Great teaching enables great learning

If pupils are the lifeblood of schools, teachers are the organs; working tirelessly to ensure that learning is happening throughout the year. Parents understand that the quality of teachers is indicative of learning outcomes for their children. The 2018 Global Parents Survey showed that teacher quality is the most important factor for parents when choosing their child’s school, alongside location, with 45% of parents surveyed selecting it as one of their top three criteria.

Teachers, and those that have taught, know what an amazing vocation it can be; to watch children flourish and learn. They will also be all too familiar with stresses that teaching can cause; ensuring that each and every child is receiving the quality education they deserve is no small feat. Teachers do not need a burdensome environment and constant obstacles to make this feat even harder to achieve. It’s hard enough already. Sadly, for millions of teachers across the world the environment in which they are expected to teach is often an insurmountable barrier to actually teaching. While many teachers in wealthier countries do have access to effective training and support, the same cannot be said for teachers in developing countries.

Developing countries, where the demand for teachers is greatest are affected the most. The world needs 69 million new teachers by 2030 to realise Sustainable Development Goal 4. The likelihood of achieving this is low while governments struggle to recruit and retain teachers, especially in remote rural areas and conflict zones. For many schools, this desperate shortage of good teachers means that poor literacy and absenteeism are the norm. If the choice is a poor teacher or no teacher, there is no choice. The Skills Toward Employability and Productivity (STEP) skills survey of working adults, including teachers, showed that in Kenya, 72 percent of primary and secondary teachers did not reach Level 3 on the literacy test, which is considered the minimum literacy level to teach effectively.  Plus, in schools with overcrowded classrooms and a shortage of resources, even if teachers are literate there there are simply not enough of them for learning to actually happen.

It is, of course, unreasonable to expect that teachers can be left in classrooms without support and expected to produce learning. If a teacher has no teaching materials, no one to help guide them; no training on the ever changing nature of the curriculum; no access to effective teaching methods or practices; no understanding of the best way to teach subtraction to a six-year-old or science to ten-year-old, and; combined with all this has 50-60 hungry faces with no book staring up at them, how can we possibly expect children to learn!? Final insult, many are not paid on time even when they do turn up to teach. Certainly the current situation cannot stay the same and teachers who turn up to class every day despite these conditions – many don’t – want it to change.

The most motivating and fulfilling part of being a teacher is, of course, teaching. However, too many teachers find that there is little time left in the day for productive teaching. They have little to no assistance in creating the lessons which they are expected – and often ill equipped –  to teach; they spend a large amount of time doing admin tasks and often have to take second jobs to ensure they get a reliable income each month. This is not what inspired them to go into teaching.

In this frustrated landscape, corporal punishment adds another layer of damage to failing systems. Fear replaces trust as the basis of the teacher-pupil relationship. School becomes less about learning, making mistakes, trying your best, curiosity and improvement. Instead it becomes more about avoiding been noticed, not participating and reducing the likelihood of physical violence. This is an environment which corrodes both the child’s ability to learn and teachers ability to teach. Classrooms are meant to be safe spaces and this not true wherever corporal punishment is practiced.

This is the state of many schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. Broken. Failing. Where teachers, parents and pupils are crying out for help, support and reform. They deserve better. It’s not surprising that in this context, learning outcomes are low and motivation is rock bottom.

Bridge is transforming the teaching landscape in partnership with governments and teacher training colleges where they operate. Our priority is creating the best possible learning environment where great teaching enables great learning. If teachers are happy and motivated, so are pupils. The classroom is where it all happens, facilitating that as a positive setting for effective learning interactions to take place is the most crucial part of what we do as an organisation.

“I wanted to join Bridge, an institution with a strong organizational culture where those in the school feel more like a family. The bond at Bridge and the feeling of being appreciated is comparable to none. And they have tackled the challenges of class sizes, learner materials and training, issues which are important to address in Kenya. So, because you are not worrying about everything else you have a culture where teachers and pupils take responsibility for learning. And, you know that you are teaching pupils important values about life, not just academics.”

Vincencia Nyaminde, Bridge Primary School Teacher in Kenya.

Not only does Bridge comply with government requirements for teacher certifications but it also works with governments to find practical solutions in areas with severe teacher shortages. In all of our communities we endeavour to ensure that the teacher is from that community so that they understand the culture and the families of those they teach. There are many areas where it’s difficult to find good teachers. Perhaps they are remote areas; perhaps those communities have struggled with literacy and few of them have gone on to to become teachers or those who are educated have moved away, or; perhaps – on top of all of the other pressures teachers face – they are reluctant to join schools in conflict areas or large slums.

Bridge offers a step-change in how to approach and develop teachers. It all starts with an environment where support is always available through a carefully built structure of Headteachers, Area Managers, Regional Managers, Master Teachers, teacher training, teacher guides and support programmes. Bridge offers a teaching environment and network that is the envy of many Sub-Saharan African teachers, and this is why teachers are flocking to work at Bridge. Our support structure means teachers can do more of what they love – teaching – well equipped, supported and rewarded. By extension, children are learning, a great source of personal and professional pride for Bridge teachers, who say they love to watch a child develop their confidence. It’s a far cry from the overcrowded, under-equipped, unsupported classrooms that many of their contemporaries find themselves in.

Bridge works closely with government bodies to understand which teacher training and support techniques are most effective, and which teacher demographics may indicate a stronger or weaker efficacy in the classroom. When they join Bridge, all teachers go through a residential training course. Once graduated, Bridge teachers benefit from continuous training and support throughout their career, in and out of the classroom. This commitment to training benefits both Bridge classrooms and the wider education system, should they move on.  Bridge training takes the form of constant support from education specialists (local and global) with weekly coaching and daily feedback sessions.

The organisation enforces a strict ban on corporal punishment, removing fear from lessons and enabling a strong and positive relationship between teachers and their pupils. Many Bridge pupils comment on this, saying that teachers are more like friends and remarking how ‘surprised’ they are by their patience.

“The thing I like best about Bridge is the teachers, I think they’re really good.”

Victor Kahindi, 14-year-old Bridge Kenya pupil

“Most pupils, including those that I don’t teach, approach me for assistance and I help them out. I treat them like my own children, and that is why they love me. For a pupil to do well in school, he/she has to have a good relationship with the teacher. One that there is no fear or tension and that is why when these kids are in school I am their parent.”

Aggy Mariam Kasuku, Bridge Primary School Teacher in Kenya.

This shift in teaching culture – enabled by the support system put around teachers – is at the heart of the learning gains seen in Bridge schools. Combined with regular salaries that can be relied upon, career development and a sense of pride in their work, teachers at Bridge are changing the nature of their classrooms and the fortunes of teachers and even teaching in developing countries.