Education: The education ministry is attempting to update teaching methods and allow teachers to better engage students.

The need to update the pedagogy stems from the findings of a number of studies and feedback from teachers.

“A number of studies by the ministry and experts from within the country, and even the feedback from teachers have revealed the difficulty in engaging students as one of the challenges in the conventional teaching method,” Department of School Education (DoSE) chief programme officer, Phuntsho Wangdi said.

Researchers also found that teachers lacked motivation not in terms of incentives but tools to engage and promote interactive classes. “The answer was framing transformative pedagogy adopted from Dr Spencer Kagan’s collaborative learning structures,” Phuntsho Wangdi said.

Rangjung central school principal, Tashi Namgyal, who has been engaged in the adoption of transformative pedagogy said that the conventional teaching method failed to take care of learning abilities of individual students.

For instance, in conventional discussions, the brightest or the talkative would always dominate the discourse with poor performers withdrawing from the participation.

Transformative Pedagogy

The trainers and facilitators defined transformative pedagogy as adoption of Dr Spencer Kagan’s cooperative learning structures, active learning strategies and modules based on brain-based learning, multiple and emotional intelligences, and transformative assessments.

Put simply, it is a learner centred and student engaging method rather than the conventional lecture method. Today, everything is fed by the teacher including the notes. Transformative pedagogy is about engaging students through discourse, group work and partners.

“This set of learning emphasises student engagement, participation, ownership and making learning processes fun and exciting,” Tashi Namgyal said. The teacher will just be a facilitator for learning.

For instance, the transformative pedagogy emphasises on arranging the sitting arrangement in such a way that each group has a high and low performing member. That way every student gets an opportunity for active participation in the class.

“In transformative pedagogy, a clear role is set out for every student so a student who is doing well cannot dominate nor can a coy one shy away from participation,” Tashi Namgyal said.

The training has also incorporated eight multiple intelligences while planning the lesson plans to suit the learning abilities of different students. For instance, while there are students who learn through writing and reading, some learn through visuals. “The training thus emphasises on considering the needs of individual learners,” Phuntsho Wangdi said.

The transformative pedagogy also facilitates academic equity, bridges the achievement gaps, promotes social skills, personal organisation and builds students as an individual and as part of a team.

The teachers were also oriented with skills to deal with learners from different family backgrounds, mood and circumstances considering their emotions. The training also attempts to refresh the teachers on assessing the students’ progress on a daily basis.

Suitability of transformative pedagogy

Debate however ensued among the participants on whether transformative pedagogy is doable in a classroom with over 35 students and given the vastness of the syllabus.

“Given an ideal situation, it is going to work but we had this debate on if it is applicable in the Bhutanese classrooms with large numbers of students,” Wangduecholing lower secondary school’s Dawa Tshering T said.

Tashi Namgyal pointed out that the beauty of the structure is that it is applicable and suitable even for large numbers of students. He added that some of the schools in Thimphu, Paro and Chukha that have piloted this pedagogy under the erstwhile Royal Education Council’s initiative, have done well.

Introduction of Kagan’s cooperative learning method in Gaupel lower secondary school (LSS) has been successful. “While initially we had difficulty with students following new methods, it however has helped improve academic performance and critical thinking among the students,” Gaupel LSS teacher, Deki Choden said.

Curriculum review

The participants also felt the curriculum, which was prepared based on the conventional method, be reviewed. “With transformation in the pedagogy we think that there should be some alignment of the curriculum and assessment,” Phuntsho Wangdi said.

REC educational leadership unit head, Lhundup Dukpa, said that the curriculum does not need aligning but needs a revisit. “Teachers were complaining of lack of adequate time to cover the syllabus because they had no tools to teach,” Lhundup Dukpa said, adding that reformations for some subjects are already underway.

In absence of such teaching methods for teacher trainees, participants also felt that such pedagogy must be taught from the teacher training institutes.

Lecturers from Samtse and Paro colleges of education were present at the training as observers. “They were here to observe on how their modules differ from transformative pedagogy and what new methods can be learnt and adopted back in the college,” Phuntsho Wangdi said.

Paro College of Education senior lecturer Kinzang Lhendup who has been attending the trainings said that his college supports no such teaching modules. “We teach our student-teachers other strategies but this is definitely not in our curriculum,” Kinzang Lhendup said.

But after having attended the training, the senior lecturer said that he would talk with his college on whether these methods could be incorporated into the curriculum.

“The education ministry has a bigger plan. We need to align our curriculum with what the ministry is doing,” Kinzang Lhendup said, adding that the institute should be smart enough to take this as a priority and to incorporate the method even without reviewing the modules.

Dzongkha teachers are also engaged in translating the transformative pedagogy to Dzongkha for training Dzongkha teachers.

Over 120 educationists such as principals, vice principals, and dzongkhag education officers, among others, are currently being trained in Thimphu. These 120 trainers are expected to train around 3,200 teachers across the country from 40 centres by July 25. The training for the rest of the over 8,605 teachers will conducted after the Local Government elections.

Tempa Wangdi