Teachers and Teaching: Conceptualizing Quality Education in Rural Nicaragua

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Policy discourses reflected in the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) (Inter-Agency Commission,1990) and the subsequent Dakar Framework for Action and EFA: The Quality Imperative (UNESCO, 2001, 2004), have called for the improvement of the quality of basic education. These discourses emphasize student-centered pedagogical approaches in an effort to improve quality of education at the classroom level. The Nicaraguan government has sought to improve educational quality through the promotion of such pedagogies (MECD, 2000, 2001, 2006a). However, research on teaching in contexts of reform asserts that many factors influence how teachers understand and implement instructional reform, and highlights the difficulties in challenging existing teacher-centered practices (Cohen, 1990; O'Sullivan, 2004; Smylie, 1996).

This dissertation relies on case studies of four primary school teachers to explore how each teacher conceptualizes and enacts "quality" instruction in the context of reform in rural schools in Nicaragua. Findings from the case studies illuminate the complexities that teachers face in their daily work. Each of the four teachers, to varying degrees and in somewhat different ways, was committed to adopting or adapting the reform pedagogies. However, for them, what happens in the classroom is largely informed by local contextual factors.

These findings offer insights into how teachers understand and enact "quality" teaching. Such insights can be used in planning and implementing professional development and other initiatives, especially as the Ministry of Education and international donors continue to promote initiatives aimed at improving the quality of education at the classroom level. This study also can inform the process for evaluating policies by providing an in depth description of teaching and the challenges that teachers face in putting into practice ideas being promoted globally as critical for quality instruction. Finally this study contributes to theorizing and research concerned with teachers' ideas and practices, by examining key issues in a context that is less-often in focus in the literature - rural teachers in a developing country context.