Tanzania’s teachers, officials seeing dividends from student-centric approach

By Jennifer Brookland

December 1, 2015

The success of a five-year teaching and learning program in Tanzania is evident from the smallest of movements: the eyes of a second grade student glide competently across the pages of a book, his tongue easily forming the familiar words.

The boy, a pupil at Pagali Primary School in Zanzibar, spent his first two school years in classrooms that would surprise the average Tanzanian student.

With technology, teacher training and community support to boost children’s literacy and learning, he has benefitted from a student-centered approach that turned his classroom and indeed his whole school into a place where reading is encouraged and supported.

Tanzanian officials are taking note of the changes they see in classrooms like his, where teachers now emphasize interaction and group work, use teaching aids and technology and set aside special time for reading.

“What I have seen today is really fantastic,” said Parliament Member Mohamed Seif Khatib during a visit to Pagali School. “A standard two pupil reading a book competently…others operating computers at their early stages, a sign that there is a great effort [among] the project and other stakeholders taking place.”

The new classroom methods and materials were part of the USAID-funded Tanzania 21st Century Basic Education Program, which worked in 900 primary schools in Mtwara and Zanzibar to enhance learning outcomes with an emphasis on early grade reading.

The program brought laptops with internet connections and video learning modules into classrooms where students were accustomed to watching nothing but the teacher pacing about and talking—traditional methods that have proven ineffective.

To view videos and stories from the program, please visit the Special Report: TANZANIA: Promoting reading through tech & teacher training.

Noticing a difference

With the new methods, teachers learned to make teaching aids from local materials they could easily procure at low cost in their schools or villages, and practiced leading children through games and songs that help the lessons stick.

They began to use a phonetic approach to teaching reading in a specific sequence, and followed up with children who needed extra attention.

To make all of these changes replicable, the program developed materials so that school heads and regional trainers could continue to educate, mentor and coach them. And it beefed up the resources available at Teacher Resource Centers in Mtwara and Teacher Centers in Zanzibar.

During her November 2015 visit to a Teacher Resource Center, Mtwara’s Regional Education Officer Fatma Kilimia was impressed by how much the space was now serving as a hub for teachers who wanted to progress.

“I will always remember TZ21 program for many things but mostly the improvement of Teachers Resource Centers in both Mtwara and Zanzibar,” Kilimia said. “They are well organized, strong, active and live.”

Kilimia took note of the teachers she observed in the centers, who were working in groups and participating in different in-service training sessions.

“Teachers were everywhere; in the computer room, in the library and others in the resource room.  I have worked in several regions in this country, but I have never seen TRCs which are well organized and acting as a sole source of knowledge to teachers as I see these in Mtwara and Zanzibar,” she said.

Kilimia said she now considered the Teacher Resource Centers supported by TZ21 to be universities, where teachers can go to truly learn, find resources, ask questions and gain experience.

Broad support for reading

With high-level interest in the ways the program has boosted literacy for thousands of primary school students, TZ21 staff hope the approach can be expanded to reach even more.

And while regional and national officials will be key to this effort, so too will support from parents, teachers and community members who are becoming more and more involved in their children’s educations.

This kind of support is already making a difference at places like the Kiembesamaki Teacher Center in Zanzibar, where parents came together this month to create learning materials such as reading charts and homemade storybooks for use in local schools.

More than 50 mothers and fathers and 23 teachers used pink, blue and yellow colored paper to make alphabet, word and sentence cards their children would use to learn about sounds and syllables.

“There is evidence that awareness on the importance of collective participation on educational improvement has increased among the communities in Zanzibar,” says Hassan Libingai, TZ21’s Deputy Chief of Party in Zanzibar.

Libingai says the program used community engagement and mobilization programs like district dialogues and reading events to help bring parents closer to schools, and more involved in their children’s learning—something that is just as important as government support.

“The community now understands that they too are responsible in making sure that the pupils’ performance is good.”

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