A high-impact project using satellite technology to train teachers in Ghana is now looking to scale globally.
Many children in sub-Saharan Africa – over 400,000 in Ghana alone according to 2014 UNESCO estimates - either don’t go to school or eventually drop out of education altogether. The scale of the challenge is considerable to say the least, yet one successful program has recently shown how directed investment in technology can make a significant impact within a relatively short time.
The results from an independent evaluation of Train for Tomorrow demonstrated how higher quality teaching can help reverse such negative trends and inspire more children in the world’s most deprived areas to attend school and complete their education.
What makes programmes like this so crucial is the fact that such a large proportion of teachers in countries like Ghana haven’t received formal training. According to the Ghanaian Ministry of Education, 45 percent of primary school teachers and 30 percent of those teaching junior high are untrained. This amounts to a staggering 90,000 working teachers in need of acquiring such skills.
Under the Train for Tomorrow programme - which is run by the Varkey Foundation and funded through a $2 million USD grant from philanthropic organization Dubai Cares - 40 ‘hub’ schools were provided with solar powered video-link equipment. This enabled highly qualified teacher trainers based in the country’s capital Accra to hold regular interactive training sessions at those hub schools, where head teachers and school leaders from surrounding areas come to receive their training.
The focus of those sessions was on best practice teaching methods and techniques which have been proven to deliver better quality educational outcomes, such as group work, critical thinking, use of higher order thinking skills, reflection and analysis.
The program relies on a ripple effect whereby the head teachers and school leaders who participate in the hub school sessions then repeat the training in their own school for other teachers. This strategy managed to amplify the reach of the programme to nearly 5,000 teachers and their 90,000 students. Initially operating from three studios, the foundation has now expanded that number to five larger facilities, all equipped with the latest technology.
An evaluation conducted by Dalberg Global Development Associates showed that teachers going through Train for Tomorrow demonstrated statistically significant improvement in instructional performance. Teachers in the 40 hub schools showed significant improvement in their teaching techniques, demonstrably encouraging cooperative learning – which enhances retention of learning through group work – increased from 13% in the baseline analysis to 60%
“The results of this independent evaluation clearly demonstrate that pioneering EdTech can improve learning in parts of the world that are often off the power grid, have limited access to the internet and have few resources to share,” says Vikas Pota, CEO of the Varkey Foundation.
Pota also added that he hopes the results will encourage more investors to support similar projects, as well as inspiring technology entrepreneurs to come forward with fresh ideas that are hardy enough to improve education where it is needed the most.
This technology, which earlier this year was used to deliver the world’s first satellite-enabled interactive distance learning project to a Refugee Camp, was also successfully deployed by the Varkey Foundation for the Making Ghanaian Girls Great! (MGCubed) project.
MGCubed is a three-year pilot project funded by the Department for International Development (DFID)’s Girls' Education Challenge (GEC) which used interactive distance learning technology to deliver Maths and English lessons daily to more than 10,000 pupils in 72 of Ghana’s most deprived communities. In addition to delivering after-school club activities covering crucial topics such as reproductive health, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, career guidance and the environment, the MGCubed model was shown to have a significant positive impact on literacy and numeracy skills.
According to Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) pupils participating in that programme were able to read between 3.21-3.74 more words per minute than those in regular classes, and in numeracy tests MGCubed teaching has been found to increase average scores by the equivalent of one school year.
Professional Learning Networks encouraged by such projects have been shown to have long-lasting positive impacts on teachers’ professional development, and form the basis of scalability and sustainability of the initiatives. Since participants will be able to rely on one another for advice, evaluation and support for the continuous improvement of their own practice, their experience and expertise can be constantly communicated and amplified.
According to the Varkey Foundation, this is a highly replicable model, since the educational and technical expertise deployed create a significant body of assets that can be reused either within the original hub schools, or through installation of the technology package in further schools. The nature of the model means that after the fixed infrastructure costs are paid for, operating costs are minimal, therefore making the long-term effects far reaching and enduring.
“With Train for Tomorrow, our aim is to improve the quality of teaching, and create a positive teaching and learning experience for children in Ghana, through an innovative program model utilizing technology,” says His Excellency Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer at Dubai Cares. “The learnings from the final evaluation of the program which has concluded, will contribute to the growing evidence surrounding teacher training modalities, helping strengthen the design and delivery of teacher training programs in developing countries.”