Teachers are at the forefront of education and are the most important component in young people’s learning. Investing in one teacher training and development can affect thousands of young people, especially in disadvantaged communities. Institutions with resources strive to provide teachers with opportunities for structured professional development and leadership. Building a group of highly trained teachers can unlock a virtuous cycle in education development – one that can help African countries achieve their vision of becoming advanced, knowledge-based economies.
This virtuous cycle begins with the accomplished students entering teacher colleges and other pre-service programs. When top students receive excellent training and become teachers, the quality of learning increases and efficiency is achieved as fewer children leave or repeat their degrees. The best teachers are promoted to leadership positions within schools so that they can motivate and nurture their peers. It raises the status of teachers and inspires more talented students to enter the profession and continue the virtuous cycle.
The Agenda 2063 of the African Union provides a bold vision to fully develop the human capital of the continent as its “most precious resource” through sustained investment in education from early childhood to university. These investments are aimed at building advanced, knowledge-based economies that drive prosperity across the continent.
As the most important ingredient in education with the greatest impact on a child’s learning, teachers are at the heart of achieving Africa’s vision. The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of education – and teachers – in helping young people acquire the skills they need to prepare for a rapidly changing world of work. Furthermore, teachers provide not only skills and knowledge but also compassion, and this has been an important element in supporting young people’s socio-emotional development through challenging times.
The growing demand for secondary education – stemming from the universalisation of primary education and a growing youth population – means that enrollments for secondary schools are expected to double by 2030. UNESCO estimates that this growth will create a gap of more than 10 million secondary education teachers.
The changing nature of work in Africa necessitates transformation in secondary education systems to provide the skills and competencies required by trends such as digitization and automation. High on the list of these skills is 21st age skills (such as problem solving, communication and critical thinking) as well as STEM (science, technology, math and engineering), digital skills and business skills.
Yet teachers cannot transfer new skills by teaching in the old way or simply delivering knowledge on a platter. Dynamic, student-centered pedagogies that complement the skills-based curricula are required. When young people are enabled to ask questions about real-world problems, and then supported to find their own solutions, they develop the ability to think critically. Teachers can promote 21st century skills by promoting classroom debates, project-based learning and experimentation, enabling students to put the knowledge they learn into books and lectures into practice. The good news is that these teaching methods can be incorporated into any course or extracurricular activity, if the teacher is properly trained and willing to do so.
We are facing a moment in which we have an increase in the demand for additional teachers and teachers who are highly qualified and equipped to teach in new ways that will enable the youth to live in a dynamic and complex world. to flourish.
To ensure that competent students participate in teacher training programs, governments can raise the standards for admission. They can also improve the status of teachers by promoting better salaries, benefits, careers and giving more recognition to achievers. Or they can ease the burden on teachers by rediscovering the teaching force and exploring new ways to support teachers in classrooms.
Rwanda has developed such an innovative way to encourage bright students to teach. In collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation, Inspire, Educate, Empower (IEE), a Rwandan NGO and the Ministry of Education have drawn up the Teaching Assistant Program. This program invites top-grade graduates in high schools who excel in math and science to become teaching assistants before going to university. With more hands available in the classroom, teachers can implement the kind of active teaching methods needed to teach 21st age skills. The teaching assistants gain valuable work experience and confidence. Their students in turn benefit from positive female role models in STEM. It’s a win-win-win. Experience in Rwanda has found that many talented students previously in the business world or medical career intended to obtain degrees after completing the program.
Technology can play an important role. OER4Schools in Zambia is a professional learning program for teachers in grades 1-9 that integrates the use of mobile devices, digital open educational resources and open source software to promote innovation and experimentation in the classroom. The course covers interactive teaching principles, group work, interrogation, dialogue, assessment and research-based learning. It supports the Zambian curriculum and encourages active collaborative learning in mathematics and science. Teachers have increased their expectations of students (adapted to their knowledge levels) and use a range of interactive techniques, especially practical and group work. Students developed a deeper understanding of the topic, were more collaborative and actively involved and were able to use digital technologies for problem solving.
When students return to schools after the interruptions and closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to have more teachers with the right skills in place. Millions of students will have lost many months of learning and will have to make up for lost time. We need to ensure that young people acquire the skills and competencies needed to adapt and succeed. Investing in qualified, inspired teachers is crucial to the transformation of education.
Let’s answer the call.