With one in four young people in developing countries illiterate, how can we address an international ‘learning crisis’? A group of experts have provided some ideas worth taking into consideration for those of us in the education sector.
There is a global shortage of teachers:
Moving beyond access to improve the quality of education available to all is vital to address the learning crisis. Teachers are central to this. Support from NGOs in the area of teacher professional development, as well as pre-service education, can help build capacity within countries. A clear example is Malawi, where NGO-trained student teachers are well regarded by the schools where they are posted. An important approach in the training provided is ample experience of working in rural classrooms – and with communities – before being posted to schools.
The crux of improving the quality of education lies in engagement – whether it be the engagement of parents by teachers, teachers of their students, or the engagement and training of teachers in effective learning techniques. However, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all model for improving the quality of learning. Interventions have to be tailored to the needs of specific situations.
Raise the standing of teachers:
Some countries where NGOs are working with in Africa noted that it was more economically rewarding to join the army than become a teacher. When prospective teachers are sent this message, how can we be surprised that the creams of the crop are not going into teaching?
How school can lead to jobs:
The odds improve dramatically if you can create a more articulated pipeline between schooling and the workplace. One way to do this is through national qualifications frameworks that articulate the various skills and expertise recognised within that particular economy.
Effective education benefits the whole community:
Learning is not just in school. In rural Niger where the school management committees were strong, communities started supporting schools and then parents started to realise the need for them to be able to read and write. It was an example of a whole village transforming to a learning community surrounding a school.
Struggling in a second language:
In many countries in Africa, majority of children study in their second, third or fourth language. This is already an enormous handicap for learning. More mother tongue teaching would be good, however, some languages are not formally written and it is difficult to produce textbooks. Some countries have hundreds of languages (over 700 in Nigeria) and it is not practical to use mother tongue education for each of them. The most practical solution would be to have pre-school and early years of primary school as a bilingual bridge from mother tongue to the language of instruction (French, English or Portuguese). Access to reading and other materials in mother-tongue languages has had a significant impact on learning in the early grades. Many organisations are working to publish titles in local languages.
Qualifications must be more than pieces of paper:
Teacher training is not just for certificates but for relevance and the education stakeholders must look for ways of maintaining the teacher in the classroom. This can be done by developing training framework tied to the needs of the country.
Culturally relevant reading materials are important:
A robust creative and local publishing environment is very important. The Golden Baobab Literary prize is one of the African organizations doing good work in this field.
Use mobiles to teach teachers:
With the exploit in technology, especially mobile, one is very impressed by the models using technology as a tool to improve the professional development of teachers. Technology used by students would be great, but it’s not realistic in most countries.
Teaching in the mother tongue:
The value of English speaking is very high among parents. This complicates the choice of the language for instruction. We know research advocates the use of mother tongue to improve learning outcomes.