“At the heart of the educational system, teachers hold the keys to a better future for all. They are a powerful force for peace. By transmitting universal values such as human rights, respect, justice and cultural diversity, they help transform younger generations into global citizens of the 21st century.” UNESCO
In December 2011, I had the privilege of accompanying a colleague to a Dubai Cares-funded program in Bangladesh. Many things struck me about our non-formal education program in rural Bangladesh, particularly the vibrant atmosphere at the school and the quality of the teaching.
The small mud-walled classrooms were basic but held a vibrant feel and were filled with colorful posters of English nursery rhymes and the Bengali alphabet. In the first classroom we visited, 30 children in maroon-colored uniforms sat neatly in a large circle and listened with wonder-filled wide eyes as the teacher talked about the nutritional value of a number of fruits and vegetables. A group of children, who were not enrolled at the school, stood outside the classroom with their faces tightly pressed against a small window, trying to steal some of the excitement being transmitted by the 20-year old teacher.
In the world of education, the components that strike us as the most significant are usually the physical attributes such as the classroom - its walls, the colorful posters on them, the desks and chairs, and the didactic materials such as the textbooks, pencils, boards and chalk. The reality is that the most important element of any educational institution is the teacher. The young Bengali teacher (who happened to be a volunteer) is a great example of the positive impact that consistent and relevant teacher training programs can have on the learning process in a classroom.
Teacher Training is a critical element in ensuring ‘quality’ primary education for children in the developing world. There is increased emphasis on improving education infrastructure in countries such as Bangladesh, India and Nepal, but teacher training needs to be top priority. In 2005, the Annual Status of Education Report found that 52% of children aged 7 to 14 in 200,000 rural households in India could not read a simple paragraph of second-grade difficulty. What was shocking is that over 93% of the children surveyed were enrolled in school.
A recent study using a nationally representative dataset of primary schools in India found that 25% of teachers were absent on any given day, and that less than half of them were engaged in any form of teaching activity. India is not the only country facing quality of education issues such as these. In fact, the world today is standing helplessly on the brink of a major learning crisis; research shows that 250 million children around the world are not able to read or write. Teachers, with the relevant training, hold the power to shift this paradigm.
The main challenge faced by the teaching profession today is one of both numbers and quality. It is estimated that 1.7 million new teachers are required to achieve universal primary education by 2015 but currently, we are facing a huge shortage of professional, well-trained and well-supported teachers. The other more pressing issue is the delivery of quality education.
Not only are we short of teachers, but tens of millions in the current workforce are far too often under-qualified, poorly paid and struggle with low socio-economic status. The reality of children, both in and out of school, will remain unchanged unless this is treated as a serious issue and steps are taken to elevate and highlight the role of competent teachers in national development. This, in turn, will attract qualified youth to the teaching profession, which can have a positive impact on children’s education around the world.
Teacher training is often a difficult issue to rally people around, as few can relate to it as a “burning platform”. However, many donor organizations and individuals are recognizing the importance of investing in quality, contextual and regular teacher training. Chief among them is Dubai Cares- as a firm believer in the instrumental role of teachers to a child’s learning process, we have invested in over 38,000 teachers to date.
Furthermore, teacher training is a core component of one of our upcoming flagship programs in East Africa, whereby Dubai Cares will be training thousands of teachers over 4 years as part of its Early Childhood Education program. Through our program, we aim to help teachers
- Learn how to effectively manage large-size classrooms without compromising the learning process. In crowded classrooms, the talk and chalk method is the most popular model, which limits interactive learning. Children learn better when they interact with their teacher on a one-on-one basis or as part of a small group.
- Learn how to use local material to create didactic materials, which in turn can be used to aid the teacher
- Learn how to engage students and teach in an interactive way
We have an unwavering belief in the importance of teacher development in tackling the learning crisis that millions of children face today. To this end, Dubai Cares will continue to support and advocate for investing in teachers in developing countries to complement and raise the efficacy of our ongoing programs.