As the first Dr Ruth Wong Visiting Professor of Teacher Education, Professor A. Lin Goodwin focused on how teacher education needs to be transformed to help teachers meet the unknown future in a lecture given at the Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference 2015.
In a year when Singapore is celebrating its 50 years of independence, NIE is also honouring pioneer educators and their legacies. One of them is Dr Ruth Wong Hie King, the founding Director of the then Institute of Education.
Dr Wong was a forward-looking thinker and the most respected educationist in Singapore’s history of education and teacher education. Among other achievements, she advocated for research to be done in education to ensure that student teachers received relevant and informed training. She also encouraged teacher educators to work with teachers in classrooms, a precursor to the classroom practicum that all student teachers go through today.
“Dr Ruth Wong’s life was a life of faith, calling and hope and she led education with tremendous vision and commitment and passion,” says NIE Director Professor Tan Oon Seng.
“NIE has been tremendously blessed with her legacy,” he continues. “And today, many of the excellent programmes that we have, even the good research that we do, were sown through her visionary implementation.”
To remember her quest for excellence in education, NIE launched the Dr Ruth Wong Visiting Professorship in Teacher Education. This professorship seeks to enhance teacher education in Singapore and globally. Internationally renowned academics or senior education professionals with expertise and impact on teacher education will be invited to Singapore to share their knowledge.
“As a teacher educator, there is no greater honour for me than to be associated with Dr Ruth Wong, who is Singapore’s teacher educator extraordinaire,” says Prof Goodwin.
“Dr Ruth Wong’s legacy is long, because as a 20th century educator, she clearly was thinking way into the 21st century. The ideas she articulated and the principles she stood for are as fresh today as they were, 25 years ago.”
For the inaugural Dr Ruth Wong Visiting Professorship Lecture, Prof Goodwin decided to focus on how teacher education needs to transform to keep up with the changing world.
During her lecture, which was entitled “Teachers of Quality for the 31st Century: Transforming Teacher Education to Meet the (Unknown) Future”, she brought up five knowledge domains that all teachers should have: personal, contextual, pedagogical, sociological and social knowledge. In the excerpt below, she elaborates on pedagogical knowledge and how curriculum making can empower teachers.
Professor A. Lin Goodwin: Pedagogical Knowledge and Curriculum Making
One domain of knowledge for teachers/teaching is pedagogical knowledge, which is the bread and butter of teaching and schooling. Some of you are probably thinking, “Pedagogical knowledge, content, methods, theories, curriculum: What is so transformative about that? I’ve been there and done it.” I have to say, you’re right, to a certain extent.
But I’m going to mention some things for us to think about, and that may change how we conceptualize pedagogical knowledge. First of all, we have international rethinking, in many countries, about the very concept of what it means to learn, as well as a re-examination of traditionally held definitions of intelligence or achievement.
For example, countries as disparate as Afghanistan, China and Poland – I’ve had the privilege of working in all these places – are all focusing on and moving towards child-centred curriculum. In Jordan, there has been a gradual embrace of participatory education and experiential instruction.
Singapore has “Teach Less, Learn More” and the reduction of curriculum to make space for 21st century competencies and soft skills. Even in the Netherlands, there has been a re-examination of traditional conceptions of giftedness.
You would think that in the middle of all this focus on different ways of learning and how things have changed, teaching would consequently be different as well. What we see around the world is that despite all this, certain things seem to hold true for curriculum and instruction everywhere.
First of all is the tyranny of subjects and content over process and thinking. And these subjects are typically taught as discrete and separate, so we have multiple silos called Geography or Math or Physical Education. No matter our rhetoric around diverse learners or differentiated instruction or building capacities of children, our measure of learning invariably boils down to some kind of exam or test. That’s not necessarily a problem, except that we use these discrete events to make important and consequential decisions about children’s lives, based on these exams.
Children around the world continue to be categorized by arbitrary measures of ability, as well as age. They continue to be sorted into boxes called classrooms, and levels called grades. And within those boxes we still see teachers doing far more talking than they do listening. In fact, the most prevalent curriculum role that teachers play is delivering the curriculum in a particular sequence at a particular time, like a package – a package of “knowledge”.
These characterizations of teaching and learning around the world have been really enduring. They have been with us since public schooling began about 150 years ago. If we don’t do something dramatic, they will continue to be true for another 150 years from now.
Many of you are probably familiar with Sir Ken Robinson’s work on creativity. His research has shown that sadly, schools kill creativity. His research has shown that there is an inverse relationship between children’s confidence, risk-taking, openness and creativity to the number of years of schooling they have received.
So the question, then, is if teacher education can do anything about this. And my response is, we don’t have a choice…we have to! So I think a good place to start might be to develop teachers who adopt a curriculum-making mind-set instead of a curriculum-implementing one. Curriculum making can give teachers a very powerful voice in the education process. Teachers who are curriculum makers are better equipped to be active partners in reform because they can be architects of change and not simply passive bystanders.
Most important of all, curriculum making can open the doors for teachers to embrace the many capacities of mind and spirit that students bring with them to school, because our students, just like us, don’t leave parts of themselves outside the classroom doors. They too, come as whole, complete and complex human beings.
For too long, we have been far too busy, I think, educating for certain outcomes, with certain end goals and certain students in mind. And this has to stop if we are mindful of the 31st century, or even the near future. Otherwise, we will continue to waste too much potential, deny too much capacity and turn off too many excellent minds.