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This radio program in Uganda is inspiring teachers to take risks and try new ideas

This blog has been written by STiR Education Uganda in the framework of the 13th Policy Dialogue Forum on Innovation in teacher policy and practice for educational recovery, happening 2-3 December in Kigali, Rwanda, and on-line.

Register to the Forum here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an enormous challenge to Uganda’s education system. A year of school closures has turned the lives of 10.2 million children and 200,000 teachers upside down.

The country’s initial response to this situation focused predominantly on ensuring continuity of learning for all children. However, teachers were not involved in this process – which made it likely that they would be less effective in supporting students once schools reopened.

School closures during the pandemic have affected teachers in other ways too. It has caused many teachers social and emotional stress, as they are often unsure of both their obligations and how to stay connected with students to support learning.

Taking to the airwaves

STiR Education, an international NGO that focuses on reigniting intrinsic motivation within teachers and education officials, came up with an innovative solution for Uganda that mitigated the impact of COVID-19 on teachers, the wider education system, and supported their readiness to return to school.

STiR worked closely with senior officials within the country’s Ministry of Education and Sports to develop a radio-based continuous professional development (CPD) programme for teachers. This involved a 30-minute session delivered over national and local radio every two weeks.

The sessions were based on simple but effective evidence-based teaching strategies to help all teachers progress and improve their practice. Each lesson was accompanied by a one-page document or infographic shared over WhatsApp to reinforce the content. STiR also shared recordings of each broadcast with officials so they could forward them on to teachers. In this way, it ensured that as many educators as possible could engage with the content.

STiR recognised that it would be insufficient to engage teachers alone. So they introduced weekly one-on-one coaching sessions with district officials, with the aim of supporting them to lead fortnightly conference calls with small groups of school leaders to review the radio lesson content and to develop plans for the teachers that they were supporting. This has helped to ensure the biggest possible audience for the content, and has maintained the engagement of the entire education system.

Reigniting motivation

The organisation says that the results of this innovation have been positive. The radio lessons have motivated and inspired teachers to take steps to improve their teaching, while the follow-up support materials shared on WhatsApp further strengthened their professional development.

Radio has huge potential as a professional education delivery medium for teachers in the midst of school closures and travel restrictions, according to STiR.

Teachers in the programme have learnt to believe in their ability to create change. They have cultivated a growth mindset, learned and promoted safe practices around COVID-19, and addressed gaps in their own teaching practice - all while being helped to emotionally prepare for their return to schools.

Learning to address gaps through instruction

STiR Education was pleased to hear that some school leaders have bought radios for staff rooms to increase teacher engagement. The organisation says it has also worked to identify ways to share examples of teachers who have found the radio content particularly beneficial. For example, some teachers sit in small groups, listen to the lesson, and then call in to share how they plan to support learners in the community in preparation for the reopening of schools.

This year, STiR’s content has had a particular focus on supporting teachers’ psycho-social and socio-emotional well-being. To improve learning at scale sustainably and equitably in this rapidly-changing world, teachers’ emotional resilience can be strengthened by promoting feelings of safety, trust in others, self-worth and hope for the future.

A happy medium

Radio has proved to be a cost-effective medium for delivering teacher development content across STiR’s 40 districts and municipalities – and beyond. STiR also used the innovation to successfully reach teachers outside its districts of operations in Eastern, Central, and Northern Uganda.

However, STiR says that it has not all been plain sailing. It faced two major barriers: firstly, patchy mobile network coverage affected the quality of school leader conference calls. The STiR team tried to mitigate this by scheduling calls in advance so that the leaders could ensure that they are in a location with good network reception. Sharing content via WhatsApp has also helped to make this less of a problem.

Secondly, this approach presented limited opportunities for teachers to collaborate and share professional development plans. In response, STiR provided opportunities for teachers to call in at the end of each lesson to share their reflections and to receive feedback on their plans from fellow educators. STiR remarks that this has created a sense of community, and has helped teachers to gain the confidence to collaborate and share feedback.

Going forward, the STiR team acknowledges that it is critical that training via radio addresses both the psycho-social and pedagogical needs of teachers so that they can, in turn, support the development of skills, knowledge, values and attitudes in those they teach. This can be achieved through activities that improve teachers’ emotional well-being as well as their pedagogical practice.

The pandemic has undoubtedly presented multiple challenges to education around the world. Innovation will be instrumental for speeding up education recovery. STiR states: “We are proud to support the ongoing professional development of teachers’ in Uganda via radio, WhatsApp and weekly coaching calls, not least because ultimately it will benefit the group most in need of our help and support: our schoolchildren.”

STiR Education is taking part in this year's Policy Dialogue Forum. Learn more about the event here.

The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors; they are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.

Photo credit: STiR Education Uganda