HEAD TEACHERS' TASKS IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF PRESCHOOL CURRICULUM IN KENYA PUBLIC PRESCHOOLS

This exploratory study addressed what the head teacher does to teachers, children and parents in the implementation of the preschool curriculum. The 33 head teachers were purposefully selected. The research established that the key tasks undertaken by the head teachers to teachers, children and parents as the key preschool stakeholders are not associated to their (head teachers') general background characteristics, but are more related to their basic knowledge about preschool education and the time they have at their disposal. It was found that the stated tasks are peripheral to direct classroom management undertaken by preschool teachers. The identified tasks by the 33 head teachers formed a basis of broader discussion about the need to have them trained and attend in-service courses on preschool classroom management which would make them experts in curriculum implementation. Key words: head teacher, tasks, preschool curriculum, implementation, preschool.






Publication: Ife Psychologia
Author: Gatumu, Jane Ciumwari
Date published: March 1, 2010

BACKGROUND

A preschool is an institution of learning aimed at promoting knowledge and developing skills and attitudes in three to six year old children. In Kenya, a public preschool is a component of a primary school (Republic of Kenya, 2005), which is headed by the head teacher who usually assumes the roles of an administrator (Okumbe, 1998).

Callander (1961) suggests that curriculum implementation is one area in which the head- teacher should be familiar with to ensure effective implementation. In this context, it is the head- teacher's responsibility to supervise the extent to which activities of teachers, children and parents are fulfilling to meet the demands of curriculum implementation (Olembo, Wanga and Karagu, 1992), making him/her accountable and responsible for effecting preschool goals (Okumbe, 1998; Read, Gardner and Mahler, 1993).

The Kenyan public preschool uses the National Centre for Early Childhood Education (NACECE) curriculum model whose objectives are:

* Promote the child's physical, cognitive, aesthetic, religious and social development.

* Enhance the child's understanding and appreciation of his/her cultural heritage.

* Enhance the child's self awareness, self esteem and self confidence.

* Promote child's health.

* Foster child's language development.

* Provide for the child with special needs.

* Prepare the child for primary education. (Republic of Kenya, 2005).

Of special interest is whether the head teachers are aware of the tasks they undertake for teachers, children and parents towards the implementation of preschool curriculum. "Whispers" are that head teachers have little to do with the implementation of preschool curriculum. Therefore, there is need to investigate the tasks the head teachers undertake, and that which make them deviate from this crucial role of total responsibility and commitment of preschool curriculum implementation.

OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

This study was guided by the following objectives:

* Examine the tasks head teachers undertake for teachers, preschool children and parents to effect curriculum implementation .

* Establish whether the examined tasks are related to the head teachers' background.

* Find out challenges head teachers face as they undertake these tasks.

* Explore the head teachers' way forward regarding the future of preschool curriculum implementation.

METHODOLOGY

The study employed the exploratory research design to establish the tasks head teachers undertake for the teachers, children and parents towards implementation of preschool curriculum. An open ended questionnaire targeting the various characteristics of head teachers, tasks they undertake for teachers, children and parents and the challenges they face was developed. In addition they were asked to indicate their way forward regarding their implementation of preschool curriculum. A face- to -face individual interview was done with all the participants as they returned their completed questionnaires, to complement their responses on questionnaires. Responses from these interviews were recorded

The 33 head teachers were purposefully selected to participate in the study. These 33 head teachers were among 133 students undergoing a Bed (Early Childhood Education) programme in the University of Nairobi over the August 2006 holidays. The purpose of the study was explained to the 133 teachers and those who were head teachers in the group volunteered to take part in the study. The 33 head teachers were from various geographical parts of Kenya: central (n=ll), eastern (n=8), northern (n=5) and western (n=9). The 33 were given an hour to complete the questionnaire. The researcher was available to make any clarification where necessary.

Frequencies and percentages were computed with regard to head teachers' background characteristics; tasks for teachers, children and parents. Responses regarding challenges faced by head teachers in various tasks, and their comments on the way forward were also analysed using frequencies and percentages. Responses from face to face interviews were analysed thematically, whereby a theme was given to each comment made in relation to objectives of the study so as to substantiate aspects of the specific task or challenge.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSIONS

The study's findings are organised around:

* The background characteristics of the head teachers.

* Head teachers' tasks to teachers.

* Head teachers' tasks to children.

* Head teachers' tasks with parents.

* Challenges facing head teachers in their curriculum implementation.

* Head teachers' comments on the way forward in their curriculum implementation.

The background characteristics of the head teachers

The head teachers' background characteristics are displayed in Table 1.

Background characteristics were identified because they are most likely to influence the tasks head teachers undertake for teachers, children and parents as key stakeholders in the implementation of preschool curriculum (Abere, 2006; Omoka, 1980). For instance, Abere 's study in Kuria Distict, Kenya found that head teachers of different ages manifested different administrative training needs. Omoka's (1980) study in Ikolomani Division in Kakamega town in which she tried to find out how many hours of valuable time are spent on instruction, supervision, counselling, disciplining, extra-curricular activities, orderings and issuing of equipment, parents and teachers' discussions. Her findings indicate that the time spent on each function depended on variables like age, gender, academic qualifications and size of the school. However, in this study the head teachers' background characteristics (Table 1) do not seem to influence their specific tasks to teachers, children and parents as reflected in tables 2, 4 and 6 where a task cuts across background characteristics. For instance, in Table 2 the head teachers who mentioned the task of providing resources to the teachers are from different background characteristics. This lack of association between tasks and background characteristics of head teachers may suggest that what head teachers undertake may be determined by other factors like their lack of expertise in preschool affairs and lack of time as explained in other sections of the findings and discussions

Head teachers' tasks to teachers

Table 2 shows the main tasks the head teachers undertake for their preschool teachers in curriculum implementation.

Tasks of providing instructional resources, guidance and counseling and ascertaining teachers' salaries featured among head teachers of different background characteristics. For instance, the task of providing resources is widely mentioned (44%, n=30). Indeed, provision of resources is a main task that head teachers do to teachers (Okumbe, 1998; Olembo, Wanga and Karugu, 1992; Mbiti, 1974). Perhaps it is because almost all the head teachers 94% (n=31) reported that they have some knowledge on how preschool children learn by interacting with concrete materials (see Table 3).

Children mainly learn through their interaction with materials readily available in the social and physical environments (Read, Gardener and Mahler, 1993). Therefore, the instructional materials at preschool level are central to the implementation of the curriculum. Perhaps that is why the head teachers reported that availing is their main responsibility so that for teachers to become effective instructors. However, these head teachers did not seem concerned with what happened with these instructional resources in the classroom. Olembo, Wanga and Karugu (1992) note that the head teacher is expected to evaluate how well these instructional resources are utilized by the teachers. Indeed, in the face-to-face interview, one head teacher remarked: "My business is to make sure that these resources are there. I do not make use of them. The nursery school teacher uses them when teaching. She is the expert".

Providing guidance and counselling was reported as head teachers' commitment to teachers by 41% (n=28). Guidance and counseling task is hereby viewed in the context of providing professional support. Basically, many preschool teachers need support from the head teachers, who in most cases are trained teachers (Republic of Kenya, 2005) because about 65% of preschool teachers in Kenya are untrained (Mariani, 2002). Interestingly, the head teachers' personal remarks indicated that the consultation was mainly on children's disciplinary measures requiring the involvement of parents. This suggests that head teachers somehow shunned the preschool classroom management. May be, the examination pressure exerted by the primary school curriculum made them lack sufficient time for preschool matters. Additionally, they may not be confident with some preschool dimensions as indicated in Table 7 in which 23% (n=13) stated that their main challenge was their unfamiliarity with preschool children's specific needs.

A substantial number of head teachers (15% n= 1 0) indicated that they had to ensure that teachers were paid. Teachers' salaries are a matter of concern, given that preschool education for three to six year old children is not free in Kenya (Republic of Kenya, 2005). Teachers' salaries highly depend on the economic status of the preschoolers' families (Republic of Kenya, 1999). Muchira (1989) argues that one way of ensuring that teachers teach adequately is by providing job satisfaction through their salaries and economic empowerment is an important factor people consider when joining teaching profession (Kariuki and Kibera, 1996). The head teacher negotiates for the teachers' salaries to create job satisfaction and retain them in preschools. This may compensate a lot of time for head teacher's involvement in classroom matters. Thus, the preschool teacher is left solely with classroom management.

Head teachers' tasks to children

Table 4 indicates head teachers' tasks to children. According to Mbiti (1974) children are a focal point of the educational process for the head teacher to plan.

The tasks in Table 4 tend to suggest that the 33 head teachers had some understanding of what constitutes preschool education. This is reflected by the nature of the tasks they undertake for children such as providing of resources, space for play, feeding programme, ensuring children's security and ascertaining that they had qualified teachers.

The striking point is that the tasks have to do with the children basic needs/ rights (Republic of Kenya, 2002). One would have expected head teachers to spell out their tasks in terms of the basic need of education. However, it comes out that education is not given in isolation from children's other rights/ needs (Myers, 1995).

The tasks on Table 4 focus on what takes place outside the classroom. Hence, it is doubtful whether these 33 head teachers are well informed about what early childhood education curriculum should achieve and the extent to which they should directly be involved with what goes on in a preschool classroom. The concern is whether these head teachers are familiar with the essence of preschool education. For sure, it is clear to them that preschool curriculum should prepare children for entry into primary school since they indicated a certain number of preschool children sent to primary school every year (Table 5) .

The function of preparing children for primary schooling is one of the objectives of preschool education (Republic of Kenya, 1997). This is reiterated by Jacobson (1996) who argues that numeracy and literacy are global skills for later academic achievement. The face- to -face interviews indicated that none of the 33 head teachers taught preschool children either number work or reading and writing. During the face- to- face interview head teacher remarked: "Oh, I can't teach nursery children. I would love to teach these small children. This is why I have registered for this degree. I hope to have patience with them when I finish the course".

This suggests the head teachers' limited involvement in evaluating preschool classrooms interventions. This might be the reason as to why (n=3) head teachers stating that they ensured their preschools had trained teachers (see Table 4). This raises concerns about classrooms manned by untrained preschool teachers, as the head teachers do not have full control of preschool classroom management (Njenga and Kabiru, 2001). In Njenga and Kabiru (2001) study in Embu, they found that those head teachers who are not involved in the preschool classroom intervention and where the teachers were untrained there was had higher rate of school dropout.

Head teachers' tasks to parents

Parents are key participants of the objectives of the preschool curriculum (Republic of Kenya, 2005; Republic of Kenya, 1968). Herzog (1969) argues that parents have certain reasons for sending their children to preschools. Some of the reasons are that the child should be prepared for further schooling as their social needs are taken care of. Thus, the head teacher has to collaborate with parents to realize the preschool goals (Read, Gardener and Mahler, 1993; Mbiti, 1974)

In regard to the parents, the 33 head teachers outlined the tasks they do for them as shown in Table 6.

The head teachers' task of involving parents in paying teachers' salaries (46% n=32) dominated these tasks. According to the Koech Report (Republic of Kenya, 1999) paying of preschool teachers is in the hands of the parents. Parents pay directly to the head teacher, who is the financial advisor in the preschool (Republic of Kenya, 2005). Failure to pay teachers would mean that the head teachers would not have motivated preschool teachers to help them implement the curriculum. The parents who do not pay the preschool levies are expected to withdraw children from the preschool (Njenga and Kabiru, 2001). And this leads to dropout and consequently would interfere with the enrolment of children into primary school. Hence, it is not a surprise that 46% (n=32) head teachers' responses reflect the fact that they had to invest their time negotiating teachers' salaries with parents.

Provision of play materials and physical facilities came second (28%, n=19) and since play materials and physical facilities are provided and maintained by the parents, it is important that head teachers pay attention to them (Campbell, Bridges and Nystrand, 1983). It is a crucial task which greatly helps that head teachers to understand that children learn by doing and interacting with concrete materials (Roopnarine and Johnson, 1987). However, involving parents in the provision of materials is a task outside preschool classroom management.

Involving parents in children's feeding programme again features because malnourished children cannot be taught (Myers, 1995). According to UNESCO (2005) nutrition is a key component of children's education, care and development. Again, head teachers focus on feeding as a child's need /right to which parents must be committed. Head teachers (26%, n=18) outline this task just as an assurance mechanism for everything to go on well with the child.

The tasks head teachers render to parents tend to focus on general aspects of a child's life (UNESCO 2005; Myers, 1995). These tasks may be viewed as basic services which empower children to undertake their learning. The concern is on whether these tasks can be undertaken by somebody else, so that the head teacher pays attention on actual realization of the curriculum objectives. For instance, it is important to have parents involved in children's homework and have them invited to witness how their children participate in normal learning environment. Here again, the head teachers assume direct management of classroom learning to the teacher, making his/her tasks rather peripheral when they can as well be designated to other personnel. This puts extent head teacher far from the actual implementation of the preschool curriculum. Thus, the implementers of the preschool curriculum seem to be preschool classroom teachers, most of whom are untrained.

Challenges facing the head teacher in the curriculum implementation tasks

The 33 head teachers indicated that they faced certain challenges as they affect their tasks to teachers, children and parents (see Table 7). Okumbe (1993) and Olembo, Wanga and Karugu (1992) argue that the challenges head teachers face are there because of the complexity of educational institutions they have to manage.

Table 7 shows that all the head teachers indicated that they were challenged by the expectations of the parents (53%, n=30). In fact, in the interview one head teacher explained: "Every parent coming to school expects the child to read, write and do maths, from day one of nursery school. They think that I teach their children".

The 23% (n=13) and 21% (n=12) of head teachers cited their limited control (see table 7) . The direct intervention of the head teacher in the classroom decisions of the teacher rests in the legitimate authority as a middle manager within the administrative hierarchy according to the Kenya Education Act of 1968. The head teachers' suggestions about preschool classroom control could have minimal impact on the preschool teacher who views the non teaching head teacher as unfamiliar with the real problems he/she experiences. The situation is worsened if the head teacher does not have the preschool expertise.

Indeed, preschool teachers are often prepared to accept, and encourage head- teachers to act decisively in some areas (Njenga and Kabiru, 2001). However, these decision areas may be seen by some preschool teachers as limited to the events outside the classroom, relating to the issues like timetable organization, discipline and reporting to higher authorities and parents. These preschool teachers view these issues in a sense as peripheral to the central tasks of preschool instruction, like setting the objectives, selecting teaching/ learning resources, developing instructional strategies and assessing children's performance. The head-teacher may have less influence on these areas because of lack of knowledge (Abere, 2006).

Of the 33 teachers interviewed, 3% (n=2) indicated that they worked under unavailable and unclear government policies. M anani (2002) states that lack of early childhood development policies makes it difficult for the stakeholders to be effective and efficient. One of the two head teachers asked: "Should we interview preschool children for primary school entrance? The government has not told us what to do. We do not know how much to pay teachers. . . etc. "

It is hoped that the new early childhood Policy Framework for Kenya 2006 will clarify how head teachers in public primary schools have to effectively implement the preschool curriculum.

Head teachers' suggestions to improve their tasks

Table 8 summarises head teachers' suggestions to improve on the tasks

The suggestions in Table 8 are directed to the government which has the responsibility and commitment to children's education. This is in agreement with Gatumu and Mwangi (2005) who found that the government's total involvement would increase enrolment in preschools in Muthithi zone, Mar agua district, Kenya. The implication here is that because preschool education is not free head teachers spent a big section of their time negotiating for funds from parents to pay teachers and maintain the preschool (Njenga and Kabiru, 2001)

A critical factor for the involvement of the head-teacher in effective curriculum implementation lies in the quality of teacher education provided (Okumbe, 1998). The Kenya primary training colleges do not seem to have clear objectives of preparation of preschool curriculum implementers. Thus, many head- teachers could be failing in their instructional leadership due to the nature of training they received (Abere, 2006). This makes 25% (n=13) desire to be trained in preschool issues (see Table 8).

The 10% (n=3) recommending that preschool teachers be trained imply that the period three to six years old must be handled by professionals (Njenga and Kabiru, 2001; Woodhead, 1996; Myers, 1995). From face- to- face interviews one head teacher stated: "It is unfair to let our small children be taught by untrained teachers. It is a period when good foundation for future is laid".

This comment raised the essence of preschool education in the life of future country's human resource. This makes training of preschool teachers paramount in a country's development.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The findings for this study tend to suggest that being a head teacher does not make one be an expert of all that goes in a preschool. It is quite imperative that the training of teachers at primary level needs to have a strong focus on preschool education dimension. This is crucial because preschool forms the foundation basis for the child's future learning which needs planning. Also, to understand the present status of a person at whatever level of education, the preschool level is a point of reference that cannot be ignored (Consultative group on early childhood care and development, 1993; Myers, 1995). A head teacher empowered on how preschool children learn would find himself/ her self evaluating the effectiveness of a preschool teacher by manifesting expertise in preschool classroom management. The parents coming to the head teacher demanding that their children must read and do number work would be facing the right person who understands the complex dynamics in a preschool classroom. Hence, one becomes a head teacher who can effectively employ the children's learning materials and undertake preschool lessons in activities like number work, language, among others. It becomes an assurance that one has attained conceptual skills, human relations skills and technical skills relevant to the attainment of preschool goals (Okumbe, 1998).

For the head teachers in the field claiming to have some preschool experience, regular in- service may be necessary so that they are updated with current trends relevant to preschool education. They become aware of the children's rapidly changing world from which their learning experiences emanate. They are not only managers of provisions, but of how effectively these provisions can contribute towards children's learning by actually implementing them.

The preschool children tend to be in the same compound with the rest of primary school children. To deny the preschool children free education tends to be a form of discrimination in a country which has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. There is a need for the government to manifest its commitment of promise of education to the three to six year old children by having a government's policy of free preschool education. This will enable the head teachers to have more time to focus on other things of relationship with the parents and teachers rather than spending time negotiating for teachers' salaries and parental provision of physical and instructional resources. Furthermore, this may expand access of more children into preschools especially noting that 70% of three to six year old children cannot make it to preschools because some parents cannot afford to undertake all the payments which go into setting up and maintaining of a preschool (Gatumu and Mwangi, 2005; Republic of Kenya, 2005).

The findings of this study may be viewed as limited because the sample is rather small and non-random. Hence, the findings may be limited for generalisation in all Kenya preschools. Thus, further research is recommended in which the sample will have randomness and include teachers, children and parents of private schools.

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Author affiliation:

Jane Ciumwari Gatumu, Ph.D

CEES, University of Nairobi

Kenya

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