Transforming education – one teacher at a time | Aga Khan Academies

Transforming education – one teacher at a time

Following in the footsteps of her mother, Rosemary Waga became a teacher 16 years ago. However, Waga, who teaches English at a public primary school in Mombasa, Kenya, has only recently begun to realise the potential impact she can have in her chosen career. Over the course of the last five years, her classroom has undergone a gradual metamorphosis: she has transformed her eight-year-old students from groups of passive listeners into batches of eager children that enjoy discussing what they are being taught.

Waga attributes this change to her involvement with the Professional Development Centre (PDC) at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa. A PDC programme exposed her to interactive teaching methods that have enabled her to shift the dynamic in her classroom. Her students, including those who previously did badly in class, display higher levels of academic motivation. Today, Waga mentors other teachers who want to improve their teaching style. 

To date, the PDC’s programmes have reached 1,688 teachers in the coastal areas of Kenya and, through these teachers, more than 200,000 students. The programmes – which aim to deepen the pool of well-trained teachers in East Africa – present one way in which the Aga Khan Academies seeks to raise the standard of education in their surrounding communities. Similar efforts are also being mounted at the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, India, and in Maputo, Mozambique, where an Academy will open in August 2013.

In Mombasa, PDC programmes are conducted in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry of Education, the Kenyan Teachers Service Commission, the Aga Khan Foundation East Africa, the British Department for International Development, and the Canadian International Development Agency. The programmes provide opportunities for educators to focus on subject content acquisition, general pedagogical skills, interactive learning techniques, and student-centred teaching methodologies.

“The Academy is not just a typical private institute that only worries about its own needs, but it shares its resources and expertise with others around it,” explained Nafisa Shekhova, a Regional Programme Education Manager for the Aga Khan Foundation in East Africa. Shekhova described the PDC as unique because of its efforts to strengthen both the faculty within the Academy and the capacity of government schools and teacher training colleges. 

Though the PDC has had a marked impact on teachers in Mombasa, it had humble beginnings. It started out as a small programme for English teachers in 2009.

“We began with [an English programme], but we faced a challenge, as the teachers had no support when they went back to their schools,” explained Anthony Gioko, the Vice Principal – Professional Development and Outreach at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa. To overcome this challenge, the PDC in Mombasa introduced a leadership development programme for heads of school. Gioko and his colleagues also began to develop training programmes for other subject areas and started thinking about how they could promote sustainable changes in the education system.

As the programming in Mombasa grew, so too did the agenda of the PDCs worldwide. 

“I think the main lesson that we learnt was that we can’t just work with a small group of teachers in a school,” said Rupen Chande, Manager of PDC Development at the Aga Khan Academies, “We need to work with the system that supports the teachers for any change to be long-term.”

This means working with heads of school, as well as the institutions that regulate the entire school system. In addition to training teachers to enhance their methods, the PDCs train instructors at teacher training colleges and experienced teachers like Waga to mentor their peers. The Academies also aim to provide qualifications that are recognised by local institutions. In Mombasa, the Academy has negotiated with the Kenyan government to get formal recognition for the certificate obtained by PDC graduates to ensure that participants’ efforts to gain the certificate are appropriately valued in government schools. 

The Academy takes a participatory approach to training teachers. It encourages teachers to collaborate with and seek advice from one another in order to resolve the challenges they face. To support their efforts the PDC has built a network of teacher associations that extends beyond the Academy. These associations meet regularly to discuss pedagogy and challenges they encounter.

In some schools in Kenya, the results of the PDC’s work have been nothing short of transformative.

“The main success of the programme is an enriched learning environment that is engaging and inclusive,” explained Gioko. 

According to Waga, the PDC’s emphasis on interactive methodologies stands in stark contrast to what she learned in teachers’ college: “The way the schools [in Kenya] normally go, the teachers lecture,” she explained, “...[but] when kids discuss and work through things on their own, they become better learners.”

Awena Said, the Headmistress of Central Girls Primary School in Mombasa, affirmed that the use of interactive teaching methods has encouraged students at her school to express their ideas with confidence and made them more excited about learning. It has also motivated the teachers to consult one another for advice and to dedicate more energy to planning lessons.

“You know, when [the teachers] try the new methods...and then they see the kids are performing better, they embrace it,” Waga said. “And, after embracing it, they really want to go and share it with other teachers. It is spreading all over.” 

Such dissemination of knowledge constitutes a critical way in which the Academies seek to influence their surrounding communities. In this vein, a PDC was established in Maputo, Mozambique in 2010, well before the opening of the Academy in August of 2013. In addition to working with government teachers to upgrade their skill set, the PDC was used to identify 'star' teachers who could be trained to teach the International Baccalaureate programme at the Academy in Maputo itself. Meanwhile, in Hyderabad, India, the Academy is scaling up its outreach activities with the assistance of a grant from the Government of Andhra Pradesh, which has identified trainers used by the public school system to help teachers enhance their skills.

“The vision of the Academy is to share what it has in terms of expertise and skills and resources with the communities around,” explained Chande. “The PDC, although a separate area in the Academy, is part and parcel of the Academy.”

By Alia Dharssi

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