Can Mandatory Refresher Courses Or Strategies Improve African Teaching Standards?

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Quality teaching and student learning are tightly interconnected. Together they form two sides of a triangle. The third side of this triangle is often overlooked but is also integral to teaching quality and student learning – quality teaching instructions and preparation for teachers.

What is fast becoming the norm is a periodic refresher course and renewable licenses for the education and teaching sector. Securing a certificate from a training college is no longer enough to become a teacher in many African countries.

For many countries on the continent, all that one needs to qualify as a teacher is a certificate from an accredited training institution. However, that is changing with the issuance of professional teaching licenses. Educators are required to periodically renew their licenses to keep their professional profiles up to date.

Some African countries have even gone a step further by rolling out mandatory refresher courses and teaching certificate renewal programs. It is not just about teachers going back to the classroom, but also ensuring that they acquire skills that can improve upon their profession and impact positively on the educational standards.

In Ghana, for instance, teachers have to renew their professional licenses every three years. The refresher courses are not an option but compulsory. Zambia is also implementing a similar program and in Nigeria undergoing professional development courses before renewing teaching licenses has become an important issue.

The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria said that teachers will have to continually develop themselves to renew their licenses. They further articulated, that this would significantly bring the country’s teachers up to date with standards in the global educational sector.

Kenya also announced last year that its 340,000 teachers must renew their certificate every five years and to achieve that, they have to complete a refresher course.
Impact on Educational Standards

The Africa Education Watch, a pan- African educational policy research and advocacy Organisation, said that these policies are crucial if education standards across the continent are to improve. Kofi Asare, who heads the Organisation said that continuous training to enhance teachers’ capacities should be treated as an essential element of the educational program.

He further opined,” continuous professional development programs are undertaken by teachers to continuously enhance their capacities” are now being built into promotional systems by some African countries, something he said is significant if teachers are to take their profession seriously.

In some African countries though, the number of professional development programs undertaken and the kinds of courses enrolled in are ways to access career opportunities. Some also opined that this intervention is great as it can serve as a prerequisite for employment or promotion and not be based on only work experience and performance.

Phyllis Nduta is a teacher in Kenya who has taken up a mandatory professional development program to renew her license. Although some of her colleagues are not enthused, she is.

In an interview, she said, “I propose this idea since as a teacher I will be updated on the systems of learning since the world is changing daily, so as a teacher being updating my certificates, I will be on a safer side in a position also to teach on new skills according to the pace of the way the world is changing.”

In Ghana for instance hundreds off teachers undergo training at the Accra Teacher Training College every year before they are posted to schools across the country. They take various exams, which until early 2017 enable them to graduate as teachers. But as of September 2017, that is no longer sufficient: the up-and-coming teachers have to go through yet another screening to be issued a teacher’s license.

Whether this policy will significantly resolve the issue of the quality and standard of teaching across schools in Ghana is yet to be seen. As some say licensing teachers without giving them access to textbooks won’t lead to “professional development and results” because how should they work?

South Africa has a history of poor teacher education, especially for African teachers. Institutions have developed qualifications that will assist in upgrading teachers’ skills and providing the necessary knowledge for teaching mathematics and science.

Currently, in South Africa, the advanced certificate in Education is used for mathematics and science teachers who have no qualifications in these two subjects. The advanced certificate is also being used to address the issue of underqualified teachers in the system.

The continuing professional Teacher Development system, overseen by the South African Council for Educators, has begun monitoring the quality of teacher professional development and recording teachers’ professional development points to incentivize continuing education.

Who Pays for the Program?

The issue of who pays for the renewal of professional certificates arises whenever this policy comes up for discussion. This is because most teachers believe some African governments usually are unable to take up costs, yet demand the policies to be adhered to.

As some teachers such as Owino are against this policy, he expressed that forcing teachers to renew their professional certificates every five years, first by taking refreshers courses at their own cost is not fair.

The concern of teachers bearing the cost of the professional development programs is a legitimate one, according to Asare from the Africa Education Watch. In Ghana, the government provides teachers with financial allowances to cover the costs of professional development courses so they can renew their licenses. Other governments will have to try and emulate this and bear the cost of training programs for teachers.

“There are many African countries that do not have teacher professional allowance, where teachers have to finance their participation in professional programs among others. The recommendation I will make is that governments must prioritize supporting teachers with professional allowances,” Asare said.

Despite the controversy over who should bear the cost of such refresher courses across the continent, African education expert Lucy Wakiaga had said that while those issues are ironed out, teachers should still be interested in enhancing their teaching skills.

“Professional development is always a good thing, you already know and we already know. We are aware that teachers already are overstretched, so we know the economic situation that our teachers are in… so requiring them to pay for their professional development, I think is a long stretch, but for me the parting shot is, for the teachers it would be a plus, growing oneself professionally is not bad,” Wakiaga Opined.

Many might agree with Wakiaga’s position, as the teachers growing their profession as well as teachers’ growth and education in general benefits both teachers and the country at large. Many African countries yet to implement such development programs and licensing regimes to improve educational standards can take a cue from those who have implemented them and strategize to meet their citizenry’s needs and priorities.

Recommendations to Improve Teacher Professional Development

As with any vocation, teachers need to develop strong identities as professionals. In addition to obvious recruitment, remuneration, and opportunities for advancement, teacher professionalism is also impacted by access to quality professional development.

Below are a few recommendations to improve professionalism;

• Focus on teachers in low–income and crisis-affected contexts as professionals, learners, and individuals
• Develop, apply, measure, and institutionalize standards for teacher professional development.
• Create professional development opportunities that promote teacher collaboration
• Provide teachers with ongoing support (not just monolithic, but rather a multilayered array of different types of assistance that help teachers successfully transfer learning from a professional development setting to a classroom setting)
• Use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to provide access to content, professional development, and professional learning communities.

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