The Blight of Chalk and Talk Teachers in Kenya

Having grown up in the United States, I had never experienced ‘lecturing’ or ‘copy exactly what I say from my notes (chalk and talk)’ until I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. When I was first exposed to this concept of memorization and lack of thinking/reasoning, not only was I chagrined, I was absolutely aware of the  unlimited amount of control one can have by not educating a population of people for 10 years.  If what you say is the end all of information, who would ever be bold enough to question you…..and if others are given a set stricture of what to know, who would possibly think there was anything more to know, especially where few books exist.

In Namibia, learners were asked to copy what the teacher said as most of the time there were no chalkboards, or there was a chalkboard but no chalk.  If a child was not an aural learner, of course they did not do well at school.  If one was not keen on memorization and wanted to know more or the bigger picture of things, they did not do well at school.   Heaven forbid a learner ask a teacher to explain – one would have the wrath of the heavens brought down on them as they were in effect, embarrassing a teacher who could no more explain what they were reading off their notes than the learner who was asking the question.

At the end of the days when I was to work with teachers and do model lessons at school, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  The learners wanted to do what I was showing them (usually a constructivist activity) and the teachers were frustrated (more likely feeling threatened) because I was doing something so different they themselves wanted to join in as the learners did but were embarrassed because clearly I could not possibly be teaching…..the learners and myself were not ‘copying notes’ and we were having too much fun!

The ten years after Peace Corps, I was invariably exposed to new teachers in America who clung to the text book as their god given truth.  I was used to this as generally around the 3rd-5th year of teaching, a teacher is able to put the text book down and be creative.  Often, teachers in America who complete teacher training are creative and use the text as support.  Generally speaking, teachers in America, although sometimes recalcitrant, will try a little bit to do something different.

Not so in Kenya. The level of  intractability   is debilitating.  Teachers here would actually rather die than try something new in some cases.  It tends to be the teachers who received their education via chalk and talk or they are 45 + in age, similar to the phenomenon of America where older teachers are more reluctant to change.  In Kenya, the chalk and talk phenomenon is exactly what I had seen in Namibia ten years ago except that in Namibia, the teachers were at least ‘curious’ about a different way of teaching.  I have run up against teachers here who are so firmly entrenched they have to have lead in the cement holding their feet in place.

What I find most interesting is that when you want to have a conversation on educational theory and practices, these chalk and talk teachers will not even admit this is the least effective way to teach – in reality, it is possible they do not know this point.  I have been told education classes at the university level are generally hell and I am guessing this explains the overall low grades most education majors receive in their education classes – either that or the resistance to change is hell and the university professors are not able to convince their learners to step it up.

In any case, it is a tragedy as the unwillingness to change perpetuates the colonizing mentality which got these teachers to where they are today.  By not thinking, questioning, exploring, they are in fact carrying out the latent wishes of the British.

The teachers who do understand they must adapt in order to have their learners move ahead are very motivated but lack materials to make education ‘hands on’ or learner centered.  This past week I met some teachers who are incredibly talented with recyclables and had the glimmer of hope that change can occur. Who knows, Obama became President!