Teaching and learning, can we influence what happens in the classroom, and should we?

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Don’t teach, invest.’ – This was one of the slogans I remember when making the decision to apply to EPAfrica (KEP back then). The rationale makes sense: for us teaching is

  1. unsustainable and
  2. counterproductive.

University students from the UK are simply not qualified to teach, especially in an alien education system where there is a surplus of more-able, qualified teachers. However the result of this alternate focus on resource investment  perhaps meant that we are missing an opportunity to positively influence what is taking place in the classrooms, and limiting legitimate engagement with teaching and learning as part of our PW projects.

Having identified this as an opportunity to improve our programme, and now that we have a growing number of educational practitioners, trainee teacher and teachers in our volunteer network, we feel ready to have the conversation with our partner schools: what can EPAfrica do to directly support what happens in the classroom?

This is where our research project comes in. Emma Keaveney, Stella McAteer and I have been visiting schools across Kisii and Kakamega, interviewing teachers and head teachers with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the teachers who work in our partner schools; their training, confidence, strengths and areas of need. We’ve also visited Kisii university to learn more about the teacher education university courses. We hope that our findings will inform the charity’s thinking on whether, and if so, how, it can support schools with regards to teaching and learning. We’ve yet to analyse the results in detail, but here are just a few thoughts that we’ve taken from our conversations with teachers and headteachers so far.

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Technology needs

  • As more schools get electrification and are seeking to establish computer facilities, the need for technology support, in terms of traditional PW investment, and teaching & learning, is growing.
  • When asked what resources would most enhance their teaching and pupils’ learning, the vast majority of teachers & heatdteachers noted ITC related resources, including computers, projectors and e-resources, which could be used for both teaching and independent learning.
  • Teacher education courses now typically include a number of mandatory modules related to integrating ITC, however these are often based on the kinds of facilities not available at our partner schools, and even so, this still leaves a large number of older teachers reluctant to engage with technology as part of their teaching practice.

Schools are unable to meet training needs

  • Ongoing training is not meeting the needs & expectations of teachers, and for just under half of those surveyed, is non-existent.
  • When training is attended by teachers (often related to Science & Maths related subjects), teachers note that it is very useful, particularly training that focuses on improvising with available resources to make learning practical and engaging.
  • As might be expected, the biggest barrier to providing training is the financial cost, and also the logistical aspects of attending, such as arranging cover.

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Teachers in our partner schools are passionate and knowledgeable

  • There has perhaps been a tendency to think that the quality and motivations of teachers in our partner schools is not as good as it could be, which is simply inaccurate.
  • The vast majority of teachers say that they are both confident and motivated in the classroom, citing their strong subject knowledge, and more importantly, their passion & enjoyment for their chosen profession.
  • The vast majority of teachers surveyed had completed degree level secondary education, and were able to articulate their understanding of different teaching methods – particularly more engaging, non-rote examples.

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I’ll finish wish a response from one of the teachers, when asked about why they enjoy teaching at their school. I believe it encapsulates the fantastic attitudes of teachers across all of our partner schools, and EPAfrica more generally.

I feel from deep inside that we can change the society through education. Therefore when I teach, it’s deep from my heart that I believe I am playing a part in transforming society.

We hope to release our findings & recommendations in the coming months. If you’re interested in supporting any future work related to teaching and learning in EPAfrica schools, please feel free to get in touch.

Patrick first went out to Kenya as a Project Worker in 2012, working with a school in Kakamega. In addition to volunteering on the London University Committee and in the Central Charity, he has also returned to East Africa several times, first as coordinator in 2013, and then as Project Manager in 2014. Having spent a year working at Teach First HQ, he then completed their Primary training programme, and is now a teacher in London.