Effective pedagogy in cultural context: Preaching to the introverted [CIES 2019 Presentation]

Several forces are at play in determining whether pedagogical approaches are optimally adapted to the culture of children’s behaviour and of teacher-child interaction in the classroom. Teachers’ expectations for children’s behaviour may differ from the way in which children are raised at home (Jukes et al, 2018). Teaching activities may be designed by experts from outside the beneficiary education system or who may be removed from the culture of rural schools. The evidence for the effectiveness of recommended teaching practices may be based on children and teachers from a different culture. The current study sought to understand the role of cultural factors in the teaching of early grade reading in Tanzania. The aim was to investigate teacher’s pedagogical choices and the implicit theory of teaching and learning that underpinned these choices. We also aimed to understand teachers’ perceptions of students’ social and emotional skills and how this influenced their pedagogical choices. The current study took place in three regions of Tanzania – Zanzibar, Mtwara and Iringa – in the context of the USAID supported Tusome Pamoja (“let’s read together”) project. Researchers observed one lesson from each of 36 teachers and recorded key teaching activities. A subsequent qualitative interview with the teachers examined the decisions they made during the lesson and how their perception of students’ competencies influenced their decisions. Two themes emerged from the results. First, teachers said that children who did not participate in classroom activities lacked confidence and curiosity, particularly in rural areas. These two qualities - confidence and curiosity - were identified in previous work as traits valued more by teachers than parents in the context of learning. Second, teachers said the independent activities were not effective because pupils always cooperate with others in life. There was a strong preference for activities that involved the whole class and against students learning by doing, independent of the teacher. Schools can respond by conducting more activities that build curiosity and confidence. Children becoming more confident and curious in rural Africa represents a cultural change. But one that emerges from the community - not imposed upon it. Instructional design should consider the strong cultural preference for group-orientation and work with - rather than against - this preference where possible.