Monthly Archives: October 2013

Could learners be teachers?

Addressing the deficit of teachers in developing countries is crucial to providing access to quality education. Rushing a student through teacher training will only aggravate the quality of education others hope to receive and will add little value to wider social improvement. So how does one meet the goal of universal primary education where the ratio of teacher to learners is 1:50? And how does one do so without compromising on the quality of teaching?

The answers require innovative thinking and local support, but they do exist and they are being applied widely in western, developed countries. Generation Yes is a US based project where students are teaching other students with the support of new communication technology. Breakthrough Collaborative is a similar project where older students are supporting younger learners from less affluent backgrounds. Could this model work in Africa? There is evidence to show that it could.

Help2Read works with adult volunteers who visit schools to support literacy development and promote to reading. The initiative is bearing fruit, but more needs to be done in order to address the prevalent deficit of quality education. One suggestion is to allow Grade 11 or 12 students to develop their teaching skills. By engaging secondary pupils to support primary student development one simultaneously addresses the issue of skills development and releasing some of the pressure experienced by teachers in over crowded classrooms.

Providing young (secondary) learners with basic teaching skills, prepares them for the the world of work and increases their opportunities of being excellent teachers. In the face of rising youth unemployment in Africa, it seems that one solution remains under valued and under scale. Learners could be teachers and, if encouraged to develop their skills early enough, they could be excellent educators too.


Mobile learning by example

E-readers, laptops, palmtops, desktops…designs and devices are hard to keep up with even in developed economies where salaries and wages allow these as luxury items. In the developing South and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa technology offers the promise of access to information and improved livelihoods. The transformation is not instant, but the promise is there. Yet Africa continues to lag behind.

Why have education sectors in most developing countries been slow to adopt new technology? Where adoption has taken place there are numerous tales of equipment safely stored out of learner’s reach, disregarded due to lack of skilled teachers or “stripped” for more valued metal parts. In recent times much attention has been placed on mobile phones, “Africa’s computer” but despite a concerted effort by UNESCO to mainstream mobile learning, take up remains sluggish.

 At the risk of being labelled a neo-liberalist, one suggestion to educators and social welfare actors is to look for lessons from the health and business sectors. M-Health has been hugely successful in reminding patients to take their ARV meds while M-Banking has surpassed all expectation through m-pesa. Both these sectors found innovative solutions to real problems facing developing communities. And all this through a Text/SMS.

Hopefully education will learn from their example by making the call to explore mobile learning.


What do “Clickers” do for participation in the classroom?

“Clickers” also known as “voting devices” allow students to respond to test questions, quizzes or polls using web based technology that is increasingly free to access. The technology has been used widely on television game shows to allow audience participation. But what impact will clickers have on classroom participation? Are students engaging with educational content or are they engaged with a new tech tool? 

For the many rural communities in developing countries, a reliable internet connection becomes the first barrier to clicking. The next challenge is developing the skills to use the technology well. A simple ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ vote will not necessarily generate learning, but once asked to defend their positions, students can become more engaged in the learning process.

 A third issue, apart from getting the new technology to work and understanding how to use it, involves establishing where it is needed. Many schools are yet to engage with mobile phones as tools for supporting education. So, as new devices enter the technology arena, are schools participating in an options appraisal process or are they being pushed to adopt rather than to adapt?

“Clickers,” like all new tools, have the potential to bring the learning process to life. This article serves as a reminder that considering context before clicking is critical.

A year ago, UNESCO reported that Africa needed 1 million new teachers in order to meet the goal of achieving universal primary education (MDG2).

A year ago, UNESCO reported that Africa needed a million new teachers in order to meet the goal of achieving universal primary education (MDG2). This figure amounted to increasing the teaching workforce in Africa by a third in order to provide every child with access to primary schooling.

The results for MDG2 thus far have been reported positively, with a 90% increase in primary school enrolments. But what does this mean for new learners? Are there new teachers? Are there new school buildings? Have African schools found a way of rapidly increasing in size without compromising on the quality of education?  In most cases the answer is “no.”

The average teacher to pupil ratio in African schools remains as high as 1: 50. This challenging learning environment is compounded by the consequences of political instability and civil unrest, poor nutrition, lack of sanitation facilities and the knock on effect this has on the spread of disease. The frustrations experienced by INGOs, NGOs and other actors working to support access to quality education are but a fraction of what children living in these countries deal with on a day to day basis.

The call is to African leaders, heads of state and civil society to recall their childhood journeys and to double their efforts to ensure that today’s youth gain access to quality education. Education is recognised as a human right by the United Nations and the African Union. It is critical to the survival of Africa’s future that legislative theory be put into action by those implementing education policies today.

MDG2, a quick win for education in Africa?


Development actors agree on the fact that education be part of the logical framework that corrects traditional norms which foster inequality.

MDG2, the goal to achieve universal primary school education, makes the case for this consensus. But the momentum caused by rapid pursuit of this target has created new problems for those with sudden access to learning. Where access has become incentivized or made free, young children continue to face problems related to overcrowded classrooms, lack of resources and reports of abusive teacher behaviour.

Despite a push by national governments to get girls into schools, traditional patriarchy continues to present resistance in Africa. In a cross-country review of more than 10 African countries Francis Hunt identifies pregnancy as a significant cause of teenage girls dropping out of school. Together these factors contribute towards pupils receiving an incomplete or poor education that fails to meet national and international employability standards.

Such failure is not only counter-productive to economic growth objectives, but perpetuates inequality, which in turn sustains poverty. In South Africa local scholars, supporting this view, have criticized their government for failing to support growth by maintaining “low quality education as a poverty trap.” 

Primary school education provides the foundations required for knowledge and skills to become tools of change among the worlds poor. It is a short term solution. A quick win. But without the economic and political will to support initiatives with longer term, sustainable goals, MDG2 may simple be setting new learners up for failure.