The Development of Pre-Service Teachers’ Understanding of the Knowledge Necessary to Teach Mathematics: A Case Study in Malawi


Keywords: mathematics, Malawi


Globally, progress in education has been made in recent years to promote learning opportunities for all. However, significant gaps remain in low- income countries. In Malawi, a developing country where the educational system is under development, primary education is a major concern. Several initiatives have been made to bridge this gap through improving the quality of teacher education, but research has shown that there is still a need to further understand the learning process of pre- service teachers during the teacher education program.

The present study aimed to gain knowledge about the primary pre- service teachers’ process of learning, particularly, the development of their understanding of the knowledge necessary to teach mathematics. The current study addressed the question: How do pre-service teachers develop their understanding of the knowledge necessary to teach mathematics throughout teacher education? In the study, the knowledge necessary for teaching mathematics refers to the knowledge that teachers need to carry out the tasks of teaching mathematics.

To further examine this matter, the overall question was divided into three sub-research questions: (1) What understanding do pre-service teachers have of the knowledge needed to carry out the tasks of mathematics teaching at the beginning of their teacher education? (2) To what extent does the pre-service teacher’s understanding of the knowledge needed to carry out teaching tasks evolve through the discussion of practical experiences in college? (3) How do pre-service teachers develop their understanding of the knowledge necessary to carry out the tasks of teaching throughout teacher education?

These questions were compiled into a qualitative case study with six pre- service teachers in a two-year primary teacher education program at a college in Malawi. Each of these pre-service teachers represented a different profile with teaching experience, subject preferences in high school, and a favorite subject to teach during college. The research occurred over three different moments in a two-year teacher education program in which the pre-service teachers were enrolled: an initial moment at the beginning of the program consisted of a questionnaire survey and individual interviews; a second moment during teaching practice that involved mathematics lessons observations and post-lesson interviews; and a third moment at the end of the program that included a focus group discussion.

The data gathered were transcribed and analyzed using a thematic analysis approach. The themes of analysis were designed based on the six domains of mathematical knowledge for teaching theory. Findings show that pre-service teachers develop different paths of development of their understanding of the knowledge needed for teaching mathematics during teacher education and that such development has influences in how they acknowledge effective teaching in Malawi.

The current thesis includes four articles that present the main data and results of the study. The first two articles present findings from an analysis of the pre-service teachers’ understanding of the subject matter knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, and the third article presents an analysis of the pre-service teachers’ understanding when discussing teaching practice. The fourth article explores the understanding pre-service teachers developed throughout the teacher education program.

The contribution of this thesis is to not only offer new empirical and theoretical insights to teacher education but also to suggest a path for further research in teaching knowledge.

Author Biography

Everton Lacerda Jacinto

PhD Fellow
Department of Education and Sports Science, University of Stavanger


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November 11, 2020