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Empowering Teachers to Lead Change in Education

STIR Education Micro-Innovations Gain Momentum in Uganda

A movement of 1 million inspired and empowered teachers is taking root and gaining momentum in Uganda. With the support of STIR Education, an organization founded in 2012 to reignite teachers’ passion for their craft, Ugandan educators have been coming together to learn from each other, building on proven innovative techniques to inspire and educate their students.

For many teachers, education is a passion, a noble calling to have a positive impact on the minds and lives of young people in their community. For Francis Tabu, a former teacher and Program Manager for The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at BRAC in Uganda, teaching was about the opportunity to shape the destiny of young people. For Julian Birungi Kukoni, a teacher who mentors secondary school Scholars in the Scholars Program at BRAC, teaching was about having a positive impact on the lives of young people. For both, teaching is a passion.

But many teachers also face significant challenges such as large class sizes, rote teaching methods, lack of resources like laboratories and text books, and limited access to basic services such as potable water, sanitation and electricity. Unsurprisingly, rural and remote areas are particularly challenged with a limited number of teachers and fewer resources.

Many of these challenges often leave teachers disengaged from a profession that once so inspired them. In Uganda, for example, 85 percent of teachers are considering leaving the profession. The result are high levels of teacher absenteeism; 27 percent in Uganda, 23 percent in Tanzania, 18 percent in Senegal.

Perhaps most dramatically, Sub-Saharan Africa faces a shortage of 17 million teachers to achieve universal lower secondary education by 2030. The absence of teachers further exacerbates the continent’s learning crisis, with 61 million school children in Sub-Saharan Africa expected to reach adolescence without being able to read, write or perform basic numeracy tasks.

 

Photo: Jennifer Huxta. STIR Education, Uganda.

Photo: Jennifer Huxta. STIR Education, Uganda.

 

If teaching is at the heart of Africa’s learning crisis, teachers are also the continent’s greatest untapped asset.

Supported by The MasterCard Foundation through the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE), STIR Education is leading the charge in Uganda, working with teachers across the country to reignite their motivation and achieve better student learning outcomes. The brainchild of Sharath Jeevan, who has experience in raising attainment levels of disadvantaged children in the UK and India, STIR Education aims to help teachers become better problem-solvers – and above all, to become change-makers.

The STIR approach is simple: recognize the existing efforts of teachers, and give them an opportunity to collaborate and inspire each other to lead change in their classrooms.

STIR has shared simple and cost-effective micro-innovations, ideas and solutions developed by teachers and head teachers within the Ugandan education system, and vetted by stakeholders, teachers and STIR experts. The interventions can be remarkably simple – such as public attendance charts for teachers, which are creating a culture of accountability for educators; colour-coded star systems that reward and incentivize high school students for completing and submitting homework; creating classroom environments that encourage group-work and problem-solving in local languages to improve literacy and numeracy.

Other interventions are providing teachers with the opportunity to address insidious problems such as absenteeism, early marriage and teen pregnancy. For instance, when one head teacher at a primary school in Oyam, northern Uganda, realized that young female students were either arriving to school late or not attending regularly, he sat down with his students to understand the root causes of the problem. Girls were arriving late because of domestic work at home, or getting married or pregnant at a very young age, often leaving them with very little time to attend school.

 

Photo: Jennifer Huxta. STIR Education, Uganda.

Photo: Jennifer Huxta. STIR Education, Uganda.

By engaging parents, and mothers in particular, as well as the community’s female elites on the importance of girls’ education, the head teacher marked an 80 percent increase in his female students attending class early and regularly, improving their academic performance and completing their studies up to Primary 7.

At a rural secondary school in Kabarole District, western Uganda, one school director realized that some teachers – particularly recently graduated teachers – were approaching lessons with trepidation. On further investigation, teachers explained the apprehension of teaching some of the brighter, more advanced students. The director worked closely with her teachers, building their capacity and confidence by encouraging them to research topics and issues, discussing their notes in a follow-up discussion that would inform a lesson plan. Teachers became increasingly engaged in their own learning, which in turn led to more interesting lessons and higher student engagement.

STIR’s roster of micro-innovations has also caught the eye of policymakers and are now being implemented through Uganda’s Teacher Union and the Ministry of Education’s network of master trainers for science and math. The Government of Uganda is leveraging its ministry of education and the teachers’ union to scale many of these approaches. This is viewed as an opportunity to change national and regional paradigms around how teachers can best be supported and their skills harnessed in education systems. STIR’s National Partnership with the government aims to reach 6,000 secondary teachers and 200,000 young people over five years, through over 400 teacher networks.

Through its successful micro-innovations and networks that promote professional practice, STIR Education has not only shown that quality teachers are essential to improving student learning, but that they can also be powerful agents of change – whether that means fighting early childhood marriage and teen pregnancy, incorporating local languages in the learning process, or rallying communities around the common cause of quality education for Ugandan children.