The knowledge gap between intended and attained curriculum in Ethiopian teacher education: identifying challenges for future development

January, 2021

Source: Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 51:1, 81-98

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper describes a study undertaken for second cycle primary teachers (teaching students aged 11–14, Ethiopian grades 5 to 8), analysing and comparing conceptual levels in the intended, implemented and attained Ethiopian teacher education curriculum for physics.
Attention focuses on attainment, because pre-service primary physics teachers (PSTs) frequently enter teacher education with poor physics knowledge.
Extant research points towards a potential gap between attained and intended learning outcomes (Rolleston, James, and Aurino 2013).
The paper utilises TIMSS achievement data for international comparison.
Although targeting students, not teacher education, the TIMSS assessment offers frameworks (Mullis and Martin 2013) and test items (e.g. TIMSS 2011) that permit comparison between two levels of conceptual knowledge: 13- year-olds (Population 2 in TIMSS), whom pre-service teachers are trained to teach; and last year of secondary education (Population 3 in TIMSS), which some teachers achieve prior to entry to teacher education.
This study analyses and compares physics conceptual levels in the intended, implemented and attained curriculum in Ethiopian teacher education for second primary cycle physics teachers. Specifically, the study investigates the learning gap between these curricula, with a view to providing evidence that may prompt change in teacher education practice in low-income nations.

Materials and methods
The study employed a mixed method design.
The attained curriculum was analysed via a physics knowledge test given to PSTs at the beginning and end of their third and final academic year.
Test items were accessed from the publicly available TIMSS item banks(Gonzales and Smith 1998; Gonzales, Smith, and Sibberns 1998), meaning that item score (facility) values were known.
This permitted comparison of Ethiopian pre-service teachers’ attainment scores on individual items with international mean values and extreme values, that is, the highest and lowest scoring nations in TIMSS.
The test comprised a ‘general’ section featuring items from the full physics curriculum and a ‘specialist’ section featuring items taught in physics courses attended by students in that academic year.
Note that the curriculum for the linear teacher education Diploma programme for all colleges is the same, but PSTs completed different specialist courses in the same semester in the CTEs involved.
The three-year teacher education was assumed to make up for PSTs low entry profile and bring up their knowledge level at the level of Grade 12.
To test for this, general items were selected from TIMSS Population 2, designed for 13 year olds.
In trialling, Population 3 items designed for students in their last year of compulsory secondary education proved to be very difficult for Ethiopian PSTs, generating low facility values.
So, general physics items in the final version were all from Population 2.
Specialist items were prepared for three topics, namely Electricity and Magnetism, Thermodynamics and Waves and Optics.
Specialist items included some from Population 3, because PSTs received teaching on these topics through at least half of the academic year in which they were tested, so their knowledge level could be expected to have improved from their point of entry.
The final test design featured 27 general items organised in three sub-sections each of nine questions.
PSTs responded to two sub-sections, that is, 18 items each time they were tested.
This design is possible when a test score is established using equating techniques in modern test theory (Lord 1980) and permits comparison of tests with overlapping items in which some but not all items are the same in two tests.
When analysing data, the authors compared facility of general physics items with data available from TIMSS Population 2.
The intended curriculum was investigated using document analysis (Bowen 2009).
The analysis identified conceptual knowledge in 13 curriculum documents for teacher education physics courses featuring major subject physics and minor subject mathematics.
A framework for analysis was devised from guidelines produced by the UK’s Institute of Physics (IoP 2011) and TIMSS (Mullis and Martin 2013).
These guidelines identified three physics knowledge levels: for grades 8–10 (ages 14–16); grades 11–12 (ages 17–18); and university undergraduates.
At each level the framework describes three characteristics or ‘dimensions’.
These are: solving physics problems; ways of using mathematics; and ways of carrying out investigations.
Data were analysed thematically (Fereday and Muir-Cochrane 2006).
The implemented curriculum was analysed via classroom observations.
Eight lessons given to PSTs by CTE teacher educators were video recorded and analysed qualitatively.
For analysis, a pedagogical framework describing three categories of teaching was developed that separated lecturing, student problem solving (in groups or individually) and whole class discussion of physics knowledge and problems.
Coding in Nvivo identified the amount of time spent on each category.
A thematic analysis was also carried out for each lesson comparing intended curriculum with knowledge level exhibited in teaching PSTs received and to examine how teacher educators adjusted to PSTs’ learning needs.

The sample
The paper reports data collected in 2015–2016 from final year pre-service teachers (PSTs) undertaking primary physics diploma programmes at four purposefully selected CTEs offering physics teacher education in the Addis Ababa, Amhara and SNNP regions.
Focusing on the final year of study permits an estimate of the level of knowledge newly qualified teachers possess on leaving CTEs and starting their teaching careers.
After Grade 10, when data were collected, PSTs have received a further three years of physics education, so may be assumed to have improved their level of conceptual knowledge to be comparable with that of international students in their last year of compulsory secondary education.

Findings and discussion
The paper analyses Ethiopian pre-service physics teachers’ conceptual knowledge, showing that teacher education programmes recruit candidates with weak conceptual understanding.
Despite receiving specialist physics teaching from CTE lecturers, attained curriculum analysis shows that PSTs training to teach Grades 5 to 8 leave their programmes with physics knowledge equivalent to the TIMSS international mean characteristic of Grade 8 students.
This inadequate learning progress reflects PSTs’ low grade entry profile (Kleickmann et al. 2013) among other factors.
The intended curriculum expects PSTs to learn physics at a level typical of Grade 12 or higher.
This creates a significant challenge for teacher educators.
However, observations of the implemented curriculum found almost no adaption to PSTs’ low entry knowledge level.
Lecturers keep strictly to the intended curriculum, presenting physics as if PSTs are able to master advanced knowledge without direct assistance.
The outcome is that PSTs exhibit low or no learning gains in their final academic year, so complete leaving education with much lower knowledge levels than the intended curriculum suggests.
Two notable observations of the teaching PSTs receive are absence of conceptual discussions and extensive use of mathematics.
This approach is typical of undergraduate level physics teaching in many high-income nations.
The lack of conceptual discussion is not a fault of the intended curriculum, but caused by classroom pedagogy.
Lecturers lack exposure to any tradition or experience of engaging in debates when PSTs ask ‘naïve’ questions about basic physics concepts.
Although curriculum documents emphasise mathematics, this focus is intensified when operationalised into lectures, becoming a route to delivery via over-reliance on a textbook.
What the authors observe, in other words, is an academic culture with high demands for teacher education and the Ethiopian school system.
This culture developed when education was aimed at elite students and has not adapted to accommodate recent reforms towards mass education.
This study reveals a significant mismatch between curriculum demands and PSTs’ needs.
This is problematic for lecturers in teacher education to handle, leading to teachers poorly equipped to teach, which in turn generates poor attainment among school students.
Overall, this study reveals serious gaps between the intended, delivered and attained curricula in terms of PSTs’ knowledge levels and CTE lecturers’ practice.
This gap is detrimental to the generation currently attending Ethiopian schools and the achievement of the country’s high aspirations of aligning with low-middle-income countries in the near future.
A key proposal is reconsideration of the intended teacher education curriculum with a view to ensuring that the system produces teachers with highest efficacy levels capable of delivering enhanced student achievements.

Bowen, G. A. 2009. “Document Analysis as a Qualitative Research Method.” Qualitative Research Journal 9 (2): 27–40.
Gonzales, E. J., and T. A. Smith eds. 1998. User Guide for the TIMSS International Database Primary and Middle School Years (Population 2). Amsterdam: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Assessment.
Gonzales, E. J., T. A. Smith, and H. Sibberns Eds. 1998. User Guide for the TIMSS International Database Final Year of Secondary School (Population 3). Amsterdam: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Assessment.
IoP (Institute of Physics). 2011. The Physics Degree. Graduate Skills Base and the Core of Physics. March 2018.
Kleickmann, T., D. Richter, M. Kunter, J. Elsner, M. Besser, S. Krauss, and J. Baumert. 2013. “Teachers’ Content Knowledge and Pedagogical Content Knowledge: The Role of Structural Differences in Teacher Education.” Journal of Teacher Education 64: 90–106.
Lord, F. M. 1980. Applications of Item Response Theory to Practical Testing Problems. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Mullis, I. V. S., and M. O. Martin. 2013. TIMSS 2015 Assessment Frameworks. http://timssand
Rolleston, C., Z. James, and E. Aurino. 2013. Exploring the Effect of Educational Opportunity and Inequality on Learning Outcomes in Ethiopia, Peru, India, and Vietnam. Background Paper for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013.

Updated: Oct. 13, 2021


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