Investigating teachers’ lived experiences in teaching Literature in English in Ghana

This thesis investigates the professional experiences of a group of Literature in English secondary school teachers in Ghanaian schools. At the secondary level, LiE is an elective (optional) subject, and so we could expect that those choosing it would probably do well. However, this thesis investigation arose from a concern about the persistent lack of quality of student achievement in this subject, as noted in the annual Chief Examiner’ Literature in English report. These reports outlined challenges students face in responding to West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) Literature in English questions. I was curious about understanding what might be behind this persistent issue. Though English is the official language and medium of instruction from the upper primary to the tertiary level in Ghana, English is a second language. This is important when considering the nature of texts mandated by the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) Ghana every five years. In order to investigate this Literature in English phenomenon, I recruited volunteer teachers from Ashanti Mampong Municipal, using phenomenology as the methodological framework. As part of the investigation, I reviewed teachers’ perspectives about their professional lives through the lens of PCK, since teachers’ knowledge is an important element in teaching specific subjects. I also sought to know more about their professional teaching conditions - both barriers and enablers. The findings revealed teachers’ great passion for the subject and what they thought it could provide for students’ learning in terms of reading, critical thinking and writing skills. However, major barriers interfered with their good intentions: - the unreliability of having mandated texts available in a timely manner - the cost of texts to students and teachers, who must purchase them - the language complexity and cultural, social and historical contexts of some set texts - class sizes. The findings implied that if texts were supplied in a timely manner, and offered for students and teachers to borrow rather than purchase outright, then teachers would not need to find their own workarounds to manage the lack of texts. Also if the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) chose more contemporary and local texts, students might be more familiar with the language and contexts of the literature, and thus be more able to offer original perspectives. Teachers also had to manage large classes, making it difficult to meet students’ specific learning needs. Such barriers are likely to mitigate against teachers using the kinds of co-constructive, student-centred pedagogical practices known to enhance learning and leverage teachers’ PCK. Instead, they resorted to a range of teacher-centred pedagogies, especially when neither students nor teachers could access copies of the set texts. Revealing these barriers to learning can inform WAEC as it makes the next set of mandated literature choices for the next five year term. Should the government also review the status of the subject and how learning materials are provided in a timely manner, this might also benefit both learners and teachers. For participant teachers themselves, knowing their experiences - both positive and negative - are shared, may help them develop networks of professional support to mitigate the effects of access, class size, and text difficulty. In the end, these relatively small changes may be significant in positively altering the experiences of students and teachers in classes of Literature in English.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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