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In Pictures: Tackling the challenges of teacher selection in Malawi

Posted on 28 July 2017

A team at the University of York's Department of Education have developed situational judgment tests (SJTs) for selecting teaching candidates in Malawi schools. The test requires candidates to make judgments about optimal behaviours in realistic school scenarios.

In the south African country of Malawi, education is one of the key pillars of economic and social development.  One of the challenges of selecting high quality teachers to support the education system is evaluating cognitive and non-cognitive candidate attributes from a pool of approximately 20,000 teaching applications a year.

Cognitive attributes, such as knowledge and reasoning ability, are fairly easy to evaluate, but non-cognitive attributes, such as motivation, resilience, and empathy, are more challenging to measure.

Professor Rob Klassen and Dr Lisa Kim have developed the situational judgment tests to allow the gathering of high quality non-cognitive data in a relatively short period of time. The outcome of the tests are also more standardised than other assessment methods so that training centres can have a straight comparison between candidates on some aspects of their motivation and personality.

Here the team describe some of the challenges that teachers in Malawi face through photographs taken on a recent trip supported by the German Corporation for International Cooperation and the Malawian Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology:

One of our first steps in Malawi was to spend time observing student teachers and experienced teachers at work in a range of urban and rural Malawian schools. We wanted to better understand the challenges and rewards student teachers face when they began teaching. 

The student teachers who are selected face challenging conditions when they begin teaching, including classes with up to 200 students, no electricity in rural settings, and a lack of well-developed teaching materials. The selection process aims to identify those applicants with the highest levels of resilience, autonomy, and organisation so that they can manage in challenging conditions.

Schools in urban settings, such as in the capital city of Lilongwe, have more resources for students than schools in rural settings. One recent programme is focused on providing individual instruction in literacy and numeracy using iPads. New teachers, however, may be unfamiliar with these technologies, and the selection process needs to identify applicants who are adaptable in learning new teaching approaches. 

In rural settings, resources such as textbooks are scarce, and teachers must show high levels of motivation and creativity in developing their own curriculum materials, captured by the principle of Teaching and Learning Using Locally Available Resources (TALULAR). Selecting applicants with high levels of creativity is a priority in this setting.

The next steps in the project involve evaluating the predictive validity of the selection methods implemented in 2017. Assisted by personnel at the Teacher Training Colleges, we will assess how each selection method is related to outcome data gathered from student teachers’ academic work and practice teaching. The relationships between selection methods and teaching outcomes will help shape future selection processes.