Pheobe William from the rural primary school of Upendo English Medium Primary School in Magu, Tanzania, had little teaching preparation before agreeing to be one of the first teachers to participate in a new teacher training program implemented by Opportunity Education and Louisiana College.
Like many teachers in rural regions of East Africa, classes have 70 to 100 students in a single session. Students vie for spots on the floor, often sharing textbooks and pencil stumps. Teachers have limited hours to teach the standardized curriculum, and until now they have relied on didactic, teacher-centered instruction, where the teacher talks and the students simply listen. This tactic is more difficult in that many of the students are hard to keep engaged due to low energy; most walk nearly ten kilometers to reach their school and eat as little as once a day. Teachers are proud of their profession, but they suffer from lack of support and sometimes poor infrastructure. For them, it is all about just getting through another school day and hoping that the students are learning.
Opportunity Education is working to change this. In 2006, OE delivered elementary curriculum based on US Standards to 78 schools in Uganda, Tanzania and south Africa. Televisions and DVD players are provided as part of the program to deliver the recorded lessons in mathematics, science, creative arts and social studies. The DVD features a teacher introducing concepts and skills, demonstrating good educational practices and actively involving students. Classroom teachers then lead their students in similar activities. Many lessons conclude with reviews that encourage additional student participation.
OE supplies every grade with kits that include necessary materials of books, manipulative, science equipment, maps, art materials, musical instruments; actually 800 items for the elementary grades.
Teacher's Guides provide directions for using the materials in the teaching kits and added learning activities. In the days following each DVD lesson, teachers choose extra practice activities to complete with their classes. Assessment activities, provided at the end of each lesson, help to determine whether students have mastered the skills and are ready to move on to new challenges.
Today OE supports 1,300 schools in 11 developing countries in Africa and Asia.
Principals throughout this network of supported schools report increased enrollment and approved attendance. Ghana Secretary of Education writes that reading ability has improved in pupils' form 47% in 2010 to 60% in 2011. Math and English was 70% and 65% respectively as against 55% and 50% in the sampled schools that are not on board of OE program.
In 2010, 507 Tanzanian teachers from 245 Opportunity Education supported schools attended a Foundation sponsored three day Professional Development Seminar. In partnership with Louisiana College, two programs were presented in central and northern Tanzania that looked to improve the quality of education by targeting the quality of teaching and learning through the effective use of active, participatory instruction and learning methodologies. Instead of using rote teacher-centered approaches, OE empowers educators to rely on student-centered learning activities, where children are given the space to actively participate. They are encouraged to talk about, question, explore, evaluate and debate what they learn, all in a supportive and friendly environment. The teacher participants, along with participation from the schools' directors and local representatives of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, go through in-service training workshops spanning over 3 days, facilitated by 6 professors from the School of Education at Louisiana College. This in-service training included learning about child centered teaching methodologies and using developed materials that focus on participatory and active learning, which in turn the teachers practice applying within the classroom. OE program is based on the belief that both theory and hands-on practice of proven methodologies are more effective than theoretical training alone in supporting change. In order to make substantial inroads with teachers when it comes to implementing participatory, child-centered classroom practices, an influx of essential materials and continuous and intensive technical training, coaching, and supervision are essential. For these reasons OE not only proposes to help teachers develop and use materials, but also to learn, observe and integrate knowledge and practice, recognize and diagnose problems, and consider and apply alternative solutions through an iterative process that includes continuous supervision, feedback, and coaching. One focus of the training sessions are on developing age-appropriate, learner centered practices. Participant training covers core content such as language and math instruction, and research-based practices that support early grade learning. Another key aspect to training success lies in giving teachers the opportunity to participate meaningfully in processes that recognize and value their intellectual capacity, experience, and resourcefulness. When teachers themselves are purposefully involved in the process of improving teaching and learning conditions, they are generally more motivated and willing to put what they learn into practice. Thus in additions to plan to provide continuous in-service training, OE also establishes and support a teacher quality follow-up to ensure teacher-directed learning and instructional behavior changes happen.
The reception from the Tanzania teachers on these teaching methods energized Louisiana college and OE to present two seminars in Uganda, East Africa in 2012 that hosted 403 teachers. 2013 has this team scheduled to host three seminars for Ghana, West Africa teachers.
In order to foster a deeper and ongoing culture of reflective teaching and professional development, the summer of 2011 Louisiana College granted five scholarships to OE supported teachers for a 6 week advanced teacher study on their campus in Pineville, Louisiana. These African teachers met regularly to monitor, share, discuss, and solve classroom issues related to the implementation of new teaching practices as well as develop/create/improvise/procure and use essential teaching materials, as needed. Furthermore, the OE supported teachers are responsible for stepping down training for teachers at their respective school districts in Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa in order to begin the work of creating child-friendly model schools. the 5 initial teachers became mentors to their fellow education peers, cascading their knowledge to others who will also go on to share this vital training and experience.
"The seminar has been so good and interactive because it has lifted me spiritually, physically, socially and mentally" stated Ms. William. "And after I implemented the new methods, I was so happy to see that the learners in my class started learning better." she has demonstrated one of the greatest advancements in her teaching instruction. On a given day, you can find her students working well together in group activities, giving presentations to the class, or playing learning games. Ms. William walks around monitoring their progress and engaging them in time-on-task learning. She has a sense of control within her classroom for the first time in many years, and the genuine opportunity to make a difference to her students' education despite the obstacles that face them all.