Originally published by UNESCO
This year’s World Teachers’ Day, celebrated on the 5th of October under the theme, ‘Teachers: leading in crisis, reimagining the future’, has a different focus than in previous years as it is held in the wake of the education crisis, caused by COVID-19. Since the pandemic forced schools to close globally, teachers and policy makers have been grappling with how best to ensure inclusive continuation of learning.
During an interview with UNESCO, Bruce Mwewa, a secondary school teacher in Zambia highlighted the consequences of school closures,
“remember, learning is a two-way thing and during school closure, there was no feedback to learners from us teachers…therefore, no learning took place.”
Lukiya Mirembe, a teacher at a Primary Teacher Training College in Uganda explained that “most of the teachers and other educationists were ill prepared.” She explains how her college adapted to using technology to reach their learners during the pandemic.
“The staff settled on the use of WhatsApp and Google classroom…The main challenges have been that some students were inaccessible. Many also do not have smart phones. The issue of internet has been another challenge.”
Using ICTs in education has been advocated for some time. However, the recent pandemic has scaled up the interest in adopting alternative teaching methods by policy makers, development partners and education staff. In order to do this, teachers need to be adequately prepared for the changing realities of instruction delivery and classroom management.
Improving Education Through Teacher Quality
Before Governments and development partners can jump into equipping teachers with new skills on using ICT as a pedagogical tool, they need to know what capacity gaps exist so that interventions can be efficient, and they can use resources effectively. As a first step, UNESCO’s Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme in Uganda and Zambia has focused on improving education through teacher quality, launched Teacher Assessments, in cooperation with local authorities and UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) in both countries to map out the current ICT competency levels of school teachers. The recommendations that came out of the assessments will provide a basis for evidence-based interventions to address the ICT capacity gaps and to strengthen distance learning in Uganda and Zambia for the COVID-19 era and beyond.
The assessment revealed that despite that almost half of the surveyed teachers in Zambia used the internet to find lesson content, they did not incorporate the use of ICT into their day to day classes. In this respect, the survey highlighted the need to train teachers in the pedagogical use of ICT for teaching and learning. Teachers also need to learn skills on preparing interactive, digital content and lessons for self-paced learning. In Uganda, the figures are slightly more encouraging, where almost half of the surveyed teachers used ICT consistently in class. However, capacity gaps remain in developing course content and uploading it on the various learner platforms. The survey similarly showed a need to train teachers in developing interactive materials to be uploaded on relevant e-learning management systems.
Echoing the experience of Lukiya Mirembe’s college, the assessments revealed some of the obstacles to using ICT, including limited equipment and poor internet connectivity. Additionally, the results flagged a rural-urban divide in relation to these challenges in both countries, with rural areas suffering from a more unstable electricity supply leading to poor internet connectivity. In Zambia, rural schools had the lowest rate of ICT equipment, with 38% of them not having any computers at all. In this context, considerations need to be made between rural and urban schools when planning the adoption of alternative teaching.
As well as a rural-urban divide, the assessments also revealed a gender divide, with women falling behind men in as far as ICT usage and awareness is concerned. Thus, special programmes on adopting ICTs among female educators will need to be considered. It is also worth noting that in both assessments, more men participated than women, who accounted for roughly a quarter of respondents in both cases.
As well as strengthening teacher-training, the assessments call for changes at the policy level. For instance, in Uganda, the survey shows that while the country has an adequate legal and institutional policies that support the adoption of ICT in education, there may be need for specific regulations. It also calls on the Government to make a policy shift on the adoption of ICT tools and systems favoured by teachers, such as social media and apps and not only to focus efforts on radio and TV. In addition, it suggests that the Government will need to modify assessment methodologies, as traditional methods will not always be relevant. In parallel, teachers will need to be trained to carry out these new assessments. As for Zambia, the recommendations focus on connectivity, with one policy suggestion being to empower teachers, especially female rural ones, with smartphones to increase access to internet connectivity.
Both assessments concluded that in order to ensure sustainability, once a team of teachers have been trained, there is need for cascade training, to ensure that skills are not only utilized but are transferred to other educators.
“Some teachers have felt abandoned during such a time of great need.” revealed secondary school teacher Charles Mutasa during an interview with UNESCO in Uganda. On World Teachers’ Day, it is more than ever important to hear, and listen to the voices of teachers, who now face unprecedented challenges to guarantee the continuation of learning. These assessments are a first, and crucial, step towards informing the Government and development partner on what teachers in Uganda and Zambia need to be supported and empowered in this time of educational crisis.
Learn More: UNESCO