Teachers must be at the heart of post-Covid education recovery
Even before the coronavirus disrupted the education of 1.5 billion children worldwide, many struggled with exclusion, inefficiency, high dropout rates, and limited access to learning and high quality technology. Today, World Teachers’ Day, is a good time to stress that solving many of these challenges requires a stronger partnership with those on the front lines of education.
In recent years, policymakers seeking to address the learning crisis have deployed many models, tools and approaches, including blended education, mother tongue education, structured pedagogy and good learning. level, as well as educational technology (edtech).
Yet the reality is that they have yielded modest results. The crisis is deepening, with more than half of children in low- and middle-income countries unable to read or understand even a passage by the age of 10, according to the World Bank.
The need for critical thinking and problem solving, as well as the creativity and social and collaborative skills of grace and courtesy were also overlooked. The same is true of life skills essential for the future, most of which are not examined but can be integrated into teaching, such as carpentry, needlework, arts and crafts, basic agricultural techniques and entrepreneurship.
The top priority after the pandemic is to identify what works best at the lowest cost, especially for the poorest countries. Credible evidence is needed for governments to introduce change.
Progress is being made with initiatives such as the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel to highlight “smart purchasing”. Good measures include providing information to parents and children, and structured lesson plans. “Bad buys” include investments in computer hardware without taking into account the associated teacher training.
It is necessary to pilot innovations, document lessons learned and assess impact before scaling them up. Too many initiatives have been rushed, and in most cases fail and waste the money invested.
Edtech offers the possibility of improving results – if it has sufficient support. It requires tools, time and trust for teachers; it should be designed and created by, tested with, and shared among teachers.
Some innovations are still developed by people outside the school system, who ignore critical issues and leave gaps that hinder their adoption. Those that fail have often been developed outside the countries where they are applied, ignore the local context and are imposed on teachers.
Other innovations undermine professional autonomy and creativity, and therefore risk failure without the support of teachers and unions. Examples include scripted lesson plans requiring teachers to follow each word without their own input. Even for those with insufficient skills, plans should serve as a benchmark rather than blindly followed.
Trade unions should not be an obstacle to reforms. When consulted and respected, they often support innovation. In Uganda, the “thematic curriculum” approach was designed to help learners by starting with familiar concepts in a local language. It failed to take root until the union took the lead in preparing teachers, who then quickly adopted the model. It has shown better results.
Education International (a federation of teachers’ unions) and individual unions have spearheaded innovations such as the training of 500 educators in Tanzania to the Diploma in Early Childhood Education. They have helped marginalized children by integrating 3,000 community teachers in Mali into mainstream teachers. And the Quality Educators Project in Uganda has combined technology with pedagogy to improve teaching.
We need highly qualified, qualified and motivated teachers working in adequately resourced, safe, child-friendly and gender-sensitive institutions, and providing feeding programs for poor children. In reality, teachers often have insufficient support, work in underfunded schools, and salaries are delayed or unpaid. These pressures have been accentuated by the pandemic, with job losses, increased workloads and poor working conditions imposed by blended and blended learning. Teachers are expected to work online and offline, teach in shifts, tailor content to shorthand terms, and perform additional student assessments.
The majority do not have the skills and support to teach online. A study by Education International in 2020 showed that only 28% of teachers in Africa had received training. Recruitment of better quality teachers is needed, as well as initial and in-service training.
All of these strategies require adequate funding. Governments need to allocate more resources, rather than cutting budgets to fund other sectors. Development partners should support countries’ educational needs, rather than their own predetermined priorities.
Policy makers should avoid the temptation to outsource, privatize and commercialize education, especially using companies that seek to profit from current and future crises. Education is not a commodity, it is a basic human right, a public good and a public responsibility. Quality public education must be equitable and accessible to all.
Juliet Wajega is the Ugandan Coordinator of the Work: No Child’s Business program and former Deputy Secretary General of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union