Building transformative education systems through holistic teacher policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa
This blog was written by Prof. Yusuf Sayed to mark the launch of the joint UNESCO/Teacher Task Force report, Supporting teachers through policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa, at the African Federation of Teaching Regulatory Authorities (AFTRA) 10th Teaching and Learning Conference and 12th Roundtable in Namibia, 9-12 May 2023.
The Transforming Education Summit (TES) underlined that to build more resilient and transformative education, countries must address a number of teacher issues, including shortages of qualified personnel, limited opportunities for education and training, low professional status, inadequate working conditions, and limitations to their empowerment and capacity to innovate. But even while these issues are front of mind for a lot of policy-makers, the teacher shortage keeps on growing. About 16.5 million teachers need to be recruited in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve universal primary and secondary enrolment. Moreover, a substantial minority of teachers have had limited access to training or opportunities to enhance their competencies, and just 69 per cent of primary teachers and 61 per cent of secondary teachers hold the minimum required qualifications in the region. Teachers’ working conditions, salaries and contractual positions are inadequate, and their involvement in policy formulation is limited. In 20 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, primary teachers earn, on average, less than PPP $7,500 per annum.
Teacher policy is key to achieving the SDGs
Target 4.c of the Sustainable Development Goals commits the world to: ‘By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.’ This underscores the growing global understanding that quality teachers who can teach effectively are needed to ensure inclusive, equitable and quality lifelong learning for all. Multiple regional policies come to the same conclusion, including the African Union Continental Education Strategy for Africa (AU-CESA) 2016-2025, the Africa Agenda 2063 and the Southeast Asia Teachers Competency Framework.
Developing holistic, comprehensive national teacher policies is essential to achieving these goals and supporting teachers to play their part in building a more sustainable world. To this end, the Teacher Task Force and UNESCO co-developed the Teacher Policy Development Guide to help national policy-makers and practitioners develop holistic, comprehensive and integrated teacher policies that address all dimensions of teachers’ work and practices. The Guide argues for a long-term systemic approach, together with ongoing review and reflection to continually improve and align teacher policy to the wider policy landscape, including education sector plans, cross-sectoral perspectives and national goals.
The Guide has already been used across sub-Saharan Africa to develop effective teacher policy. Supporting teachers through policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa reviews this progress to highlight lessons, good practices and recommendations that other countries can apply. Participating countries included Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Togo and Uganda.
Developing structured and inclusive policy development processes
The process used to develop policy is critical to its eventual success. The review highlights the importance of using collaboration frameworks to develop policy, based on a wide range of perspectives and voices, including those of civil and teacher service commissions, teacher training institutions, regional education managers and inspectors. Reflecting teachers’ voices was found to be critical; frameworks that emphasized social dialogue and drew in teachers and their representatives helped ensure teachers’ buy-in.
Across countries, a two-tier committee structure was found to be effective for managing policy development processes. A steering committee of a core team of higher-level decision-makers provided strategic guidance and oversight, while a technical committee, reporting to the steering committee, was responsible for the day-to-day developmental work. This system helped to ensure that processes were seen to be inclusive and transparent, with meaningful stakeholder involvement throughout.
Using the Teacher Policy Development Guide to inform content
The Guide was used to inform the content of countries’ teacher policies, and was found to be easy to implement, practical and relevant. As the Guide recommends, countries linked teacher policy vision to overall education policies and plans and national social and macroeconomic development frameworks. All countries included in their policies the Guide’s nine key dimensions: teacher recruitment and retention; teacher education; deployment; career structures; teacher employment and working conditions; teacher reward and remuneration; teacher standards; teacher accountability; and school governance. Each country adapted the dimensions to their own contexts, arranging them differently around national thematic strategic axes determined through a reflective and collaborative process. Some countries found they had additional policy-making needs, which resulted in the development of new dimensions, such as social dialogue and teacher autonomy, as well as cross-cutting themes of inclusivity and gender.
Lessons for development partners
The review showed that development partners, including international organizations, bilateral aid agencies and civil society organizations, can play a vital role in supporting countries to develop their policies, by providing financial and technical support and assisting with coordination. International agencies can also help build international forums and online platforms for policy learning and sharing, allowing countries to learn from each other and adapt policy responses to their national contexts. Ongoing initiatives, such as capacity-building programmes for teachers, school leaders and other education staff, can also provide valuable lessons for policy-making.
Holistic teacher policy as a key lever to transform education
Teachers can change the world, but they need help to do it. Education policy reform must place teachers at its heart and as indicated in the final recommendations on teachers during the TES, holistic teacher policies must be created, with teachers playing a central role in policy development and educational decision-making through social dialogue. Such teacher policies can provide teachers with better working conditions and the support they need to deliver equitable learning experiences for all learners, including the marginalized and disadvantaged. Yet for this to happen, improvements in the financing of teachers through integrated national reform strategies and effective functional governance must also be addressed if education is to truly transform and the Sustainable Goals are to be realized.
Consult the UNESCO/Teacher Task Force report: Supporting teachers through policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa.
Photo credit: Kehinde Olufemi Akinbo
#TeachersTransform learning spaces: How teachers produced a TV show to reach learners during lockdown
“The pandemic taught us that we have to learn to adapt and respond to life as it happens. To stay relevant, the education system cannot remain the same.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and countries went into lockdown, teachers rushed to improvise distance learning solutions that were as inclusive and accessible as possible.
The teachers at Clarke Junior School in Uganda were no different. They initially tried to continue lessons via WhatsApp and printed packs that parents could collect from school.
But when they realised that lockdowns would continue for several months, the passionate teachers were determined to find a fun, interactive, safe way of effectively reaching their learners. So they decided to broadcast practical lessons on local television.
“Our head teacher, Katherine Tucker, first proposed the idea,” says Irene Nyangoma Mugadu, Curriculum Head of Learning at Clarke Junior School. She is also the Educational Specialist for N*Gen (pronounced “Engine”) TV Africa following her involvement in the TV show.
“The pandemic forced us to innovate and adapt to the changing circumstances. None of us were actors, and we hadn’t been trained in broadcasting or presenting on camera, but we were committed to evolving, staying relevant and making sure the learners didn’t miss out.”
Working together to transform learning spaces
During the pandemic, public transport was shut down, so teachers walked the long journey to school every day to record the lessons.
“We brainstormed together, and with input from the head teacher we developed the lesson content. It was recorded by a very small film crew and aired on the local TV station.”
The content developed by Clark Junior School caught the eye of Peripheral Vision International, an NGO that combines media, technology, and popular culture to help bring about social change. They approached the teachers, and offered to collaborate on a Pan African Science show aimed at helping more children develop an interest in STEM subjects.
“In the beginning, the content included reading, maths and social studies. But when Peripheral Vision International came on board, the focus shifted primarily to science as it was considered most critical, relatable and engaging,” recalls Irene.
From small beginnings on local Ugandan television, starting in September 2020, N*Gen has become so popular that it has now spread to 45 channels across Africa. It is also screened on the African channel in the USA and the Caribbean. Season three is currently in production.
During the pandemic, the teachers from Clark Junior School presented each episode, and had significant input in the script. “We demonstrated experiments that children could try at home,” says Irene who still consults for the show as an educational specialist.
“We also enlisted our own children to model the experiments. Kids teaching kids became an integral part of N*Gen, and our target audience loved it.”
Encouraging engagement and experimentation to transform learning
The school used the N*Gen episodes to complement their distance learning strategy.
“We wanted to make learning fun, and foster curiosity and discovery. The episodes were aimed at junior primary learners of all ages. So, to ensure all the children in one home could learn together, the episodes focused on one specific theme for the whole family. We then developed grade-appropriate learning packs which included conversation questions for each child to inquire further, and we also assigned experiments and research questions and writing tasks where linkages were possible,” says Irene.
“For example, when we did an episode on mountains and volcanoes, we demonstrated the interaction between vinegar and sodium bicarbonate for a ‘volcanic eruption’. All the kids in one family could work together and create their own science experiment at home, and then complete additional learning tasks tailored to their individual levels.”
This meant that an adapted version of ‘group learning’ could take place during the pandemic.
Research shows that students who work in small groups are able to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same material is presented in other formats.
Back to the classroom with a new perspective
Now that schools have reopened, the teachers from Clark Junior School have handed over hosting of N*Gen to a new team, and are back in their classrooms.
“The N*Gen shows focussed on creating an exciting and interactive learning experience and now I’m applying this approach in my classroom. I present the local curriculum in a way that is practical and engages the learners.
“In our school, we are doing our best to move away from a rote learning model. We believe that all subjects including maths can be taught in a fun, interactive way. We also use a lot of games which build a love for STEM subjects which would otherwise be considered very difficult.”
There’s a need for transformation in teacher and learner support
“At our school, we ask ourselves, ‘What world are we preparing our children for? What kind of skills will be relevant for the careers of the future?’ We need to equip our students with softer skills like creativity, kindness, appreciation for nature, leadership, and how to engage with other people,” says Irene.
To achieve the sustainable development goals, particularly Goal 4, learners should be equipped with literacy and numeracy skills, as well as the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours they need to help build just, peaceful and sustainable societies.
According to UNESCO, this implies ensuring that education systems foster mutual understanding, respect and care among all people and for the planet we share. Empowering learners to engage responsibly and creatively with the (rapidly) changing world.
“Inclusive technology has huge potential for a wider unifying reach especially in Sub Saharan Africa, but we need to equip teachers with the necessary skills to utilise multimedia approaches in the classroom so that education can evolve with the times.”
Learn more about the #TeachersTransform campaign as part of the Transforming Education Summit.
Photo credit: Irene Nyangoma Mugadu