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Training preschool teachers: Not a square peg for a round hole situation  

By Sumudu Chamara and Savaira Sammoon 

 

How a country’s future generation is shaped and treated is what decides that country’s future, and in the Sri Lankan culture, parents providing their children with the best possible of everything, is the norm. 

The process of bringing up a child is neither an easy nor quick task, and it starts at home, and then in preschools, where children learn the basics. That is also where they get exposed to the external world after their families. Therefore, preschools being up to standard cannot be stressed enough. 

It was reported recently that around 15% of preschool teachers in Sri Lanka had no adequate educational qualifications. This was revealed by the State Minister of Preschool and Primary Education, School Infrastructure and School Services, Piyal Nishantha De Silva, who also told The Morning that some preschool teachers do not have at least the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O/L) Examination qualification. He further told The Morning that currently there are about 19,668 preschools in the country, and that around 45,000 preschool teachers are working at preschools around the country. 

De Silva also said that the Government is planning to educate preschool teachers with distance learning facilities, and that it would select less qualified preschool teachers and also the ones who have more than five years of experience to be trained. “This career typically requires one to have some formal education or training and State license,” according to the State Minister. 

Even though The Morning attempted to contact the State Minister yesterday (1) to inquire about the source of the aforementioned statistics and whether the State Ministry is planning to evaluate the quality of preschool teacher diplomas given by various institutions, he was not reachable. 

However, a Member of the National Policy for Early Childhood Education Drafting Committee, Professor in Paediatrics Rasnayake M. Mudiyanse, told The Morning yesterday that attention has been paid to look into the quality of preschool teacher diplomas. 

Preschool teacher trainings 

To look into the importance of preschool teachers obtaining proper qualifications that include practical skills, The Morning spoke to the Sri Lanka Preschool Teachers’ Association, a trade union representing approximately 30,000 preschool teachers from around the island. The Association’s Secretary, Kusum Pinnawala, said that even though preschool teachers having professional and educational qualifications is of great importance, being aware of practical skills which are important when dealing with children is also equally important. 

When queried as to the quality of preschool teacher training in Sri Lanka, she added that the quality and relevance of the training depends on the preschools where these trained preschool teachers work. She noted: “If these institutions conduct the training properly, preschool teachers absorb that knowledge properly. Giving loads of theoretical knowledge without practical knowledge and evaluating it through an examination will yield no positive results.” 

According to Pinnawala, as much as theoretical knowledge, it is important to provide practical training, which has a direct impact on the preschool teachers’ skills. She noted that the standards of the training institutions are also an important factor in this connection. Among the practical aspects she believed are lacking in most preschool teacher training are skills pertaining to preschool teachers’ patience and flexibility to give preschool children the space and freedom they need. According to her, these skills are essential to identify and be familiar with the nature of the children, adding that being close to preschool children automatically encourages them to focus on studies, as they get familiar and comfortable with the environment. She opined that more than 80% of preschool teachers possess the necessary qualifications. 

She alleged that according to information she has received, under the Government’s 100,000 jobs scheme, plans are underway to recruit (after training) 40,000 persons from the Gampaha District, among whom there are those who do not possess GCE O/L mathematics and English qualifications. In her view, instead of training those who have absolutely no qualifications, opportunity should be given to teachers who are already working in the field and have more qualifications. Also, she emphasised the importance of this training including psychological skills to deal with preschool children including children with special needs. 

Pinnawala added: “In the Colombo District, around seven years ago, those who did not have basic educational qualifications were given training for them to be able to work as preschool teachers. But, as far as I am aware, there are certain private preschools where teachers with no qualifications teach. Even though having to pass the mathematics subject at the GCE O/L is a prerequisite to becoming a preschool teacher, I think that having knowledge on basic mathematics concepts is adequate to teach preschool children, because I think that there are more important practical skills a preschool teacher should have than mathematics related qualifications.” 

Meanwhile, the Director of the Friends Lanka Child Foundation Lalan Korala, also expressed similar opinions, where he emphasised that handling practical issues concerning preschool children is as necessary as educational qualifications. 

Adding that nowadays there are many institutions that provide preschool teacher training including diplomas on the same, he told The Morning that those institutions should be properly accredited. He noted: “More than the GCE O/L and GCE Advanced Level (A/L) qualifications, a theoretical and practical training is what is necessary. Also, it should not only include skills required to be a successful preschool teacher such as skills pertaining to child psychology and the handling of the practical aspects of dealing with children, but also teach how preschool teachers should behave, especially when it comes to managing their anger and other emotions when dealing with children.” 

He stressed that since a job as a preschool teacher involves more practical matters than theoretical matters, they should be able to help develop and maintain children’s mental and physical well being. 

“This preschool teacher training should include knowledge about children’s rights as well as how to identify and deal with mental and/or physical abuse including the sexual abuse of children that they may be going through and to provide support to the victims. Ensuring children’s mental and physical safety should also be a part of these diploma courses, and courses conducted by recognised institutions should usually include these aspects,” he said. Further, he emphasised the importance of conducting a background check on preschool teachers, even those who have professional and educational qualifications, before hiring them. 

Preschool teachers’ educational qualifications 

When it comes to Sri Lanka’s situation concerning the qualifications of preschool teachers, there is a lack of data and research about the matter. 

However, according to the action plan issued by the Central Province Education Ministry on early childhood development – titled ‘Central Province: Protection and Development of Early Childhood 2015-2019’ and developed by Prof. Karunathilaka Athukorala – in the Kandy, Matale and Nuwara Eliya Districts, the number of graduate preschool teachers was 34 (2.5%), nine (1.4%) and one (0.2), respectively. There were also 54 preschool teachers in the three Districts who had not completed their degrees. 

The majority of the preschool teachers in the three said Districts had passed three subjects in the GCE A/L examination, and among them were 560 (40.8%) teachers from the Kandy District, 257 (38.7%) teachers from the Matale District and 113 (27.3) teachers from the Nuwara Eliya District. Among those who had passed the GCE O/L examination were 284 (20.7%) teachers from the Kandy District, 119 (17.9%) teachers from the Matale District and 145 (35%) teachers from the Nuwara Eliya District. 

It also showed that there were preschool teachers who had failed the GCE O/L examination too. In the Kandy, Matale and Nuwara Eliya Districts, there were 82 (6%), 111 (16.7%) and 44 (10.6%) such preschool teachers. 

It also highlighted another issue that has a close connection with the matter, i.e. unregistered preschools, of which the standards remain unknown. It added that 278 (25.6%) preschools in the Kandy District, 198 (39.6%) preschools in the Matale District and 262 (41.2%) preschools in the Nuwara Eliya District are not registered. Overall, in the three Districts alone, a total of 738 unregistered preschools had been recorded. As a percentage, it was 33.2%. 

Also, a study report by Praneeth Fonseka, titled ‘Relationship between preschool teachers’ educational qualifications and the expected preschool in a selected rural area’ noted that even though a preschool diploma is expected as the minimum qualification by the Provincial Councils that have set up authorities/units to oversee early childhood development in Sri Lanka, only 35% of the preschool teachers surveyed (20 teachers from the Badulla District) had completed a diploma programme, and that though there are a number of institutions that offer preschool diplomas, only a few are accepted and approved by the Government. Also, it said that it is necessary to review the contents of the preschool diploma to check as to whether the psychological component is incorporated and that they are not focused on practical preschool activities like sports and handiwork. 

 

International situation 

The Morning also looked into the rules, regulations and conditions set by other countries for preschool teachers. 

In the United Kingdom (UK), preschool teachers should obtain the qualification known as the Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) to teach children till the age of five years. The EYTS must be reached through an initial teacher training university course in order to reach the teachers’ standards, which includes being able to promote the growth and development of the students and take into account all their needs, and having a thorough knowledge of early learning. They can become qualified without a teaching degree, through experience by starting as a nursery worker. However, a part time degree in childhood studies or child development is necessary. Also, experience of working with children through paid work or volunteering is essential. 

In addition, in the UK, the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which is required for primary and secondary schools and all special schools, can be reached through experience or through a university training course. The Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) can also qualify a person for the QTS, and once the training has been completed, schools require teachers to pass a Newly Qualified Teacher Induction year to be fully qualified. 

Becoming a preschool teacher in Australia requires a bachelor’s degree or a higher qualification, most commonly an Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) Skill Level One qualification, and in some instances, experience or on the job training is also required. 

In the United States (US), in order to be a preschool teacher, a minimum of a high school diploma or associate’s is required; however, most public school teachers must have earned a bachelor’s degree. A Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate, as well as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid certification are also commonly required. 

Certificates or diplomas in Early Childhood Care and Education are required qualifications in Singapore, and these can be obtained through courses conducted by the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) or the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) accredited programmes through private training agencies. If the applicant does not have five GCE O/L credits, the Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education – Teaching (DECCE-T) programme is offered by the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) in order to further assess the applicant for course eligibility and to grant them the opportunity to obtain the qualifications that are required. 

Such qualifications are required when it comes to the South Asian region as well. In India, a Bachelors in Education is required, as well as a Basic Training Certificate (BTC) and a Diploma in Education (D.Ed). Additionally, they have to be eligible to specialise as a nursery or primary school teacher, through a required Nursery Teacher Training (NTT) or a Primary Teacher Training (PTT). 

In Bangladesh, preschool teachers are recruited centrally through examinations conducted by the country’s Directorate of Primary Education, and to pass these exams, most teachers should have received qualifications such as a Diploma in Education (Dip in Ed) or a Bachelor of Education. Also, a Certificate in Education (C in Ed) is compulsory; however, teachers can obtain a C-in-Ed after being hired. Private primary schools appoint teachers through internal school management committees, but they also require similar qualifications. 

In Nepal, the institution known as the Teacher Service Commission issues teaching licenses or promotes permanent teachers based on Government examinations. Schools hire teachers through school management committees; however, private schools must involve a Government official in the committee. All teachers require a teaching license and must have received teacher training. 

The mission of ensuring that children receive high quality preschool education is not an easy task, mainly due to the number of preschools in the country including unregistered ones, and the sensitive nature of the job which requires practical skills in addition to paper qualifications. Also, in addition to children managing skills, we must not overlook the importance of teachers’ skills in emotional management. 

If implemented properly, programs to ensure the quality of preschools can be a win-win situation, where children receive proper education and the teachers receive proper training.