It’s all decided.

This summer thousands of teachers from all parts of the country are going to take the English language course. This is another big step of Kazakhstani policy for the bigger goal of improving the educational system.  What might this bring to teachers, “planters the seeds of knowledge”, “gardeners” “artists”, and, as some policy makers call them, “performers of reforms”? To answer this question let’s turn to philosophies of education. Yes, you have got it right, not policy, but philosophy. While the former is the set of rules and regulations to govern an educational system, the latter might shed more light on the answer, as it addresses the sense, the purpose and major problems in education.

The omnipresent, yet important, notion “student centered teaching and learning” evolved from the educational philosophy of existentialism. Existentialism is philosophical thinking which centres existence as central for human beings. The supporters of the existentialist thought believe that the existence and its purpose are determined by individuals’ decisions or actions. The truth, according to them, is relative conception, the matter of individual choice (Sanderson, 2004). As an example, a single historical event can be interpreted differently by the authors in various times. The truth is what an individual decides to be true. Although this philosophical movement has been debunked by rationalists and empiricists, it remains to be one of the focal in contemporary education, at least in Western societies (Sanderson, 2004, Higgs, 2012).

In education specifically, existentialism is built around the freedom of choice, where individuals (administrators, teachers, students) can choose and be responsible for their decisions. It accepts individualism in schooling, fosters independence and develops decision making and problem solving skills (Sanderson, 2004). It is rather individual oriented than student centered approach to learning and teaching.

The article “Moving out of the cellar” by Kline &Abowitz (2013), in supporting existentialism as “fundamental value for teachers” (p.159), presents the voices of teachers who experience “ambiguity and contingency” due to “contemporary classroom working conditions”, where “success exclusively evaluated by hyper-standardized, quantitative measures” (p. 156):

  •  What happened to my creativity? What happened to the fun in teaching and learning? What Happened? (G. E. Johnson)
  • I don’t know what else I could do, having wanted to teach all my life, I feel I am being forced out, forced to choose between a life and teaching. (Name not supplied) (Kline &Abowitz, 2013p. 158)

The article argues that teacher preparation programs, workshops, professional development courses are designed according to and constrained by “strategies”, outcomes, “rubrics”, and assessment rates, leaving little room for reflective and inventive practice (p. 166).  The authors warn that “the teacher identity becomes less open, more closed to individual critical and creative work/play” (p. 166). High expectations from a professional cause frustration and, as a consequence, lack of confidence. The article turns attention to the existentialist view of teacher independence, accountability and courage in making decisions as a driving kernel towards teaching and learning improvements (Kline &Abowitz, 2013).

The upcoming courses will set a new bar for teachers to overcome. Regardless the age, socio-economical and educational backgrounds, the participants are expected to take the course and, eventually, to demonstrate certain level of the English language proficiency in a short period.  The answer to the question that it may add more anxiety and fear to already loaded and demotivating work is less disturbing than the fact, that the decision for better teaching practice, has been made for teachers without any choice. This goes against the existentialist philosophy of education, though might go alone with the trilingual policy.

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5 thoughts on “It’s all decided.

  1. Dear Aigul,
    It is indeed continuum controversial topic whether a teacher should be given freedom to decide what to teach. Having known the current state of the quality of teachers (especially, rural teachers), I should admit I do not believe they would bring students to the “right direction”. Therefore, standards and common program exist to provide them the way to go along. As for English courses, I believe these courses will be good opportunity for them to immerse into English for 2 months and get at least elementary level. Recently I saw a video about how to learn any language in 6 months, and the author told his experience in learning Chinese and one of the reason we are reluctant to acquire the language is that we put big obstacles to make them impossible achieve. It took him just 6 months to achieve advanced level of this language, the language which is considered to be complex. “Lifelong learning” is one of our missions in NIS which relate to teachers with various backgrounds. Sometimes I envy young generation for having such an opportunity to be able to speak different languages fluently.

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    1. I am glad @bayanassylbek, you are optimistic about the course outcomes. Your comment raises some questions, such as, do NISs perpetuate lifelong learning or create conditions for it? Is this 2 months project real immersion into English? How will this program help rural teachers to “bring their students to right directions”? Do you think that all participants are devoid of “big obstacles to make them impossible achieve”? These are very broad, but interesting questions. Can we discuss them in person? They might take a long time to think and then answer. By far I have more optimistic perspectives in regards to teachers. If the project does not improve the current state of education in Kz, as it is supposedly meant to be, then it is the policy to take responsibility, because, according to existentialism, the one who decides is the one who is accountable. Hopefully the failure will not take place.

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  2. Dear Aigul,

    Thank you for the thought-provoking post. I do not support the view that all teachers will need to learn the English language due to the implementation of trilingual policy. I rather feel sorry for these teachers. It also depends on specific subjects. Why should Kazakh or Russian language teachers know the English language? Another thing is the matter of time and motivation. I had a chance of teaching English to science teachers after classes. They were forced. They used to come to class after 6 p.m. They were tired. Schools need to think about it. Or it would be better to give them one day off to learn a language. I have no idea what will happen during the summer time…I feel rather embarrassed…

    thank you again!

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  3. My concern, @maira1291, is also based on personal experience. Like yours, learning a language was hardship for many teachers especially that they had to do their daily teaching at the same time. Most of them were actually eager to study a new language. Their worries were connected to using it for teaching the subject. It’s unlikely that a day off for language learning will be used purposefully either. I think that teacher satisfaction and readiness, as the course outcomes, should be rigorously evaluated and monitored. The programs like this should include further support and counsel when the acquired knowledge and skills are applied to change classroom practices. It definitely requires time and expenses. Surely, when the decision of trilingualism implementation was made, it was assumed that it is a long and costly project.

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  4. Fascinating post, Aigul. (5/5) Your raise important questions, present your ideas, concerns, and explanations carefully and clearly, and respond thoughtfully to each comment posted afterward. This is an ideal example of meaningful academic discourse.

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