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, 2013, p. 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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