The teacher in front of me was telling me about their ever-increasing workload. About their school’s funding crisis. And about their worries over exam results, due to increasing accountability and their deep desire to see their students overcome their circumstances to achieve their best.
I could have been having this conversation, or one very similar to it, at any number of schools across the UK. But I wasn’t in the UK. I was 5,000 miles away, in Lusaka, Zambia.
I was there with Tes’ charity partner, Camfed, to learn a bit more about the country’s education system and develop a project to help teachers in Zambia to improve their pedagogy.
Quick listen: How to train a teacher
Focusing on teachers is crucial to our project. Often in developing countries, the knee-jerk reaction is to fill in the visible, tangible gaps; to provide computers, to build new classrooms, to sponsor an internet line. But focusing on that, on the elements that are missing or that sadden us, means there’s a risk of missing what the schools do have.
CPD: Empowering teachers
And make no mistake, Zambia’s schools have a lot. They have passionate teachers, children who are willing to learn, a curriculum that’s packed full of content – and, more than all of that, they have enormous potential.
It’s that potential that is the key, not to mention the reason why filling the shallow gaps won’t solve any long-term problems. If we don’t work with teachers to help them become empowered and further their skills, if we simply give them a computer and expect them to be grateful and get on with it, what does that say about us? We wouldn’t accept that as useful or genuine CPD in the UK, so why would we expect to be feted for it elsewhere?
Zambia has some great teachers. I saw it first-hand, and I heard about the efforts taken by the University of Zambia and the government to drive up the quality of education. We also know that Zambian pedagogy has a number of challenges, including the language of instruction (Zambia has 73 official languages, but only seven local languages are used in the classroom – and classes are taught solely in English from grade 5 onwards), the style of teaching (which is rather didactic) and acclimatising to the new curriculum (introduced in a rollout from 2013 onwards).
So, based on all this, we’re in the process of creating a pilot project designed to help teachers in Zambia learn some new skills. We're planning to send a team, including two teachers, out to a rural district to run a workshop on resource-creation for teachers. The idea is that those teachers can take the skills they’ve learned back to their school and pass them on, making this project sustainable and teacher-led.
What can you do to help? Simple: come along to one of our UK workshops in June. We’ll be creating literacy and maths resources based around the Zambian curriculum, which will then be used as model materials in the workshops the following month. To sign up, go to our Eventbrite page. Or, if you want more details, give me a shout over on Twitter – I’m @Sarah_Cunnane.
My conversation with the teacher, the one at the start of this blog, highlights something that I think most people know, but it is still worth stating. It doesn’t matter if your classroom is in London, Lima, Los Angeles or Lusaka, all teachers are professionals, bonded by their desire to do their best for themselves and for their students. We’re excited to be working with Camfed to help Zambian teachers develop their practice. We hope you can join us.
For more information and to reserve your place at either the Sheffield or London workshop in June, visit our Eventbrite page