I'm fortunate to be a PhD Candidate in a Department (NYU Steinhardt's Department of Applied Statistics, Social Science, and Humanities) that values teaching. I have a mentor who actively engages as both an adviser and acting program chair with all adjunct faculty and graduate students to strengthen teaching in whatever small ways she can. And even then it is difficult to find the space and time to focus on our teaching practice. I meet most Tuesdays with four other undergraduate TAs or Adjunct faculty to discuss issues in class, things we wish we could have done better and strategies for engaging students or working with an issue.
This, unfortunately, does not happen beyond our group. There is no commensurate process for graduate TAs or adjuncts.
One of my undergraduate students told me this semester that she loves taking courses in ASH because she thinks the professors actually care. When I asked her who she's had as professors in our department, she exclusively listed graduate students serving as adjunct faculty. When I asked her if she realized she only listed non-"Tenured" faculty, her response was "Of course! Those are the ones that actually care."
This issue goes beyond just making sure graduate students get the training they need - teaching is increasingly devalued across a university setting. Teaching itself rarely factors in to tenure packages. If you're a bad teacher, it likely won't effect your chances of employment. Ostensibly, universities are places where students should be taught, at a high caliber, and encouraged to think critically with texts and resources. How do we foster such learning if teaching is not a major component of a faculty's job? How can we increase our pedagogical practice as graduate students, when even faculty that we are supposed to help guide us through the process either devalue the profession or are not able to provide training because those above them discourage it?
I hope that conversations such as this one are important. Systemic change needs to happen so that teaching, not just for graduate students but for faculty as well, can improve.
Back in April, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) announced a significant amount of new funding to Benin, Burundi, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Uzbekistan in order to help strengthen their educational systems. In Burundi, the funds will specifically go towards building new primary schools. I wonder the extent to which this helps? Could funding be used to better addressed the current education problems: It is easy to build schools in Burundi - most of the time the schools are built poorly with bad-quality bricks. In this case, could the money be spent on putting windows in existing schools or building walls/fences around existing schools to strengthen failing infrastructure? Several of the students I interviewed stated that the number one thing they would change about their school would be to put a proper fence around it. Why? Because the schools were often attached to the roads - often this meant that community members would walk across school grounds throughout the day and disrupt lessons. Students also talked about the fact that it would be nice to have window panes in their classrooms, when it rains (and it rains a lot), students would have to move away from their desks. Maybe in electrifying schools that have no power? Or in financing computers to those schools? At the moment there are course in Information Technology at the secondary level, yet the schools have no electricity, so they cannot learn on a computer. Many of the students I interviewed discussed one of the major drawbacks in their schooling was the lack of ICT infrastructure: they knew that in order to participate in this modern economy, and succeed, they would have to use computers, but many had never seen one. These things matter to providing quality education, just as much as building schools. Further, if more primary schools are put into places without adequate teacher training, then this will all be for naught.
Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive, and it is important to build schools so that every child can go to school (although, Burundi's current enrollment rate at the primary level is 99%). Strengthening the existing infrastructure might help pave the way for a stronger, more resilient education system. Although, it is cheaper to build schools, so I guess you get more for your money this way. Which is good for satisfying donors.