International Panel on Policy and Practice
in Mathematics Education: 2001 Report
Issue 2: Teacher Education Process and Teacher Practice
What is the system of teacher education in your country and how does it relate to teaching practice?
Egypt: Fayez Mina and Khaled Farouk Etman
In Egypt, examinations are a driving force in shaping what teachers do. The curriculum is traditional in almost all respects. Mathematics is taught (approximately) entirely separate from other disciplines and life activities. Little attention is given to educational activities, employing educational media, or advanced technology.
Few teachers at the kindergarten level are university graduates, but the majority have graduated from secondary school. At the primary level the majority of teachers are intermediate graduates from an education program, with or without specialization in mathematics. A 1989 policy mandated that all teachers of primary education should have a university degree, specializing in education. The majority of secondary teachers are university graduates with an education background, and almost all specialize in mathematics.
There are some calls that the teacher preparation program should consider the process of professionalization of teacher education, including work with daily school activities and practicing ideas of recommended teaching (e.g. participation with students). These are not common in faculties of education in Egypt. Inservice teacher education is traditional and routine with little coherence or organization. There are no common scenarios for what will or should happen in most inservice programs. A video conference system with the maximum possibility of having one training session (approximately one week of half-day sessions) for each teacher every four years is in place. However, even with this system it is difficult to reach all of the teachers, and there is no attempt to follow-up after training.
There is a connection between level of teaching and social status - teaching at the upper secondary level has the highest status. Tension exists between public education and private lessons. The official income of teachers is very low, while a high income can be achieved by giving private lessons. (One day of private lessons can pay several times more than a teacher's official salary). This contradiction raises many questions about teaching as a profession in the country. The only specialized association in the country is the newly established Egyptian Society for Mathematics Education.
Khaled Farouk Etman
The teachers' aim in teaching mathematics is to meet whatever is in the syllabus and help prepare their students for exams. To achieve these goals, teachers focus their daily activities on topics related to the exam. To help students earn high scores on the exam, they rely on tutoring and also rewrite content in textbooks to provide more examples and famous exercises that consistently appear on examinations. There is a very large communication gap among teachers in classrooms, between teachers and their inspectors, and between teachers and policy-makers. However, teachers are aware of the expectations for their performance. According to the evaluation criteria, an expert teacher should be flexible in content knowledge, attentive to students' ability, and knowledgeable about problem solving techniques.
In order to achieve these goals and help their students achieve high scores, teachers have to a) understand the syllabus, how it was developed and its aim, b) know what mathematics knowledge is necessary for a generation that shares values of its society, and c) know the character of schoolbooks and teachers' guide books.
Participants identified the similarities and differences represented in Table 3.
Table 3 Egypt: Similarities and Differences Among Participating Countries with Respect to Teacher Education
There are three reasons why teacher education is necessary: 1) the people that teachers teach are not mature, 2) teachers have to be more future-oriented than their students or mathematicians. The mathematics that they teach must be of value or use in the future for their students. 3) Teachers must first take care of students and encourage them. In order to have more qualified teachers, teachers must be paid more, be respected by society, and given time to think and learn. Teachers cannot work on their professional skills because they are too busy right now taking care of all aspects of their students.
Teacher education seems to consist of some study of mathematics, followed by study of pedagogy, and in some cases, the study of mathematics and teaching is integrated. The separation of these two domains of study poses many problems, perhaps leading to the perception that the study of pedagogy was of no use in practice. In well-designed programs, this should not happen. The question about what knowledge is most useful to teachers remains an open one. Often teachers learn mathematics as mathematicians teach and learn it, but this form of knowledge doesn't translate well in classrooms. For example, [as was illustrated in the video of the third grade class struggling with even numbers] teachers need different kinds of understanding of mathematics. This knowledge is specialized, just as engineers, biologists, and economists, need a different kind of mathematical knowledge. We do not, however, have a deep and robust understanding of the mathematical knowledge that teachers need, combined with knowledge of children's cognition, and so on.
Sweden is developing an interesting program. A shared core program is about one-third of the total requirements for both elementary and secondary preservice teachers. The hypothesis is that there is a certain kind of mathematical knowledge that is common to all levels. It is interesting to consider what aspects of mathematics might form that core - the nature of number and number systems, the uses of mathematical language, uses of symbolic forms, and mathematical reasoning - a course focused on these ideas. There is a distinction between teacher education for preservice and inservice. There are relatively underdeveloped programs for practicing teachers in many countries, except perhaps in Japan where many people do lesson study. There are many questions about the best curriculum for professional development.
Themes That Emerged From the Discussion
Much of the discussion during the session focused on teacher education or preservice training. A common issue was the lack of connection between what took place in many teacher preparation programs and the reality of the classroom. This seems to reflect a mismatch between what prospective teachers are being taught and the expectations and needs of the classrooms. The majority of the group felt teacher education was important, however, offering reasons such as building confidence as a teacher, learning other knowledge necessary for improving teaching, and establishing teaching as a profession.
The group felt that programs should be improved. The total education of teachers needs to be planned, taking into account needs of country and culture, goals of policymakers, and considering teacher education at different levels. There was strong support for the fact that preservice was not enough. Teachers need support and mentors in their initial years of teaching and to belong to networks and working groups. Linking classroom teachers with university instructors can be a promising strategy to enrich the understanding and growth of both groups.
"New teachers may be advised by their colleagues to 'forget what they have been taught in faculties of education'." (Mina)
Theme 2: Continuing education for mathematics teachers
The group voiced strong support for the fact that preservice was not enough. Teachers need support and mentors in their initial years of teaching and to belong to networks and working groups. Linking classroom teachers with university instructors can be a promising strategy to enrich the understanding and growth of both groups. Continuing education was considered important for reasons such as helping teachers
Many of the eight countries do not have organized inservice programs for the continuing education of mathematics teachers, and in other countries, the programs are not well designed. In many of the countries, no structures exist to support and enable mathematics teachers to interact and collaborate with and learn from each other. A common perception across the countries is that many inservice programs were not part of a larger picture of building teacher knowledge but random efforts with no coordination nor control. It is difficult for teachers to work on their professional skills because they are busy taking care of their students.Illustrative quotes
"When a new teacher is in first years, whatever his training has been, he needs some tutoring and mentoring. If he finds new problems, new difficulties, new questions, he needs someone to refer to. It is not preservice training. It is something that goes a little further in first years of teaching." (Sackur)
"Teachers need to decide for themselves if they need more mathematics or what it is that they need. That's why they need the power to decide what is going to happen with their professional lives." (Lins)
Inservice training sessions are routine and unplanned." (Mina)
Theme 3: Interesting Innovations
Egypt is using a video conference approach to reach teachers, but the problem of developing programs that can reach all teachers and that will have a follow-up component to enable teachers to continue their growth is enormous. Sweden is moving from a centralized to a decentralized system of education and consequently is expecting teachers to make decisions, to translate goals into practice, and to adopt changes occurring in the curriculum. Teacher education is considered to be an instrument to influence classroom interactions. Politicians are much interested in this.
Key questions about teacher education include those related to:
Content and curriculum
PCMI@MathForum Home || International Seminar Home || IAS/PCMI Home