It is common knowledge that a nation can only be as good as the quality of its education, and no education can be better than the quality of its teachers.
We live in a time where learners do a lot of schooling without actual learning, according to a number of reports, the need to go back to the drawing board cannot be overemphasised.
Fagil Mandy an ardent educationist puts it this way.
“We [Africa] have the fastest-growing and youngest population on earth and if we don’t educate it with the right mindset, knowledge and skills, they are going to cause chaos to the whole world… that is why we need to re-educate and re-train our young people.”
He highlights the fact that we live in a world of technology where Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots are taking over work previously done by human beings. We can’t defeat science and technology but the challenge to re- train our population to; compete with the robots, and better still, explore what the robots and the AI cannot do is glaring in our faces.
“And we cannot do that [re-training] by doing the same thing that we did yesterday. We need to do something different, not just today, but something we should have done 20-30 years ago, so the revolution begins now,” Mandy emphasises.
As earlier mentioned, several reports, including the recently released assessment report by Uwezo titled, ‘Are our children learning’ have time and again pronounced Uganda’s education as one that is deteriorating. In the aforementioned report, for example, 39 per cent of children who could read a Primary Two text in 2015 dropped to 33 per cent in 2018.
Nonetheless, as Sylvia Nanyondo, the head of school, St. Joseph’s Secondary School notes, although the Ugandan learner is inadequate in some competencies such as communication, planning, teamwork, innovation, literacy and numeracy, it is a combination of factors like the system itself and the teacher who makes the student. And whereas all these are interesting subjects to explore, the focus today will be on teachers.
In 2016, Uganda’s National Examination Board released a nationwide assessment report dubbed the National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE) that sought to test for literacy and numeracy skills of teachers and the results were not any better. Eight out of every 10 primary school teachers who had qualified could neither read nor solve basic primary-level mathematics questions. Tutors at Primary Teacher Colleges (PTCs) were not any better. Less than 20 per cent of them could interpret graphs in similar exams, while only 5.7 per cent final-year students passed.
Then, Wilber Wanyama, who works in the Education ministry’s department responsible for teachers’ instructor education and training, said the two years were inadequate to train an all-round teacher.
“It is a system problem that if you don’t get quality input in primary through secondary and primary teachers’ colleges (PTCs), you are likely to get poor quality output at PTCs. If someone can’t write a composition in secondary school and you get such a student training as a teacher for two years, do you think this can change?” he asks.
But whether it is a case of ‘the vicious circle of failure’ or not, Gloria Mukisa, the school head, Bright Stars Primary School believes that teacher training is an issue to look into and gives some recommendations.
“Whereas teaching methods need to change, teacher training needs to change too. A teacher should be able to cause change/ affect the learner beyond the chalk and blackboard. From morals, character, demeanor, and other skills like communication, use of technology, and creativity among others. So, the training should be able to impart these and more skills to the teacher and then the teacher to the learner and the circle will continue,” Mukisa says.
Lack of motivation?
George William Sebuufu, a teacher at Bridges School, Nansana shares that though teacher’s welfare, remuneration and standards are vital issues while looking at the whole picture, among the big issues to look at is the lack of motivation while entering the profession. “Only a few people join the teaching profession willingly, and those that do have become influential teachers regardless of where they are. For many others, teaching was forced on them due to a number of factors; some, because they couldn’t get the career of their choice, others, because the government scholarship they got was in teaching, to mention but a few. Though some grow to love teaching, many don’t, creating teachers with zero motivation who simply hang in there until a better deal comes along,” he says.
According to Sebuufu, anyone joining the teaching profession should be highly-motivated, willing to positively affect their students and take pride in nation building.
Teaching beyond the classroom
Furthermore, Mandy believes that teachers in their capacities are miracle makers able to influence generations so much that students can even replicate the way a teacher walks.
“So, teachers should be willing to learn all the time, but again, teaching beyond academics comes as a result of consorted efforts of parents and teachers. This way we can accomplish the job of teaching our learners faster,” he stresses.
Teacher preparation models
James Kassaga Arinaitwe the co-founder of Teach for Uganda shares how their teacher-training model works to ensure teachers effect real change.
“We don’t just recruit teachers who are looking for employment but leaders [from all professions] who are looking to make a lasting impact in the lives of children.
These should have a track record of both academic success and personal and community leadership service, with competencies to teach, mobilse resources, communicate, and have emotional skills to mentor their children and put them on a path to success in and outside the classroom,” he explains.
This is done at the selection level at their assessment centre during recruitment.
Next is the training phase. Here, selected individuals go through a one-week boot camp where they must leave their families, their gadgets and spend a week living and working with families and children in the disadvantaged communities where they will be placed to teach.
“This is geared to developing their empathy to the people and understanding the challenges - injustices that surround the children they are about to embark on serving for the next two years of their fellowship. Those who are truly committed to working to improve the lives of these children by providing a quality and holistic education sign on to our fellowship programme. Those who find it difficult to do this job then walk away knowing this is not something they are cut out to do,” Kassaga says.
The remnants then start a four -week intensive residential training in fundamentals of teaching and coaching, 21st century -learner-centered methodology, adaptive and moral leadership, resource mobilisation and managing relationships at the summer institute.
After this, they are ready to be placed. In every partner school, two teacher leaders are placed one teaching Mathematics and the other English.
“They work collaboratively under the guidance of the head teacher just like other teachers. They also have a “key” teacher- who helps them integrate into the schools they are placed,” Kassaga adds.
A missing element in teaching that they add to the teachers is continuous coaching and support to improve their effectiveness.
Every 15 teachers in each region are paired with a leadership development coach who acts as their supervisor, and mentor.
These are highly trained teachers and coaches with several years of experience that helps the teachers also grow and improve.