Needs assessment; therefore, should be conducted only when there is a real reason to do so and where some clearly defined follow-up will take place. According to Beck and Kosnik (2017), the teachers can use a variety of needs assessment tools to collect data that are available in the market or designed specifically for the educational institution, although it is recommended that with the consultation of the administrators, the following tools may be used in combination to give a holistic picture:
PD opportunities should offer a series of approaches and activities so that the teachers have the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge and skills and practice what they have learnt. There is no single best PD approach and ideally, several approaches should be incorporated into one PD system so that the teachers have the option of selecting the experiences that are most suitable to their learning style and the skills they want to develop (Osamwonyi, 2016). Four approaches that have been supported by many educationists and could be comfortably incorporated into the PD system are:
Evaluation is a critical component of any PD program and it needs to be incorporated within all PD activities starting right from the planning stage. Evaluations should consider questions such as:
For effective evaluation results, the evaluation must be incorporated within all aspects of the PD process, which could serve as a road map for successful PD activities that focus upon changed instructional practices resulting from such activities.
In Pakistan, the outcomes of PD are hardly measured beyond the brief responses requested after the workshops. The role of evaluation is not only to provide information on the impact of PD, but also to provide data for refining and adjusting the relevant activities and to ensure that services can be improved on an ongoing basis. If the use of new practices is to be sustained and changes are to be implemented, the teachers involved need to receive regular feedback, otherwise there is a strong possibility of abandoning new practices in the absence of any evidence of positive effects. Teachers need substantial time to test out new ideas that they have learnt, assess their effect, reflect on the changes, implement, and assess again to make learning meaningful (Kalinowski, Gronostaj, & Vock, 2019). What happens in reality is that once they return to their workplace, the administration shows an indifferent attitude and the question arises who is willing to take the initiative to provide support to the teachers?
Evaluation devices such as interviews, student evaluations, classroom observations, teacher reflections, program evaluation, and many more are for meaningful outcomes and processes (Dilshad, Hussain, & Batool, 2019). Different devices can be used in different contexts, but it is advisable to employ a combination of devices to create a comprehensive evaluation of PD. Each tool has its advantages and disadvantages, but one thing is evident that the evaluation procedure requires expertise, time, and material resources. The most suitable and easy to administer tools would be teacher reflections, probably in combination with classroom observations. The teachers must understand the value of work-in and work-on reflections, are trained to reflect at various levels, and a valid and reliable observation procedure is followed.
The findings of the current study give a brief overview of the concept of PD programs as perceived by the teachers in Pakistan, its immediate needs, and what goals and strategies should be followed to equip them for the future. It also illustrates that although the process of change is difficult and complex, the teachers should begin to understand how to facilitate that process through pragmatic adaptations to suit their specific context, so that ongoing professional growth and improved professional practices are ensured. It is important not to leave the apparent relationship between PD and teacher growth to chance. Teachers are most motivated to participate in and implement professional development efforts when they believe that they are supported by the administration. Effective PD, if considered wisely, can become the process through which educators can examine thoughtfully and critically the purpose, role, structure, and organization of the institution concerning the increasingly diverse students and communities they serve. The educational field in Pakistan needs a new ethic for PD, one that is sincerely supported and reflected in the educational policies of the country, one that ties PD to promote learning, one that structures PD as an ongoing part of the professional work environment, and one that promotes development by local expertise. This is indeed a mammoth responsibility, but the need of the day. It is up to us who are responsible in the field of PD to determine whether we are up to the challenge. The future researchers are recommended to test the proposed professional development system and analyse if it could contribute in the teaching profession in order to enhance the teachers’ PD.
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