Dressed in uniform, children take it in turns at hopscotch, hopping inside chalk-drawn squares. They are having so much fun that it would seem they are on break time, but it is in fact a maths lesson.
The children have just started the first year at Oitava primary school, which has 2,798 pupils and is set in the heart of the bustling industrial town of Moatise, in the northern province of Tete. The teacher, Terisinha Paula, 33, invites those who have not put up their hands to also participate.
Paula has been teaching at the school for five years, and although her route to qualify was not easy, she always wanted to be a teacher. Paula explains how she managed to study up to Grade 6 at secondary school but then had to do Grades 7–10 at night before enrolling on a three-year teacher training course.
Since her course, Paula has also benefitted from in-service training, and in 2016 she learnt more about participatory teaching methods from a fellow teacher, Rosa Salenco. “She taught me different ways to get more children to participate in class; for example, to use games when I’m teaching maths and Portuguese, and to make sure I don’t just talk at the front of the class, but move around and ask questions.”
Following in-service training, Salenco shared her knowledge not just with Paula but also with teachers from three other schools in her cluster or zona de influencia pedagogica (ZIP). The clusters were set up in the 1970s to facilitate peer-to-peer planning and pedagogical exchange among primary teachers.
Her experience is part of a wider national in-service training strategy for primary teachers, developed in 2015 by the Ministry of Education with UNICEF support, and implemented for the first time in 2016.
It involves in-service training on participatory teaching methods for two experienced teachers in every primary school ZIP throughout the country. In 2016, about 3,500 experienced teachers were trained directly, 730 in UNICEF’s target provinces of Zambézia and Tete.
These trained teachers have been sharing their newly-acquired knowledge and skills with peers in their respective school clusters, with the aim of reaching all teachers who teach Grades 1 to 5. A total of 9,410 teachers have benefitted from these peer-to-peer sharing sessions at school-cluster level nationwide,
of whom 2,851 were from Zambézia and Tete.
Salenca says she found the training useful and was keen to share with her peers. One of the methods she found particularly effective was peer-to-peer learning among the children; for example, by organizing children into two circles and having those in the inner circle explain to those in the outer circle what they have learnt. “It helps them to reflect and remember what they have learnt,” she says.
The director of Oitava primary school, Jasse Luis Melo, says that he has already seen a difference, particularly in Grade 1 pupils. “When the teachers use these methods, the children are more active and they speak more confidently in class, even those who start school with little Portuguese. When I enter, they speak a lot to me. This is a good sign.” He would, however, like his teachers to benefit from even more training on methodology. “Some of my teachers have three years of teacher training, but some only one year. We would also like more exchange with teachers from other provinces to share their experiences.”
And besides the need for more training, he says, they need improvements to the school infrastructure. “We have no running water at school and the latrines are not enough, and we are short of classrooms.” As there are not enough classrooms, they run three four-hour shifts spread over the day, starting at 6.30 a.m. and ending at 6.30 p.m. “This affects the pupils’ learning as they only have a short time in school.”
UNICEF Education Chief, Iris Uyttersprot, says that improving the quality of teaching is one of UNICEF’s priority areas of support. She points out, “While Mozambique has significantly increased access to primary school, quality has lagged, with the end result that more and more boys and girls enter primary school, but few master basic skills, such as reading, writing and basic maths.”