Professor Kenneth Wain, University of Malta, on ‘Teacher education policies and the end of theory’.
The progression from teacher training to teacher education was inspired and justified in many countries in the middle of the twentieth century by the incorporation into the training of teachers of a newly proclaimed area of expertise called educational theory, which included the evolving disciplines comprising the philosophy, sociology, psychology and history of education, to replace the ‘Principles of Education’ offered by training colleges. The fact that the introduction of these academic disciplines, of ‘theory’, was what justified preparing teachers in universities where they would be educated into a profession rather than in training colleges where they were just trained into a vocation is often missed or forgotten today. While the new awareness of the importance of theory to practice did not signify diminishing the importance of training, the move sparked a debate about the relative importance of theory and practice and about the proper relationship between them in teacher education that has endured with time with a theory-to-practice model ascendant in the beginning only to suffer a reversal of fortune inlayer years, in the 1980s, when it was supplanted by a practice-to-theory model, and an even further reversal in more recent times to the extent that in many teacher education jurisdictions today ‘theory’ has been rendered redundant and often totally abandoned. A move which has, in reality, signified a return to teacher training conducted nearly entirely by and in schools. It has also signified the replacement of the professionally educated teacher with a technicist concept of the teacher as what teacher ‘education’ is about; one that conceives of practice as technique performed through a baggage of skills or competences. This paper looks critically at these developments, particularly at the de facto abandonment of ‘education’ encouraged also by the policy language of lifelong learning within which the current debate about teacher-education has evolved.