Being and becoming in teacher education: student-teachers’ freedom to learn in a College of Education in Ghana

August, 2020

Source: Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 50:6, 844-864

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The author maps perceptions of learning across a Diploma in Education (Dip. Ed.) programme at a College of Education in Southern Ghana.
She makes an original contribution to the literature by combining a sociocultural view of pre-service teacher-learning with an analytical framing of the pursuit of valued learning goals drawn from Amartya Sen’s capability approach (Sen 2009; Buckler 2014) to explore student-teachers’ freedom to learn across the formal and social contexts of the Dip.Ed.
The author focused on three research questions:
(1) What are student-teachers’ valued capabilities for learning to become a teacher?
(2) To what extent are these capabilities realised at a College of Education in Ghana?
(3) How can the exploration of capabilities for learning through a sociocultural lens help us think differently about teacher education?

The methodology was designed to capture valued capabilities for learning as they were pursued by student-teachers through ‘interaction, discourse and participation processes . . . across social and physical contexts’ (Lipponen and Kumpulainen 2011, 813), over one academic year (2014–2015) at a College of Education in Southern Ghana.
Twenty-two student-teachers volunteered to participate in the qualitative data-generating activity and nine (three from each year group) were randomly selected by the research assistants.
Selected student-teachers were shadowed for 1–2 days at three points during the year:
through this shadowing the author observed 140 hours of college life which included 44 lessons, assemblies, break-times, worship, chores, relaxation and the prefect election.
The purpose of shadowing was to understand the sociocultural contexts, including, but also beyond scheduled teaching, which make up the learning environment.
Each participant was interviewed three times across the year.
A core set of questions was used to map changing ideas around key issues, but student-teachers were also asked to reflect on things that were significant to them at that point in time.
This paper draws on observational data, and the narratives of six campus-based first- and second-year student-teachers and four tutors.

Capabilities for student-teacher learning
This section focuses on the first two research questions:
What are student-teachers’ valued capabilities for learning to become a teacher, and to what extent are these capabilities realised at a College of Education in Ghana?
Through the inductive data analysis there emerged a shared vision of a teacher as: knowledgeable; respectable and responsible; and capable of creating positive change in pupils’ lives.
The deductive analysis grouped student-teachers’ descriptions of valued pursuits relating to these ideals into three capabilities: intellectual capability; reputational capability; and agentive capability.

This section responds to the third research question:
How can the exploration of capabilities for learning through a sociocultural lens help us to think differently about teacher education?
First it takes a Wengerian view regarding structural and relational norms of the college environment and explores how the student-teachers’ conceptualisation and pursuit of perceived capabilities for becoming a teacher is embedded in these norms.
It then considers how a better understanding of the sociocultural context surrounding capabilities for learning can help us to understand and plan for teacher education which might more appropriately facilitate capabilities which support teacher preparation.

This paper explored how capabilities for learning to become a teacher interrelate with the sociocultural learning environment in which they are negotiated and pursued.
The purpose was to move beyond the commonly relied upon deficit discourse which provides often inadequate explanations of teacher ‘preparedness’ which have proved to be unhelpful for policy (and teacher) development.
The locus of blame for unpreparedness is often shifted to the teacher educator, without considering the structural and social forces which influence the value placed on different kinds of knowledge, and how valued knowledge is mediated within institutions.
The analysis moved the debate beyond the common assertion that what is taught is not relevant, or too theoretical.
It showed that both student-teachers and tutors are engaged in the deferment of capabilities for teaching, and that this deferment is largely due to the collective positioning of tutors and the Administration as unchallengeable, and the student-teachers as un-agentive, but also to logistical and cultural restrictions tutors experience in terms of what, and how, they teach (see also Nyarkoh [2016]).
Crucially, both student-teachers and tutors recognise that the college programme is not supporting student-teachers to develop the professional capabilities they value (therefore inadequately preparing teachers for schools), but neither group feels able to admit this to each other, or to others within the system.
There are some practical suggestions from this study which could support an environment for the more democratic determination and realisation of capabilities for teacher learning.
Student-teachers could be allowed to wear their own clothes, for example.
There could still be expectations (and penalties) around neatness but relaxing the uniform codes would help student-teachers to feel more aligned with the tertiary system and less with the school system.
The process of staff pre-vetting prefect candidates could be removed so that being a prefect offers genuine opportunities for representing the student voice rather than reinforcing that of the Administration.
Both these shifts could enhance student-teachers’ reputational and agentive capability.
But all of these suggestions require more attention to aspects of the training programme which foster more democratic relationships between tutors and student-teachers.
The analysis has shown how these relationships can be challenged and nurtured in liminal spaces at the college, when the boundary between tutor and student-teacher is temporarily relaxed, and that these spaces in particular support the realisation of professional capability.
More spaces need to be created within the college programme for discussion around the kinds of people and knowledge the college is seeking to develop, and how the professional practice of both tutors and student-teachers support these purposes (Reeves 2010).

Buckler, A. 2014. “‘Teachers’ Professional Capabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa: Demonstrating and Debating a Method of Capability Selection and Analysis.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 17 (2): 161–177. doi:10.1080/19452829.2014.991706.
Lipponen, L., and K. Kumpulainen. 2011. “Acting as Accountable Authors: Creating Interactional Spaces for Agency Work in Teacher Education.” Teaching and Teacher Education 27: 812–819. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2011.01.001
Nyarkoh, E. 2016. “The Degree of Autonomy in Colleges of Education in Ghana: A Comparative Study of before and after Their Upgrade to Tertiary Status.” Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Philosophy, Department of Education, University of Oslo
Reeves, J. 2010. Professional Learning as Relational Practice. USA: Springer.
Sen, A. 2009. The Idea of Justice. London: Allen Lane.
Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. UK: Cambridge University Press 

Updated: Aug. 29, 2020