Nigeria’s Education Cannot Exceed the Quality of Our Teachers

Yet, in many low and middle income countries the teaching profession is in a critical condition. UNESCO estimates a shortfall in teachers in sub-Saharan Africa alone of 15 million. Worse, those teachers struggling to help their students have little or no support.

“Many teachers do not have access to quality training and continuous professional development throughout their careers,” says UNESCO.

Teachers can find themselves teaching in a range of challenging situations; working in remote areas with limited infrastructure, with little or no support or guidance, textbooks that aren’t aligned to the material or the age of the students they are attempting to teach and overcrowded classrooms with children sitting on the floor.

Compounding all this is the sad truth that many teachers themselves may often struggle with the content they are teaching. Literacy and numeracy can be a challenge. 

The outcome is predictable. Nearly 90% of children around the world go to primary school. But only about 35% can read a simple sentence at the age of 10. In sub-Saharan Africa only 10% can. Hundreds of millions of children are in school, but not learning. 

So this year’s World Teachers’ Day on October 5th is more than a day to celebrate hardworking and dedicated teachers. It’s also a vital opportunity to rethink the way ahead, to shine light on the ideas and programs that are working in support of great teachers and great teaching. 

As this year’s theme says: “The transformation of education begins with teachers.”

Governments committed to transforming their public education systems understand this, and increasingly, visionary leaders in the Global South are showing that the way to transforming learning outcomes for their students begins with transforming training and support for their teachers.

One pioneering program is EdoBEST, launched by Governor Godwin Obaseki in Nigeria’s Edo State with the support of its technical partner, NewGlobe

“Starting in 2018, EdoBEST trained more than 11,000 teachers in three years in government primary schools,” Governor Obaseki wrote in the Financial Times

Teachers and pupils benefit from scientifically developed lesson plans and integrated digital content and learning materials tailored to our context.”

Multi-day training is centred around scientifically-based teaching methods and practices.

Teaching guides are designed to ensure concepts are taught to maximise students’ understanding and learning, with exactly the right rigour, repetition and sequencing.

Lesson plans support teachers with clear measurable goals and expected outcomes for their students. All teaching is targeted to maximise learning for students, through structured practice and feedback grounded in extensive research on the most effective use of class time. 

Such a uniquely practical, data-driven induction training ensures every teacher is capable of delivering improved learning gains for their students

The response from teachers, even highly experienced ones, is overwhelmingly positive.

I am proud to be a teacher, but in the last 30 years of my service I have not got this type of training,” explained Oyerebu Sarat, a Primary 6 teacher.

 “When EdoBEST came in it has been training, training, training continuously. It was amazing, teaching me a new method of learning and it has been very effective. With the EdoBEST method of teaching, my students have improved so much.” 

But the ultimate proof of success has been in learning outcomes for EdoBEST students. 

“Children in primary schools in Edo State today now learn three times more than they used to learn with the old pedagogue,” says Governor Obaseki. That success has been recognised with a $75m investment from the World Bank in the extension of the program, to embrace Junior Secondary Schools. Once again, teacher training is at its heart. 

The same methods used to train and support EdoBEST teachers have been replicated in other education transformation programs in Lagos and Kwara States.

A vital element in each of the programs is ongoing data-driven coaching and professional development for every teacher. Lessons are observed by highly trained learning and development supervisors several times a month, with teachers receiving bespoke face-to-face feedback.

Putting such ongoing support in place for every teacher is vital, helping them to create child centered classrooms that focus on narrating the positive and fostering child-teacher relationships alongside access to grade appropriate and carefully designed content.

It isn’t reasonable to expect teachers to excel if they are not equipped to do so nor to expect learning outcomes to improve if those doing the teaching have little to no training, support or materials. 

“When I give teachers feedback they are happy; they embrace the ideas. I see teachers have improved very well. When I go to class, students are paying attention, they have access to learning materials and they are focussed. I feel very much impressed because together we are achieving,” explains Bridge Liberia supervisor Martha Dobbah.

The training and support for teachers in NewGlobe programs also draws praise from teaching unions. 

Akintoye Hassan, chair of the Lagos State National Union of Teachers, praises the way his members have been supported through the State’s EKOEXCEL basic education program, after initial fear of change.. 

“EKOEXCEL has brought about change as teaching and learning have become more pupil-centred. As you are teaching, you are also learning. The innovative technology has also enabled the teacher to learn because there is guidance,” he said.

“People tend to prefer an old order, maybe for fear of new things. People began to change, and the pre-introduction training organised by EKOEXCEL assisted in reducing the level of scepticism. It has been a pleasant story.” 

The teaching methods underpinning all the programs supported by NewGlobe have been independently studied in Kenya by a team led by Professor Michael Kremer, Nobel Prize winner for Economics in 2019.

They found not only that students taught using the methods made some of the biggest learning gains ever found in such a study, but that students and their parents reported better teaching.

Teachers were more likely to provide students with instruction or materials related to their individual needs, be more engaged in the classroom and more likely to offer extra support in preparation for tests. Parents were also more likely to be engaged with the school.

Vitalis Wekesa attended one of the schools studied in Kenya, before winning a scholarship to a top US High School, followed by a scholarship to Franklin and Marshall College, one of the oldest universities in America.

“We were taught to think for ourselves. It wasn’t just the teacher giving us the answer. The teacher gave us the question and you were supposed to think – what does this answer tell me? How do I explain it to the teacher? So thinking for myself, being a little more independent. That really helped me.” 

Teachers deserve, and benefit from, consistent and expert training and support. Tech-enabled, data-driven coaching and professional development for teachers, which makes-up such a vital part of the public education transformation programs spreading across Africa, are a blueprint for teaching success. And as UNESCO says, transforming education outcomes for all students begins with teachers.

Happy World Teachers’ Day.