Learning

Bringing Change in Teachers’ Professional Development Initiatives: Learning from English in Action (EiA) Project in Bangladesh

TOUFIQ HASAN


Abstract: This essay seeks to explore the potential opportunities and challenges of the teachers’ professional development model of English in Action (EiA) project in Bangladesh. It reviews the prevailing professional development opportunities for the English teachers in Bangladesh which demands the emergence need of change in teacher development approach that EiA’s model tried to address. Review of the literature provides evidence in this essay that integration of mobile technology to enhance teachers’ pedagogical and language skill is an effective approach to achieve success. Using technology to support teachers along with other effective supportive teacher development approaches apparently make EiA’s model very promising. However, this essay also describes some of the challenges for this model which includes teachers’ limited knowledge on mobile technologies, countrywide poor electric supply system to operate such technology based model. This essay concludes with the question of sustainability of this project as sustainability is a big challenge for all big budget education reform projects in Bangladesh.

Key words:
Teachers’ Professional Development; English in Action Project; Mobile Technology; Communicative Language Teaching; Bangladesh

Introduction
English in Action“The greater the importance attached to education as whole- whether for cultural transmission, for social cohesion and justice, or for human resource development so critical in modern, technology based economics- the higher is the priority must be accorded to the teachers responsible for that education” (OECD, 1989). Hence, the teacher education and training is a burning issue not only in Global North but also in countries of Global South such as Bangladesh. Factors like restructuring the curriculum, reformations in educational policies, increasing demand for using technologies in education are creating challenges on the prevailing teachers’ professional development models about their appropriateness to cope up with recent changes happening in education. In Bangladesh, the new curriculum for English has prescribed Communicative Language Teaching method to be taken place in the classroom by the teachers instead of traditional Grammar Translation method. Technology can play a significant role in communicative language education. Kukulska-Hulme (2009) suggested that language education can be benefited from widespread ownership of mobile devices such as third generation mobile phones and media players. English in Action (EiA) is the largest education program in Bangladesh working to improve the English teaching-learning by supporting the teachers through its technology integrated teachers’ professional development model. This essay therefore will try to describe teachers’ professional development in general, and then it will focus on prevailing opportunities of professional development for English teachers in Bangladesh. The essay will also describe the technology integrated teachers’ professional development model by EiA, and then it will discuss some of the achievements and challenges of EiA interventions for teacher development in Bangladesh.

Teachers’ professional development: A general overview
Teachers are at the core of any attempts which intend to expand, improve or reform the education system (Shohel and Banks, 2010). Teaching takes place in a tough world where it faces challenges from frequent changes in educational policies, curriculum, assessment system which might influence directly or indirectly on teaching. Also there are technological, economical and social challenges for schools (therefore the teachers) not only in global north but also the Antipodes (Day, 1999, p.7). Traditionally, teaching has always been considered as a job for life. However, it is no more a secured lifetime job. Increasing notion of accountability and public scrutiny keep pressurising the teachers to be professionally updated to secure their job in this competitive market trend of education. For all these factors, teaching demands the opportunities for professional development. Not only from the teachers’ aspect but also the education providers (largely the state, specifically the schools), it is important to create provisions for teachers’ professional development to ensure the quality of education. Hargreaves (1994) emphasised on investing in professional development to improve schools.

Hence, professional development of teachers is now a burning issue in education. Many definitions of professional development give emphasis on its purpose as a process of acquisition the subject or content knowledge and pedagogical skills (Joyce and Showers, 1980). However, as cited by Day (1999, p.4), “Professional development is the process by which, alone and with others, teachers review, renew and extend their commitment as change agents to the moral purposes of teaching; and by which they acquire and develop critically the knowledge, skills and emotional intelligence essential to good professional thinking, planning and practice with the children, young people and colleagues through each phase of their teaching lives.”

There are different dimensions of teachers’ professional development. Teachers’ collaboration is one of the most important dimensions of professional development. It is an effective way where teachers engage in dialogue and learn from each other by reflecting on their own practices. Nias (1989) described that teachers would be able to consider different ways of teaching to teach a particular subject or content by working collaboratively.

In-service education and training is another important dimension of teachers’ professional development. It includes professional courses, training on different issues, workshops, conferences for teachers to enhance the growth, as Day (1999, p. 131) explained that the growth can be either additive (new knowledge, skill, understanding) or it can be transformative (resulting in major changes in beliefs, knowledge, skills or understandings)

Teachers’ engagement in action research, either individually or collaboratively (Markward and Marino, 2008); classroom observation (Hopkins, 1993); coaching or mentoring (Pfannamstiel et al. , 2000) are some other recognized dimensions of teachers’ professional development around the world.

Professional development opportunities for English teachers in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has over 17 million students in primary schools learning English as their second language (Hamid and Honan, 2012). Since 1992, English has been included in both national primary and secondary curriculum of Bangladesh as a compulsory subject from grade one to grade twelve which means English is sharing the same curricular weight as the first language Bangla in the national curriculum of Bangladesh. Traditionally, teachers followed mostly Grammar Translation Method (GTM) for teaching English by giving more emphasis on writing and reading (Kirkwood and Ray, 2011).

Nation’s association with global economy is related with a discourse of English in getting access to global market (Hamid 2010). Further, it demands a communicative or functional view of language competencies. However, National Curriculum and Text Book Board (NCTB) of Bangladesh attempted a huge shift in English teaching approaches by introducing new books for English named as English for Today which put stress on Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) method to ensure more communication is taking place in the classroom using English language. CLT emphasizes on more interactive language teaching where speaking and listening skills are also considered with high importance along with writing and reading skills. Yet, Hasan and Akhand (2009) reported that the implantation of CLT based English for Today faced many difficulties as most of teachers including teacher trainers learned English by means of GMT but they are now being expected to teach or train in CLT mode.

However, government and non-government organizations took a number of initiatives by means of in-service teacher training programs to support English teachers to cope up with CLT based teaching. UNICEF funded in English subject based training for primary English teachers through Primary Education Development Project-II (PEDP-II). At secondary level, major government initiative was the Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI) project which was launched in 2006 with a target to train 28000 English teachers. BRAC, the largest non-government organization involved in both primary and secondary education, is also working with secondary English teacher training through PACE program. Another project ‘English Language Teaching Improvement Project (ELTIP)’ funded by Department of International Development (DFID) was initiated to train secondary English teachers from 1997 and continued until the mid of 2008 before it got the fund restricted (Hamid and Baldauf, 2008). ELTIP started again in collaboration with TQI to continue supporting in English teachers’ in-service training.

Despite all these initiatives from government and non-government organization, both the teaching and language competence of teachers remain low. TQI (2007) study reported that classroom practice in English language teaching is still very much traditional Grammar-Translation method based which was supported by further studies (Hamid and Baldauf, 2008; Chowdhury and Le Ha, 2008). 67% English language teachers use Bangla more than English in English class (English in Action, 2010a). Nearly 50% of English teachers are teaching in government primary and secondary schools with lower spoken language competence than expected level, some teachers even teach English with lower spoken competence than students (English in Action, 2010b). Further, there is hardly any culture of collaboration, mutual support and sharing of professional experiences among teachers (Thornton, 2006).

This dismal picture of English teachers and English teaching somehow put stress to rethink about whole teacher training programs as they failed to support the teachers to cope up with CLT based English curriculum. However, this situation can only be improved by adapting an effective teachers’ professional development model which would be able to support teachers considering their low level of language competency to cope up with CLT approach of English teaching. What new interventions in teachers’ professional development model can make real impacts- is a big question to find the answer.

English in Action (EiA) project: Bringing change in teacher development approaches
English in Action (EiA) is a nine year (2008-2017) education project initiated at the request of Bangladesh government and funded by UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID). The goal of EiA is to ‘contribute to the economic growth of Bangladesh by providing English language as a tool for better access to the world economy’ (English in Action, 2008). This project aims to support 25 million school children to achieve communicative skill of English language so that they would be able to compete and contribute in the national economic activities as well as global opportunities. This is being addressed through educational initiatives operating in three sectors – Primary education, Secondary education and adult literacy.

In partnership with the respective government ministries and authorities in all six administrative divisions of Bangladesh, EiA initiated school-based interventions which involved supported open learning (SOL) and use of media technologies interactive materials to increase teachers’ motivation and to increase teachers’ access to resources to realize the communicative aspects of the National English Curriculum.

The project partnered with The Open University, UK and BBC World Service Trust. Open University is involved in materials development for teacher’ professional development initiatives and BBC World Service Trust is supporting in adult literacy component. The Open University team has prepared audio tracks supported with printed materials for using in English lessons. Also audio, video and printed materials were produced to develop teachers’ classroom teaching practices in relation to communicative approaches of English teaching.

Using mobile technologies can make a significant role in educational development initiatives in Global South (Banks 2009, Banks at al. 2009), particularly in communicative language learning (Kukulska-Hulme and Shield, 2008). EiA, therefore, aimed to develop English teaching and learning significantly by introducing mobile technology. Through this project, teachers are given a digital media player- Apple iPod Touch preloaded with audio-visual materials coupled with battery powered speakers to enhance communicative approach in English language teaching and learning as a means of integrating ICT based support in both teacher training and school based support system (Shohel and Power, 2010) .

EiA’s model of teachers’ professional development
Overall, EiA provides opportunities for professional development to the English teachers in Bangladesh by offering training with an aim to enhance their teaching skills in communicative approach as well as their language level.

The SOL approach means that in addition to the EIA resources on the digital media player, individual teachers also receive support from a range of other support sources such as other EiA participant teachers in the locality, a local mentor and an EIA Teacher Development Co-ordinator (TDC).

Hence the professional development model of EiA is a blend of different support packages for teachers including face to face training, teachers guide, a multi-media player (iPod) with pre-loaded materials, teacher collaboration, peer support, reflective writing based on classroom experience and supervision through classroom observation (Shohel and Power, 2010).

Each teacher receives a media player (iPod) pre-loaded with audio materials and battery powered speaker to use in the classroom. There are lot pre-recorded songs, rhymes, conversations filled in each media player so that the teachers can use them in the classrooms to demonstrate different communicative activities. The audio materials are used by linking with the school textbooks and other supplementary learning materials such as posters and flash cards. Teachers even with low level of language competencies can conduct effective English classes in communicative approach using these interactive materials if they can apply their learning from the training sessions.

Success and challenges of EiA model in Bangladesh context
In most typical teacher training programs, there is only provision for short term training for teachers which is not adequate to make real impact on teachers’ performances when teachers strive with their own level of competence. There was hardly any provision for follow up trainings or further supervision to check the appropriateness of the training in real classroom. So in most cases, teachers took these trainings as a routine work and they barely had tried to make any connections between their learning from training and their practices in the classrooms

However, EiA’s face to face training includes 3 workshops beginning with orientation workshop which is followed by interim workshop and evaluation workshop. In these face to face workshops, EiA trainers train the teachers on different aspects of communicative language teaching, using mobile technologies, how to integrate technology in classroom teaching.

Teachers also get support from the EiA’s strong supervision system when they finish their training and go back to school. EiA trained staffs regularly observe the classes of EiA trained teachers. At the end of each observation, the observer gives constructive feedback to support the teachers in improving classroom teaching.

Resources that can promote teachers professional developments are not accessible in most schools in Bangladesh (Hoque et al. 2011). However, the hand held mobile device, iPod by EiA has given the teachers continuous access to required resources such as lot of interactive audio-visual tracks and training modules.

Shohel and Kirkwood (2012, p. 8) reported that iPod materials had huge impact on teachers’ level of language particularly their speaking skills with correct pronunciation. The same study also noticed that video clips of good classroom practice had huge impact on teachers’ understanding of communicative teaching and learning.

Working in collaboration is a recognized way of achieving teachers’ professional development. Though hardly any culture of collaboration and mutual support prevailed among the teachers, EiA’s model of professional development creates opportunities for teachers to work in collaboration and to get benefitted from peer support. Monthly cluster meeting is a platform for EiA trained teachers to learn from each other. In every month, teachers meet in monthly cluster meeting to share their experiences and difficulties for using new technology based materials. They also share their success stories to inspire others with practical insights.

EiA prefers two teachers from each school to obtain the training so that they can form a pair to be mutually benefitted in forms of peer mentoring which helps the teachers to learn from each other within the school and feel more confident to bring positive change in teaching using communicative approach.

Poor language proficiency and lack of confidence to speak English in classroom were key barriers key barriers for most teachers. However, Shohel and Kirkwood (2012, p. 10) confirmed EiA’s success to build confidence among the trained teachers to use more English in the classrooms while they were considering ‘teacher guide’ and ‘peer support’ as contributing factors to build up such confidence.

However, integrating technology in teachers’ professional development is often very challenging when teachers are not very familiar to use technology based devices. Shohel and Kirkwood (2012, p. 12) felt that participant teachers in EiA training need to develop their technological skill to operate different functions of iPod to use it in the classroom or personally.

Though teachers are given the iPod touch with preloaded resources in it, teachers do not get the full ownership of the iPod and the iPod remains the property of EiA project. Kukulska-Hulme (2009, p. 159) has expressed his concern that ownership of the device makes a difference for the user – When it is borrowed, a device will not be used in the same way as when it is owned by the user; ownership provides more chances for experimenting and developing familiarity with the device.

The last three years (2008-2011) were included in EiA’s pilot phase. From this year, the project is going to scale up in full swing. However, it will be very challenging to scale up a big project like EiA with its technology based teacher development model in Bangladesh where electricity is both unreliable and not available for more than 30% of the total population (UNESCO, 2008).

Conclusion
With any prescribed change in the curriculum, teachers need to be developed at the same time through an effective model to fit up well with the change.

In Bangladesh, English language teaching and learning is going through a transitions phase from traditional approach to a more communicative approach which has created a crisis for both teachers and students to adapt with this new approach. English teachers need professional support to enhance their teaching skill in communicative approach as well as to develop their own level of the language skill. EiA’s model for English teachers’ professional development brought some light in this crisis. It will be too early to comment on project’s success as the project went through its pilot phase. However, some of the studies found inspiring impacts of EiA’s model on teachers’ development. Using mobile technology in teacher training and classroom activities brought significant changes in English language teaching and learning. Not only just bringing technology but also blending many other effective approaches for teachers’ development such teachers’ collaboration, peer mentoring, supportive supervision together make EiA’s model very promising. However like any other big budget donor funded education projects, sustainability is a huge challenge for this model. High financial cost of this model, risk of losing future investment for further continuation, poor infrastructural condition of the schools are some major challenges for this new model of teachers’ professional development to sustain in future. Despite these challenges, no doubt that EiA has been able to push a huge a shift in the field of teachers’ professional development in Bangladesh.


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TOUFIQ HASAN: Post-graduate student, University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

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