Among the numerous education reforms initiated in the Asia-Pacific Region (the “Region”) at the turn of the 21st century, there were teacher education reforms that aimed to equip teachers with new competence to help discharge their professional duties and expand their roles and responsibilities, and to implement new education initiatives as change agents. In such context, teacher education involves not only teachers’ pre-service training, but also all kinds of in-service or lifelong professional development and learning. Since the early 2000s, the nine trends of education reform at the macro, meso, site and operational levels have raised various challenges for policy-makers, researchers, and educators who had to re-think the theories, practices, and policies of teacher education reform in their countries and within the Region. Many education systems in the Region have also experienced three waves of education reform that followed different paradigms and had strong implications for teacher education reform. But even though a lot of resources have been invested in these reforms, people in many countries are still disappointed with the quality and performance of their teaching profession and teacher education systems in view of the increasing challenges from globalization, economic transformation, and international competition. Given the complexities of education reform and the serious concerns about teaching quality, an overview of the key reform issues is needed to draw insights for future development of research, policy analysis, and practice in teacher education reform in the Region and beyond. In particular, the issues related to and implications from the nine trends of education reforms, the paradigm shifts across the three waves, the changes in policy concerns, and the decline in education demands in the Region are analyzed.
Yin Cheong Cheng
Sarimah Shaik-Abdullah, S. Kanageswari Suppiah Shanmugam, and Mohan Chinnappan
The quality of education in any country rests on school communities as a whole. However, the real implementers of innovations and changes in curriculum are teachers. Teachers, as practitioners, are the ones most often held accountable for successes and failures in educating schoolchildren. The way to facilitate teachers in handling challenges and keeping up with curriculum renewals is through constant support in the form of continuing professional development (CPD) by means of action research. Action research as CPD has been viewed as a critical platform for advocating change, which is the outcome of teachers’ ability and autonomy to lead in making informed decisions about their own practices. Given its usefulness, action research is found well established, vastly practiced, and widely published in Western countries. This has raised the question of the widespread use of action research as CPD in the Southeast Asian (SEA) region. Preliminary analysis reveals that in some SEA countries, such as Timor Leste, there is limited literature on action research, while in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, action research has been well documented. At the same time, there is an emerging trend in SEA countries to adopt different models of action research. In Malaysia, for instance, action research has been primarily classroom based, whereas in Indonesia, a critical and community based approach to action research seems to be prevalent. This suggests that the kinds of action research conducted in the different SEA countries may reflect variations in cultural, economic, and geographical landscapes. Given the importance of action research to teacher practitioners and school leaders, and in providing an identity to the action research approaches conducted in Southeast Asia, the historical trail of action research presents a window into the nature of CPD concerns of each country, as well as the successes and challenges of conducting action research as CPD for sustained impact.
While countries across the Asia-Pacific region have since the early 2000s been very forthright in acknowledging the international conventions and declarations that promote inclusive education, there still seems to be a substantial gap between policy and school expectations in most educational systems. Many of the less developed countries have adopted the terminology in the Education For All framework and applied this within their own education policies. Thus, country policies promote an “inclusive approach to education” that enable children with disabilities to attend a regular school. Some policies go further and state that this should be with appropriate differentiation and support. Unfortunately, this is where the strength of the shift in education seems to end for many of the Asia-Pacific countries. There appears to be an ongoing lack of understanding that inclusion means that not all students will achieve through the “same old” ways and that outcomes will need to be different. In other words, governments promote inclusion through policy, but at the same time continue to expect schools to help all students to achieve the same curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment as the way to equity. Countries across the Asia-Pacific region, like elsewhere, vary enormously in their cultural diversity and in their ability to respond to inclusion. Models of teacher education, likewise, will vary and must be focused on what is contextually viable and culturally acceptable within each individual country. Cultural differences, beliefs, values, and understandings associated with inclusion and disability vary enormously across the Asia-Pacific region and are often firmly embedded within historical contexts. These invariably have strong impact on acceptance and in decision-making regarding what constitutes appropriate teacher preparation for working in more inclusive schools. Regardless of context, effective teacher education requires skilled teacher educators who have received full training in regard to inclusion and who are also aware of the needs of classroom teachers when asked to operate an inclusive classroom, within different cultural contexts, and the potential additional strains of large class sizes, and often limited resources. A variety of different models have been applied throughout the Asia-Pacific region to prepare teachers for inclusion with inconsistent outcomes.