Innovative Practice - Learning on the job

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
In-classroom training for teachers in sub-Saharan Africa

The background

Giving every child an education continues to prove a struggle in large parts of Africa, where millions of young people are not in school. But getting a child into the classroom only fixes part of the problem. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a large shortage of trained teachers, and among those already working in the region's schools half have few or no qualifications.

Freda Wolfenden, once a science teacher in London secondary schools, is now an associate dean at the Open University. "When we look at the quality of learning in sub-Saharan Africa, we find a lot of it that's poor," she says. "We find lots of accounts of children who have been to school for three or four years and still find it very difficult to read their own name."

Providing better training for teachers in sub- Saharan Africa is vital, she says, but the teachers cannot be taken away from their classrooms. "It might be one teacher per 100 pupils, so you can't take them away as that will leave children without access to any teachers whatsoever."

The approach

The Teacher Education in sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) programme was set up by the Open University in 2005 as a partnership scheme working with teacher-training institutions in countries including Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania. It has since expanded to provide 20 programmes in more than 12 countries and assisted the training of more than 400,000 teachers last year.

The programme focuses on providing activities that teachers can use with their pupils in the classroom, but which simultaneously help train teachers to provide a more engaging and effective education. It has created 75 flexible study units, covering areas such as literacy, numeracy and science. The African institutions have adapted them to suit their local educational needs and translated them into languages including Swahili, French and Arabic.

All the materials can be downloaded from the TESSA website ( as PDFs and Word files, allowing teachers to share and republish them in a variety of ways.

Ms Wolfenden, who became the project's director in 2008, says the training has encouraged teachers to be less didactic and to instead offer more active lessons. "Teachers are spending a lot more time thinking about their pupils' learning and spending more time planning the activities in their lessons," she says. "We have reports of pupils turning up to school more because it's more exciting."

Tips from the scheme

- Keep it simple.

- Use local partners.

Evidence that it works?

The take-up of the scheme is certainly evidence that it is popular. Hundreds of teachers in Ghana and Rwanda use the modules or their own in-service training, while Nigeria's National Teachers' Institute has incorporated them into courses for tens of thousands of teachers.

An evaluation of the scheme by Kenya's Egerton University found that teachers felt it had made their jobs more interesting and exciting. The project was one of six international schemes chosen this year for an award by the World Innovation Summit on Education Foundation.

The institutions

The Open University in the UK is working in partnership with a network of institutions including: Egerton University, Kenya; Kigali Institute of Education, Rwanda; Kyambogo University and Makerere University, Uganda; the National Teachers' Institute, Nigeria; the Open University of Sudan; the Open University of Tanzania; Cape Coast University and University of Education, Ghana; South Africa University, Fort Hare University and Pretoria University, South Africa; and Zambia University.


Approach: Using online materials to train teachers in sub-Saharan Africa

Started: 2005

Leader: Now directed by Freda Wolfenden, an associate dean at the Open University.

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