During my graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn GSE), I examined the relationship between teacher-centered and learner-centered pedagogy in Southeast Asia. This topic has always interested me because I grew up in the Philippines where ‘teacher-centered’ pedagogy was more common. Then when I moved to the U.S., I experienced more ‘learner-centered’ approaches. At that time, the different teaching methods and teacher-student dynamics baffled me. Over the years, however, I’ve grown to appreciate the spectrum of teaching philosophies, principles, and approaches. What I love about my time at Mawlamyine University is the fact that I am able to use all of what I have learned and experienced so far and engage with the interplay between theory and practice.
While some people may still view teacher-centered and learner-centered pedagogy as opposing forces, with learner-centered as the preferred approach, it seems more fitting to say that they really work in tandem. As several scholars have noted, rather than learner-centered, learning-centered is more suitable for local contexts (Schweisfurth, 2013; Thompson, 2013). Education is not just about the teacher nor is it just about the students; rather it is about the common purpose of learning and growing in knowledge and wisdom. This is the attitude that I strive to embody in the classroom.
Even though I am teaching an English language class, the class in itself has become an exploration of teaching methodologies, their underlying philosophies, and the process of translating pedagogy in order for it to make sense within the cultural context. I teach 4 different groups of students: teachers/staff from various departments, honors students (3rd years to masters students), 3rd years, and 4th years. I’ve also served as a guest teacher for the 1st and 2nd years, which means I’ve had a chance to meet all of the grade levels in some capacity. As with any form of teaching, there are challenges in the classroom; however, I became more excited when I found out that I would be teaching such a diverse crowd. What a great opportunity to see a clearer picture of the university and student life.
After a few classes, the students and teachers could see the contrast in how I teach and the teaching that they are familiar with. I emphasize to the students that teaching methodologies are diverse – one method is not necessarily superior to another. The ways in which teachers teach are affected by many factors (e.g. personal teaching philosophy, institutional requirements, standardized examinations, etc.). Lecture is not ‘bad,’ especially when there are 100-200 students in the classroom. However, when one approach is used too often, it can make the class seem uninteresting to the students. Even then, it is not necessarily the lecture itself that causes students to lose interest in their learning. The students’ expectations and their own goals also play a role in their own progress and level of engagement in class.
The overarching goal is to find a balance in our teaching. In future blog posts, I will share some of the ways in which I tried to approach my classes.
Literature on teacher-centered and learner-centered education:
Bartlett, L., & Mogusu, E. (2013). Teachers’ understandings and implementation
of learner-centered pedagogy. In F. Vavrus & L. Bartlett (Eds.),
Pittsburgh Studies in Comparative and International Education: Teaching
in tension: International pedagogies, national policies, and teachers’
practices in Tanzania (pp. 61-74). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.
Hansen, E. J., & Stephens, J. A. (2000). The ethics of learner-centered
education: Dynamics that impede the process. Change: The Magazine of Higher
Learning, 32(5), 40-47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00091380009605739
O’Sullivan, M. C. (2006). Teaching large classes: The international evidence and
a discussion of good practice in Ugandan primary schools. International
Journal of Educational Development, 26, 24-37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2005.05.010
Schweisfurth, M. (2011). Learner-centred education in developing country
contexts: From solution to problem? International Journal of Educational
Development, 31(5), 425-432. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2011.03.005
Schweisfurth, M. (2013). Learner-centred education in international perspective:
Whose pedagogy for whose development? New York, NY: Routledge.
Tabulawa, R. (2003). International aid agencies, learner-centred pedagogy and
political democratisation: A critique. Comparative Education, 39(1), 7-26.
Retrieved from JSTOR database.
Thompson, P. (2013). Learner-centred education and ‘cultural translation’.
International Journal of Educational Development, 33(1), 48-58.
Vavrus, F., & Bartlett, L. (2012). Comparative pedagogies and epistemological
diversity: Social and materials contexts of teaching in Tanzania.
Comparative Education Review, 56(4), 634-658. Retrieved from JSTOR
Vavrus, F., Bartlett, L., & Salema, V. (2013). [Introduction]. In F. Vavrus & L.
Bartlett (Eds.), Pittsburgh Studies in Comparative and International
Education: Teaching in tension: International pedagogies, national
policies, and teachers’ practices in Tanzania (pp. 1-22). Rotterdam, The