"Learning How To Teach: The Uplifting of Unqualified Teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa" by Herman Kruijer, Critical Reflections and Analysis

I have had the chance to read a rather lengthy report regarding the status of unqualified primary school teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa, entitled "Learning How to Teach: The Uplifting of Unqualified Primary Teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa," by Herman Kruijer, published by Education International, 2010. An extremely insightful analysis and case study of several nations, some crucial issues regarding teacher training and teacher quality were touched upon by the authors. I have critically reflected on some of the major themes, including the use of contract teachers, geographic disparities in educational administration, and the style and quality of training, itself. I have applied these themes to broader aspects of teacher and educational quality in the developing world, drawing personal experience and outside research into the fold. Below are my insights.

"An Educational Decoupling….Advancing Problems"

Geographic Disparities

According to Herman Kruijer and Education International, in a survey of educational progress in Sub Saharan Africa, although there has been progress with the EFA Goals and the MDG Goals, the biggest challenge lies with inequality in educational attainment within nations. 

"Disparities within the countries based on wealth, gender, race, language or ethnic group hinders progress towards (Universal Primary Education. In Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and Niger, children from the richest 20% are from three to about four times more likely to attend school than children from the poorest quintile."  (19) 

Thus, we see an educational decoupling that mirrors the socio-economic decoupling of these nations. What is not explained in the report is where, geographically, these richest 20% of children are located. More than likely, in my humble estimation, they are in the national capital, commercial capital, or at the very least regional capitals of these nations. Thus, we witness the "dual-track" development of the poorest nations; tiny geographic slices of these countries witnessing a boom, advancements in living conditions, access to material wealth and goods, while the vast majority of citizens outside of the major economic and political hubs are living lives of complete material stagnation, regardless of the economic policies dreamed up in the bubble capital zones. 

The general growth in educational enrollment has also resulted in large class sizes becoming the norm in most areas of these nations, urban and rural. Inclusivity has brought with it increased downward pressures on educational quality, already severely deficient beforehand. 

Contract Teachers

It is noted in the study that the employment of contract, or unqualified teachers, during the structural adjustment programs of the 1980's and 90's "…damaged the quality of education." Why then are contract teachers seen as the great panacea for educational quality in 2012? Has history not repeated itself before? 

According to the authors, we face a severe dilemma. "In SSA, 1.6 million additional teachers will be needed by 2015." There is a severe shortage of qualified teachers, and I will assert, even those teachers who are "qualified" are failing most students in the region. What passes as legitimate qualification and training of most teachers in the poorest nations is a a far cry from acceptable; in fact, this is an issue struggled with even in the richest nations: how to attract the best and brightest into the field, give them the tools they need to be progressive educators, with the  relatively favorable salary conditions needed to make this happen. Thus, although economic conditions must be analyzed from a relative perspective in nations, fairness in compensation must be coupled with the challenge of actual teacher training in the global south. Contract teachers are seen as the quick fix, the panacea by the new generation of educational economists, comfortably ensconced in capital cities. Teachers are almost always politically organized, and thus, present a political issue for governments as well. It has been cited that, "…poorly educated teachers reduce poorly educated students (23)," and that they are disproportionately placed in rural areas, further undermining educational parity in these nations, and thus, crippling rural human development. As the authors state, although contract teachers allow for more teachers to be brought into the system at a faster rate than traditional structures, "Higher enrollments do not themselves amount to Education for All."  

The question is not bypassing the structures and systems in place; the question must be, how do we incentivize teachers to do a better job, and how do we guarantee them better training under the actual working conditions that they will face, including a renewed emphasis on In Service Training and Pedagogical Support for Existing Teachers, a critically missing link in these educational systems. 

Decentralization and Privatization

The study notes the promise of decentralization, the stated bringing…"decision-making closer to the people, to make educational systems more accountable and responsive to the needs of each community (21). However, as with most decentralized systems, the success is entirely dependent on the local human capital, which is often severely deficient outside of the "bubbles of power," as well as being subservient to the power demands coming from these "bubbles." Decentralized systems are often, as stated previously in various research articles, more prone to local elite capture, and if this occurs, the quality of the elite capture and the human capabilities of the local elites to administer in at least a basically functioning manner is severely diminished. 

Additionally, actual, meaningful decentralization, that which decentralizes that core functions of schooling, such as control over curriculum, is rarely matched by incentive structures which promote change over maintenance of the failed status quo. 

In the realm of fiscal decentralization, in which is most commonly employed by cash-strapped central governments implementing externally-driven change, the weakest and most marginalized are the victims, unable to contribute their newly cited shares in the fiscal pie. Thus, as is the case with privatization of schooling systems, a few fortunate students win, and most continue to lose. The authors note, "Privatization  entails a real danger of widening inequalities because it allows the public education system to enter a downward spiral of poor quality. Being dependent on the public provision of education, the poorest people suffer most." 

Again, history has witnessed the effects of moving from public systems, however failed and diminished, to privatized systems, during the structural adjustment periods of the 1980's and 90's. The result was devastating for the poorest and historically marginalized. Why do we assume that twenty years later, the results would be any different? Privatization must be fairly balanced with the strengthening of existing governmental schooling systems; bypassing current systems is a model for continued failure for the vast majority of students and parents. 


"The upgrading course should be designed with particular students in mind…Tutors and mentors should try to identify and consider the aspirations, perceptions, and expectations of the students who enroll and take these as a starting point for the training program." 

However, in looking and and analyzing training programs, very few teachers, around 25% as witnessed in Namibia during a particular study, employed the new techniques in the classroom (28). The why behind this failure to implement change is the big question. Why are teachers not choosing to change? As explained in the related research, "…teachers were faced with very poor teaching conditions, which made it impossible to apply the curriculum and teaching practices they had learned during their course…Second, teachers in a poor context are likely to fall back on their previous schooling practices. The result is traditional pedagogical styles, such as lecturing and factual information drills." 

These two points are extremely elucidating, and must be analyzed to truly move forward in educational development. The poor conditions that teachers face are the reality for most teachers in the developing world. Workshops and trainings are often held in district capitals or in capital cities, far removed from the realities of most of the teachers attending. Even those teachers working in capital cities often face a severe deficiency in resources for their classrooms. Trainings, for the most part, do not address this critical fact. And why do they not address this critical fact? Because it is much more challenging to design and train teachers in low-resource methodology than to continue training in the status quo, Western designed and implemented pedagogical approaches that are bestowed upon host country national, and foreign trainers. Teacher training is beset by the same plague as most developmental thinking; that of the urban elite bias. However, that is not to say that training teachers in low-resource, practical teaching approaches is not possible; however, it represents a radical departure, a change from the status quo, which always demands particular attention, specifically in the areas of change theory, resistance, and incentive theory. Change demands incentives. Teacher training and changing classroom practices is no different. Teachers will fall back on the status quo, particularly in low-resource, poor contexts, because it is easier to do so. Minimal psychological and material support breeds apathy and disaffection; new techniques must be illuminated as making the lives of the teachers easier. Change requires incentives, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Innovation requires incentives. Failure, represented by the status quo, requires nothing but the veneer of progress which has been painted upon the teachers and their pedagogical support for so many years, resulting in the failures that we witness in today's public school systems. 

Progress demands participation; there is no cookie cutter model for development, or for developing human capital. The essential linkage is internalization of change. 

A Mis-Focus on Theory

"When the theoretical pre-service part of education is not adjusted to the actual situation in classrooms, there will be little transfer to practice, and student teachers will be disappointed in their expectations of the benefits of upgrading." 

The critically overlooked aspect of teacher training, as it is planned, developed, and implemented in much of the developing world, is the perpetuation of antiquated ideas and methodologies, the same virus that plagues the classrooms themselves; transmission of incorrectly modeled and non-relevant pedagogy. The status quo in most areas is not to focus on the practical training skills that can be immediately employed under difficult situations in the classrooms; but rather, to focus on theory, lecturing on theoretical topics, which, while important in the foundations of pedagogical practice, crowd out and starve the practical, necessary tools that should be transmitted to student teachers. The status quo continues to succeed in choking off innovation and change, resulting in a devastating and stifling pedagogical rut in which even in the best training schools and the best situations, incorrectly matched pedagogy is preached from the lectern. We must ask the critical question: why does the status quo of lecturing retain its top billing from generation to generation of teachers and teacher trainer in the developing world? Why does the necessary critical introspection not take place, as it has in other areas, to produce a more democratic, participatory nature of teaching? Does this fall back into the grey area of "culture," doomed to be not approached for fear of upsetting cultural respect? All educators, regardless of their culture of hierarchal power and respect, must undertake this critical investigation into the antiquated methodologies which have led to the tragic educational outcomes in these nations. The children deserve better. 

Some salient, closing notes for these comments: 

"However, the actual situation in the classrooms where unqualified teachers work is far from facilitative for child-centered teaching techniques. Large class sizes, shortages of teaching and learning materials, and a lack of professional support result in a considerably lower learning achievement. A teacher upgrading program that neglects actual classroom situations will be of little enduring value." (33)

"The challenge in the design of teacher education will be to find the balance between setting high standards for teaching and adapting to impoverished conditions." (35)