Environment, resources, health and welfare are all necessary prerequisites to quality education. Good teaching, however, is the key to nurturing the development of independent, creative learners. Professional development of rural teachers, therefore, is the core objective of CSF’s programs.
Teachers in rural schools rarely have the same academic qualifications as their urban counterparts. In rural primary schools, it is common for teachers to have no more than middle school or high school education themselves. Qualifications and tradition conspire to favor teacher-centered, rote learning approaches that favor memorization over understanding the norm.
In spite of government efforts and incentive programs, attracting better-trained teachers to the rural areas is made difficult by modest pay and difficult living conditions. Training programs that emphasize theory over practice have little if any impact when teachers return to their classrooms. The reach of IT-based professional development programs is limited by the widespread lack of computer hardware and connectivity. Numbers make it all the more difficult to effect change, as the challenge of training the enormous number of primary school teachers in rural schools is Herculean.
CSF’s approach to professional development takes account of the real world conditions. The keys to change management in pedagogy are keeping within the teachers’ comfort zone and scalability of the training program. Accordingly, we are developing programs that rely on the existing national curriculum textbooks as closely as possible. In collaboration with domestic and overseas educators and teacher training institutions, we are developing ‘model lessons’ that integrate the new, hands-on teaching materials (science apparatus, musical instruments, art materials, and the like) into these lessons and that model more progressive teaching methodologies. These model lessons, delivered by master teachers, are being filmed in rural classrooms and enhanced with captioned practice pointers.
Together with supporting teaching materials, these models can be replicated easily, so that teachers gain experience in application of progressive concepts such as inquiry, hands-on learning, collaborative study, and constructivist teaching and learning. In the second phase of our professional development program we will mentor teacher reflection and independent development of best practices.
CSF is collaborating with Beijing Normal University’s Department of Chinese Language in development of model lessons for the Chinese curriculum and with a professor at the University of Vermont in development of an enhanced music curriculum. Science curriculum
development is in process with the largest manufacturer of school science apparatus in China, and other curriculum subjects will follow as we identify appropriate partners.
In time, CSF will compile a comprehensive, cross-curricular library of model lessons that can be shared with Education Bureaus throughout the country and connect teachers in a collaborative professional development platform.