Teachers are at the forefront of education transformation – capacity building is key

By Gbovadeh Gbilia – MD Bridge Liberia

Teacher Anderson Wallie from Gbellie Public School-Saclepea, Nimba County

Teaching is the most important job in the world. The quality of any nation’s education cannot exceed the quality of its educators.

Yet, in many low and middle income countries the teaching profession is in critical condition.

UNESCO estimates a shortfall in teachers in sub-Saharan Africa alone of 15 million. Worse, those teachers struggling to help their students have little or no support.

“Many teachers do not have access to quality training and continuous professional development throughout their careers,” says UNESCO.

Compounding all this is the sad truth that many teachers themselves can often struggle with the content they are teaching. Literacy and numeracy can be a challenge.

The outcome is predictable. Nearly 90% of children around the world go to primary school. But only about 35% can read a simple sentence at the age of 10. In sub-Saharan Africa only 10% can. Hundreds of millions of children are in school, but not learning.

So this year’s World Teachers’ Day on October 5th is more than a day to celebrate hardworking and dedicated teachers. It’s also a vital opportunity to rethink the way ahead, to shine light on the ideas and programs that are working in support of great teachers and great teaching.

As this year’s theme says: “The transformation of education begins with teachers.”

Governments committed to transforming their public education systems understand this, and increasingly visionary leaders in the Global South are showing that the way to transforming learning outcomes for their students begins with transforming training and support for their teachers.

The Liberian Government’s flagship education  program the Liberia Education Advancement Program has been working with students in public schools to improve learning and get them at par with other schools in the country.

Launched in 2016, the program has its largest partner, Bridge Liberia that is supporting over 300 public primary schools across Liberia, with technical support from NewGlobe.

Bridge Liberia supports over 1500 teachers and has trained these teachers in specific classroom management techniques, praise and technology based teaching methods to improve teaching and learning in schools it supports  across the country.

Teachers in Bridge Liberia supported schools benefit from scientifically developed lesson plans and integrated digital content and learning materials tailored to the Liberian  context and curriculum.

Teaching guides are designed to ensure concepts are taught to maximize students’ understanding and learning, with exactly the right rigor, repetition and sequencing.

Lesson plans support teachers with clear measurable goals and expected outcomes for their students. All teaching is targeted to maximize learning for students, through structured practice and feedback grounded in extensive research on the most effective use of class time.

Such a uniquely practical, data-driven induction training ensures every teacher is capable of delivering dramatic learning gains for their students. The response from teachers, even highly experienced ones, is overwhelmingly positive.

William Sackie of Tonglewin Public School in Ganta, Nimba County puts it, “this level of training I received from Bridge Liberia has made my teaching career easier and I can now just go to class with my tablet and present to my students. I have all my daily lessons already collated. It is much fun now in the classroom.”

The result of all these interventions by Bridge Liberia is the ultimate proof of success that has been in learning outcomes for Bridge Liberia supported students.

Compared to traditional public schools, the preliminary results from Year One of the LEAP pilot revealed learning gains of 60% or more in partnership schools, and of over 100% in Bridge Liberia schools, this is according to a Study conducted in year one of the program in Liberia.

The same methods used to train and support Bridge Liberia  teachers have been used in other education programs in Lagos and Kwara States and in the national RwandaEQUIP program and other territories supported by NewGlobe.

A vital element in each of the programs is ongoing data-driven coaching and professional development for every teacher. Lessons are observed by highly trained learning and development supervisors several times a month, with teachers receiving bespoke face-to-face feedback.

“When I give teachers feedback they are happy; they embrace the ideas. I see teachers have improved very well. When I go to class, students are paying attention, they have access to learning materials and are focussed. I am very impressed because together we are achieving,” explains Bridge Liberia supervisor Angeline Teahway.

The training and support for teachers in the Bridge Liberia ecosystem under the LEAP Program also draws support and recognition from education stakeholders including the houses committee chairpersons on education.

“I admire the level of monitoring and supervision I see in our public schools supported by Bridge Liberia. I let every other partner in education know that the same monitoring will be expected from you all and the Legislature will do everything in its powers to support the Ministry of Education and Bridge Liberia to ensure teachers are transformed to support our students” Senator Prince K. Moye, Senate Committee Chair on Education said.

The teaching methods underpinning all the programs supported by NewGlobe including Bridge Liberia was recently studied by a team led by Professor Michael Kremer, Nobel Prize winner for Economics in 2019 in Kenya.

They found not only that students taught using the methods made some of the biggest learning gains ever found in such a study, but that students and their parents reported better teaching.

Let’s remember, teachers deserve consistent and expert training and support. Tech-enabled, data-driven coaching and professional development for teachers, which makes-up such a vital part of the public education transformation programs spreading across Africa, are a blueprint for teaching success. And as UNESCO says, transforming education outcomes for all students begins with teachers. Happy World Teachers’ Day.

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