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Home arrow Mathematics arrow Mathematics Teacher Preparation in Central America and the Caribbean: The Cases of Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela

The Initial Preparation of Mathematics Teachers

Teacher preparation in Venezuela is governed by regulations presented in Resolution N° 1 in force since 1996. There the profile of an educator is conceived in the context of permanent education in which there is a constant search for professional development for personal and academic growth. A four part curricular structure has been established: General, Pedagogical, Specialized and Professional Practice. The contents of these areas must be articulated with an equilibrium between the ethical, conceptual preparation and its projection into practice in the school environment. Also, the percent of coursework dedicated to pedagogical preparation and professional practice is stipulated to be at least 30 % of the total.

Moreover, LOE (2009) in Article 15, states that Mathematics will be studied during every school year. Its purpose will be to develop the capacity for abstraction and critical thinking. To do so, innovative methods that promote learning from everyday experience will be used. In order to meet this requirement, an even greater number of Mathematics teachers has been needed at a time when there was already a deficit in the number of secondary Mathematics teachers.

Secondary Mathematics teacher preparation is offered in several public universities: the Liberator Experimental Pedagogical University (UPEL), the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), the University of Carabobo (UC), the University of the Andes (ULA), the University of Zulia (LUZ), the University of the East (UDO), the National Experimental University Simon Rodriguez (UNESR), the National Open Universidad (UNA), National Experimental University of Guayana (UNEG), the University Simon Bolivar (USB) and the National Experimental University Rafael Maria Baralt (UNERMB); as well as in private universities such as the Catholic University Andres Bello (UCAB) and the Catholic University of the Tachira (UCT). These institutions all grant degrees such as: Teacher of Mathematics, Bachelor’s in Education with an Emphasis in Mathematics or Mathematics and Physics, Mathematics Teaching, Mathematics and Computing. These programs last from between four and five years, usually in a semester system with face-to-face presentation. An exception is the UNA which offers distance programs (CNU 2011).

In addition to those universities mentioned above there are many institutions that prepare teachers to teach Mathematics in Elementary schools. These include the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV), the National Program for Educator Preparation (PNFE) as well as Institutes and University Colleges. In both the public and private sector they grant equivalent degrees such as a teaching degree (Profesorado) or Bachelor’s of Integral Education or Integral Elementary

Education. Also, they offer three-year programs that grant the degree of Higher Specialist in Integral Education (CNU 2011).

UPEL has the largest number of Education students. It offers a wide variety of specializations: Mathematics in the Pedagogical Institutes of Caracas, Barquisimeto, Maracay and Maturin, and Integral Education for Elementary teachers, who must all teach Mathematics.

With respect to the contents of the preparation of secondary Mathematics teachers, it should be pointed out that the majority of the universities follow a traditional model by components that were established in Resolution N° 1. There is an emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge and competencies that, according to regulations, should characterize the graduate as a professional with a high level of preparation in fundamental theories, principles and techniques in the teaching of Mathematics as a specific discipline. The future teacher should also have the capacity to teach Mathematics according to its processes in a permanent interaction with students. Also, the capacities as a researcher in Mathematics Education, a communicator and motivator of student creativity, and a social outreach activist in the community are emphasized.

According to this theoretical profile, a graduate teacher with a major in Mathematics should be a professional with a solid preparation in Mathematics which should be accompanied by a preparation for teaching that permits the design of learning experiences and situations related to the mathematical contents of the educational level. However, in reality the product obtained does not fulfill many of these expectations.

Table 5.2 summarizes the program of studies for five of the most important universities in the country.

In the administration of this ideal curriculum a separation into disjoint components occurs. This is no more than a reflection of the epistemological perspective that underlines the conception of teacher preparation in Venezuela. According to Parra (2006), teacher preparation has two characteristic features: a parceling of knowledge and a disconnection of theory from reality. Thus, upon graduation and taking teaching positions, new teachers encounter serious difficulties in trying to adapt what they know with the requirements of the level at which they are teaching and the cognitive development of their students. This is because both their mathematical and pedagogical preparation are inadequate, excessively theoretical and without any points of convergence.

Furthermore, the Mathematics courses are intended to be rigorous, even though there is more of an attempt to cover a lot of content rather than to arrive at a profound understanding. The majority of professors follow a traditional model of teaching based on a conception of Mathematics as a deductive and abstract discipline. They center their teaching on a didactic scheme of definition-theorems-exercises with an emphasis on the formality of mathematical language. Also, much of what future teachers learn will never be what they teach. The topics they will have to teach, and for which they should have both conceptual and pedagogical knowledge, are either not taught or are taught in an inappropriate manner.

Table 5.3 summarizes the number of Mathematics courses in five universities.

Table 5.2 Distribution credits and number of courses by the areas of preparation in five Venezuelan Universities

Area of preparation

UPEL

LUZ

UCV

UC

UNA

UCR (%)

№ courses

UCR (%)

№ courses

UCR (%)

№ courses

UCR (%)

№ courses

UCR (%)

№ courses

Mathematics major

40

21

47

16

67

15

37

17

35

14

Pedagogy

30

15

22

12

23

8

30

16

34

13

Professional practice

15

4

16

4

9

1

13

2

7

2

Table 5.3 Number of courses in the area of specialization in mathematics

Area

UPEL

LUZ

UCV

UC

UNA

Geometry

2

2

1

3

1

Calculus and analysis

7

4

6

4

4

Algebra

5

2

2

3

2

Probability and statistics

1

2

2

1

2

Physics

0

5

2

2

3

Others

5

1

2

4

2

The pedagogical preparation intends to present the key elements of the diverse facets of a teacher’s work. Thus, the future teacher will have the theoretical tools to be used with innovative resources and strategies. However, in reality, the study of the teaching and learning processes includes some general knowledge along with techniques and instruments that trivialize educational action without an understanding of its complexity. This is made worse by the very little attention to specific pedagogical content as it is reduced to one or two courses. An exception is UNA whose curriculum has four courses on Mathematics teaching methods including a specific course on the Evaluation of Mathematical Learning. UNA also has a course on the integration of Mathematics and Sciences.

Student teaching varies across the universities. The UCV includes a course on administrative-teaching practice at the very end. UNA has student teaching courses in the last two semesters. UC and LUZ have three courses on professional practice beginning in the fifth semester. UPEL has four phases (observation, trial, research project and integration of teaching-research), with the last three at the end of the program of studies.

Teaching practice in the last two semesters at UPEL is the moment of professional identity. It is where the participants begin to visualize themselves, and are seen by others, as the teachers they will become. It is their opportunity to share the educational environment, not as mere observers, but as participants in the academic and administrative processes that take place there. It is also the time to confirm their exit profiles. They should demonstrate: a conceptual command of Mathematics; a capacity to design innovative strategies, resources and techniques that support mathematical learning in the contexts in which they will work; leadership which is translated as moral and cognitive authority in cooperative work; respect for others and a disposition to make joint decisions; a professional and personal performance sustained by ethics and values.

Future Elementary teachers who will teach Mathematics are to become integrative educators who teach all subjects in a specific grade and therefore need to know all subjects and be able to integrate them.

The program of studies for Integral (Elementary) Education follows the same structure as that of secondary teachers, maintaining the same relationship among the pedagogical, specialized and professional practice components. The Component of Specialized Preparation is distributed across the various areas in which teachers need to be prepared: Language and Communication, Mathematics, Social Sciences, Citizenship and National Identity, Natural Sciences and Education for the Workplace. Teachers need to be able to teach those subjects with an interdisciplinary focus guided by the following integrative strands: health and the environment; interculturality; Information and Communication Technology; and liberating work, language, human rights and culture for peace, sovereignty and defense of the nation (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Education 2007).

The mathematical preparation of this integrative educator is reduced to two Mathematics courses and one in Geometry. In some cases there are also courses in Statistics and Computing. The purpose of the Mathematics courses is to provide a preparation that is theoretical-conceptual as well as methodological. It should be in accordance with the requirements of the Elementary Education curriculum; linked to the educational, social and human context; and include the study of number, polynomials, measurement and proportionality. The Geometry course has the declared purpose of contributing to logical, deductive and spatial reasoning of the future teacher in a problem solving environment the permits the visualization of the connections of Geometry to the physical world and everyday situations. The contents are basic elements of plane and solid geometries. According to the regulations, these courses should be taught in such a way that the future teacher will not only achieve conceptual knowledge, but will also learn how to teach that knowledge and will feel prepared to carry it to the classroom without showing any feelings of rejection or negative attitudes towards Mathematics that could be transferred to students. Nevertheless, in practice this is going to depend on the professors of these courses, many of whom are unfamiliar with the context of Elementary education, know few strategies that are applicable at that level, and know little about how children learn.

The pedagogical and professional practice preparation follows guidelines similar to those described for Secondary Mathematics teachers. The difference being that they take place in elementary schools.

 
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