Children in Malawi perform worse in regional math tests than kids in neighboring countries. Mercy Kazima from the University of Malawi hopes to change this, by understanding why math performance is so poor, and using the Lesson Study concept to train educators of pre-service teachers in the southern African nation.
Poor math performance cannot be blamed on students, she said. “We should not blame the children in schools, we should look at the teachers. How are the teachers teaching? But, we also don’t want to blame the teachers. We should go back to the colleges. How are the teachers prepared to teach mathematics?” She said that if teachers are not teaching well, it is likely because they are not adequately trained to do so. “Maybe we are not preparing them well.”
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Lesson Study is a process in which teachers come together to jointly plan, observe and reflect on classroom technique and lesson plans in order to improve student performance. Japan is considered a leader in Lesson Study, and during a panel session at ICM 2018 tonight, Akihiko Takahashi from the University of Tokyo outlined his research that shows: merely listening to experts in professional training programs does not improve teaching performance. A more dynamic approach, involving reflection and shared experience is key to progress.
The Malawi experience echoes international research findings. Kazima’s research with Norwegian colleagues showed that when lesson plans are reviewed and commented on by third parties, it helped math teachers to improve and to better understand their task, and how to improve their teaching.
“Lesson Study is a new development in Malawi,” she explained. “We use Lesson Study as a model for professional development. We discuss how to learn from their teaching, how to work together in the college, to learn about teaching mathematics.”
Nearly 75% of the population of Malawi lives below the poverty line. But, Kazima says that while the social context is important, teachers must be comfortable with curricular content, and varying teaching methodologies, before taking poverty and other social issues into account. “They have to know the mathematics, and how to teach it. Then they have to know their students and how to teach within that context.”
Maitree Inprasitha from Khon Kaen University, cited observations in the Chang Mai region in Thailand, one of that country’s poorest areas. The implementation of Lesson Study over 15 years has led to the math performance climbing steadily on national tests. Classroom must have meaning for students, and mean something in their real world, he said. “Children need to like to come to school. The teacher must touch on their curiosity to learn.”
Takahashi agreed, giving an example of a school he visited in Rio de Janeiro last week. It was a rainy day, and most of the children had not made it into the classroom due to the weather. If students are stimulated and witness their own efficacy in maths, he said “maybe they will use an umbrella and come to school.”
A panel discussion at ICM 2018 this evening united experts in Lesson Study from Japan (Akihiko Takahashi), China (Rongjin Huang), Thailand (Maitree Inprasitha), Switzerland (Stéphane Clivaz) and Malawi (Mercy Kazima).