RESEARCHERS have backed calls for major reforms of training for student teachers who spend just 17 weeks in classrooms before beginning their careers.
Dr Andy Burke of the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College in Dublin claims in an academic journal article that most teacher preparation programmes are dysfunctional in some respects. He focuses on the Bachelor of Education (BEd) degrees at the two larger teacher training colleges, St Patrick’s College and Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, from which most of the annual 1,000 BEd students graduate.
A working group report to the Department of Education suggested in 2001 that the BEd degree be extended from three years to four, with the option of studying additional education subjects to the academic ones from which students on most courses choose their major and minors. The proposal was to add subjects such as psychology, sociology, early childhood education, literacy, maths, music or science education and special education to the current choices, which include Irish, English, French, history, geography, maths and religious studies.
Although two-thirds of teaching time on the degrees is devoted to professional studies, previous research shows that students give at least half their study time to these academic subjects.
Dr Burke’s survey of almost 1,000 final-year BEd students from 2004 to 2008 has found that three-quarters would prefer the option of majoring in a subject within the professional education area, as opposed to the traditional academic subjects.
However, the 2001 proposals have never been implemented by the Government, and previous education minister Mary Hanafin suggested in 2006 that the BEd could be restricted to three years by dropping academic subjects and giving more time to prepare student teachers to deal with disadvantage, special needs, behavioural and other issues.
Based on his own studies and other research, Dr Burke concludes that the BEd’s brevity and overloaded nature are harmful to student teachers’ professional development.
“It would seem that the effectiveness of the current BEd is seriously limited by [a] lack of adequate and realistic school-based experience,” he wrote in an article for the Department of Education journal Oideas.
He wrote that the 17 weeks of teaching practice across the three-year degree was too short for trainee teachers to gain experience of wider school issues outside the classroom setting.
“While principals and teachers are more than generous in facilitating class-based placements, it would be unreasonable and unrealistic to expect them to provide whole-school experiences during the few weeks that students are with them. In such short periods, student teachers do not get to know staff, pupils or parents well enough to engage in such,” wrote Dr Burke.
An Irish National Teachers’ Organisation spokesperson said the union agrees that school placements are too short and wants to see them extended as part of a four-year BEd programme.
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