The Impacts and Challenges of Learner-Centered Pedagogy in a Primary School - Case Study Paper Example

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University of Richmond
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Introduction and Background

Learner-centered pedagogical approaches assume that learning will be deep, enduring, enjoyable, and transferred to contexts beyond the classroom when students actively participate in learning (Walczyk & Ramsey, 2003). For far too long, best educational practices have been the center of intellectual inquiry in many parts of the world. As early as 470399 BC, Socrates believed that dialogue was essential for accessing true knowledge, and he constantly challenged accepted educational ideas and assumptions. The debates about philosophies of education continue among philosophers, researchers, policymakers, and even the laypersons through various media (de la Sablonniere, Taylor & Sadykova, 2009). These debates signify the importance education holds in many societies worldwide.

The application of the most desirable educational philosophy is a hotly contested issue often expressed in the form of two schools of thought i.e. the teacher approach and the student-centered approach. In the teacher or expert approach, the teacher is the main source of knowledge and the student is expected to consume the information provided by the teacher in the learning process. According to the student-centered approach, however, the methods of teaching shift the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student (Armbruster, Patel, Johnson & Weiss, 2009). In other words, the focus of the learner-centered teaching is on the needs and abilities of the student while the experts role is to facilitate the learning process rather than providing the knowledge.

While teachers and students have been exposed to both pedagogical approaches in Western societies in classrooms and public debates, the controversies surrounding the two approaches are different in many other parts of the world. For example, North America and Europe spend a significant amount of resources to promote the learner-centered approach at all levels of education. This has led to the development of various approaches under learner-centered approach including hands-on learning (Kaltman, 2010), cooperative learning (Slavin, 2008), and learner-centered teaching (Felder & Brent, 1996). On the contrary, people in Asia have only recently been exposed to new ways of conceptualizing education which has deepened the debates between the proponents of teacher-centered pedagogy and those of student-centered learning. According to de la Sablonniere, Taylor and Sadykova (2009), teachers and students have only been recently exposed to this debate between the pedagogical approaches in Asia. It is on the backdrop of these intense debates that rapid and dramatic changes have been witnessed in the education sector of many Asian countries. The most intense debates have been reported in societies where political, economic, and social landscapes are changing fast since the type of education and how it should be delivered becomes a matter of future survival.

The Maldives is one of the Asian countries that is implementing the learner-centered teaching and learning pedagogy. For the case of The Maldives, Di Biase (2015) noted that the active participation of students, the use of group work, the teacher as facilitator, and a friendly classroom environment were of paramount importance in facilitating learning. The aim of the present paper is to assess the impacts and challenges from the teachers' perspectives of learner-centered pedagogy in teaching science in primary schools. The science curriculum in KS2 in The Maldives has to be taught through the medium of English and within a student-centered learning environment. This research pinpoints some of the challenges faced by teachers in using learner-centered pedagogy.

Problem Statement

Learner-centered pedagogy is a collaborative method of teaching and learning that emphasizes on the teachers' goals and approaches of transfer to the knowledge and skills that the students develop CITATION Moa15 \l 1033 (Moate & Cox, 2015). The new curriculum of the Maldives ensures that learner-centered teaching methods should be practiced in the classrooms. The teachers face many challenges in implementing learner-centered techniques in the KS2 science subject.

Purpose of the Study

This study is assumed to be significant in several aspects. First, it gives feedback about the implementation of the new national curriculum of schools in the Maldives. Hence, it supports the curriculum developers to see how their decisions are practiced by the teachers in the classroom. Moreover, the research should be of great importance to support the policymakers in the Ministry of Education in the Maldives.

The result of the study might be valuable to future researchers who are interested in examining the challenges faced by the teachers in using learner-centered pedagogy in key stage 2 science classes.

Research Objectives

The main objectives of this study are divided into three key parts.

Examine the teaching strategies used in the classrooms.

Find out the challenges encountered by the teachers in using student-centered pedagogies.

Recommend the solutions for the challenges.

Research Questions

The questions examined in this study are

What is the student-centered pedagogy used by the teachers in KS2 science classrooms?

What are the challenges encountered by the teachers in using student-centered pedagogy?

How do teachers overcome challenges in using learner-centered pedagogy?

Literature Review

Theoretical Framework

For the past decade or so, the Maldives has called on the education sector to shift from teacher-centered methods of instruction to student-centered pedagogy (UNICEF). This is consistent with the global trend where educators view learning as nonlinear, multidimensional and as an aspect that perceived within a social context (Cornelius-White, 2007). The application of learner-centered pedagogy is in accordance to the agitation for more a democratic approach to teaching that focuses more on the learner and the teacher shifted from the center of learning to peripheral functions. The focus on the learner is achieved by providing more opportunities to learners to actively participate classroom activities as well engaging in self-directed learning beyond the classroom. Additionally, it provides the forums through which students can exchange knowledge with their peers (Wright, 2011). Rather than relying on the lecture as the primary means of teaching, teachers who use learner-centered instruction favor differentiated modalities to facilitate learning.

There is abundant learner-centered literature within the domain of primary education. However, it has not been sufficiently addressed within the scope of science teaching to young kids. The bulk of the literature though focuses on the type of content that should be included in school curricula as well as the specific techniques of teaching to be used in the classroom (Granello, 2000; May, 2004; Shepard & Brew, 2005; Stinchfield, 2006) at the expense of the most comprehensive teaching approaches that can inspire student learning. Nevertheless, the literature presents a variety of pedagogies such as constructivist pedagogy (Nelson & Neufeldt, 1998), contextual teaching (Granello, 2000), and experiential teaching approaches (Grant, 2006) among others. These alternative and innovative methods of engaging learners, which reflect certain ideals of learner-centered pedagogy, have been used for several years in many countries around the world.

According to Baeten, Dochy, & Struyven (2012), teachers who use this model of instruction perceive knowledge from the social and relational processes perspective and thus focus on the learners individual development of understanding and knowledge rather than lecturing of content to the students. McAuliffe and Eriksen (2002) suggest that teachers be well aware and equipped for the uncertainty and flexibility that arise from self-reflection and change in both instructors and learners. Under these circumstances, the teachers create a conducive classroom learning environment in collaboration with the learners to facilitate meaningful learning experiences. In teacher-centered pedagogy, however, teachers assume the bulk of responsibility for instructing and ensuring that learning occurs and predominantly represent the learning environment rather than the learners. In contrast, the primary role of a teacher in the learner-centered mode is to create a friendly environment for learning. It has been suggested that an impeccable course content and use of lecture are among the important components of such a learning environment that is useful for students. For example, Brown (2003) emphasized the importance of the process of learning and the context in which the learning occurs as well the specific content presented to learners. The assumptions of learner-centered pedagogy are well captured in Cornelius-White (2007) thus;

Learning is non-linear, recursive, continuous, complex, relational, and natural in humans. . . . is enhanced in contexts where learners have supportive relationships, have a sense of ownership and control over learning processes, and can learn with and from each other in safe and trusting learning environments. (p. 7)

According to Weimer (2002), teachers who use learner-centered teachers provide supportive relationships and conditions that support trust among students when creating a proper environment for student-centered teaching. Such teachers enhance supportive relationships and foster a learning environment in which the learners feel safe by what Randall Moate and Jane Cox (2015) call diffusing power differentials between the teacher and students. Moate and Cox suggest that teachers achieve this diffusion of power differentials by purposefully encouraging learners to become active in the classroom, respecting each learners individual experiences and perspectives, as well as viewing the learners as integral partners in the learning process. Therefore, the teacher favors democratic and collaborative instruction that empower the learners to actively participate in the learning process (Wright, 2011). For instance, instead of a teacher answering a question from the students, he or she passes it on to the classroom for other students to answer. As such, the teachers role as an expert is greatly diminished and taps into the students collective perspectives, knowledge, and experiences in answering the question. Such processes encourage the learners to active participants in the classroom.

Learner-centered pedagogy emerged from constructivist learning theory and is the exact opposite of the conventional teacher-centered pedagogical approach (Baeten, Dochy, & Struyven, 2012). Constructivism is a learning theory that may be associated with cognitive psychology because it focuses on the learner's ability to mentally construct the meaning of their own environment and to create their own learning. Furthermore, it is associated with varying degrees of non-directed learning. As such, constructivism is associated with Cognitive and Social Constructivism.

The advantages of the behaviorist learning theory are well documented. It created a systematic teaching approach which helped many educators and the education sectors of many countries for a long time. Gagne and Briggs (1974) came up with the concept of information processing from combining the behaviorist principles of learning with the cognitive theory of learning. The premise of information processing is the internal processing of information that occurs during the moment of learning. According to Gagne and Briggs (19...

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