When Rural Meets Urban: The Transfer Problem Chinese Pre-service Teachers Face in Teaching Practice

February, 2016

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol . 42, No . 1, 28–49, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examined the transfer problems experienced by pre-service teachers enrolled in the Free Normal Education programme during their internship teaching practicums. It was their first significant point of exposure to such problems.

The participants were 35 pre-service teachers majoring in moral-political education at East China Normal University (ECNU). All of the participants were from the class of 2011.

Data were collected through observations of four pre-service teachers teaching in the same Shanghai high school.
The author also conducted interviews with these pre-service teachers and their two practicum school mentors.
Finally, the author administered a questionnaire to all pre-service teachers in the class of 2011.

The author found three patterns in transfer problems.
First, the participants’ personal backgrounds (rural/urban, eastern/central/western) generally correlated to various degrees with how they perceived their previous learning experiences and teaching practice.
Second, participants from rural backgrounds who returned to their hometowns for their practicums found their prior learning experiences to be less useful than did their urban counterparts, and were less familiar with the teaching skills they had been taught at university.
Third, rural background participants who undertook their practicums in Shanghai viewed their teaching experiences as excellent, but still faced many difficulties.

The author has suggested possible explanations for the transfer problems these pre-service teachers encountered in their teaching practicums.
First, the author argues that the eastern/central/western divide’s influence on schools’ responses to teacher education programmes’ weak teaching-skill training;
second, he claims that the rural/urban divide’s influence on rural students’ previous learning experiences and perceptions of urban-centred education; and,
third, he argues how rural pre-service teachers combined their present and past education experiences to respond to the teaching challenges they faced in Shanghai schools.

Finally, this study supplements the literature on the transfer problem by proposing a three-culture framework (situated in the context of China’s rural/urban divide) for understanding the transfer problem faced by Chinese pre-service teachers in their teaching practice.
This framework includes three different learning and teaching cultures that reveal the schism between rural and urban education in China (pre-university education culture; university teacher education culture; and, practicum school culture.
First, the author has found that teacher education programmes do not sufficiently consider rural pre-service teachers’ previous learning experience, and fewer rural than urban pre-service teachers agreed that the knowledge and teaching skills they learned in university were helpful in their teaching practice. This finding supports suggestions in the extant literature that transfer problems arise if students’ prior perceptions about teaching and learning differ from the theories they are taught in teacher education.
Second, the author shows that gaps between pre-service teachers’ pre-university education culture and their practicum school’s culture may give rise to different results not been widely discussed in the transfer problem literature.
Finally, the author shows that the differences between the abstract, systematised and general expert knowledge provided in teacher education and the action-guiding knowledge teachers need in their actual teaching practice are a source of transfer problems; however, their emergence depends on the specific practicum school’s culture. 

Updated: Nov. 14, 2018