Teachers are key

The classroom needs to be a stimulating place for children—at depends on quality teachers. According to some projections, low-income countries (not even including China and India, the highest population countries) need about 4.5 million more teachers to achieve universal primary education by the year 2000—1.8 million more than will exist if current trends continue. There is simply not enough time to build all the training colleges needed if we are to achieve the goal of education for all by the year 2000. To do so, we must find alternative ways to train teachers, such as on the job, through regular sessions and seminars. 

Good schools not only instil basic skills, they also educate
children about their rights.

One model for improving teacher training is India’s Teacher Empowerment Project. Begun in 1994, it is now in place in two of India’s poorest states, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The project, also known as Shikshak Samakhya Pariyojana, or ‘equal say’, is based on the idea that local control improves teachers’ self-respect and builds trust and cooperation between teachers and communities. The project emphasizes teacher-to-teacher skills training and makes use of resource centres where teachers can exchange ideas. It encourages individual attention to students and includes singing, dancing and art in the curriculum. 

In Zimbabwe, education was revamped after independence in 1980. Now, training combines full-time study with on-the-job learning in the classroom. Teacher salaries rise with each successfully completed year of study, leading to full qualification and pay. Antiquated pay scales based on race and gender have been abolished. For the first two years, there was a shortage of qualified candidates, but the success of the programme soon brought an influx of skilled teachers into the country’s classrooms. 

A good teacher makes the classroom a stimulating place, but low-income countries need about 4.5 million more instructors to reach the goal of universal primary education. A teacher works with her students at a primary school in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura.

Regular, high-quality in-service sessions are part of the reason why the Escuela Nueva approach has been so successful in raising enrolment in rural Colombia. Workshops provide teachers the opportunity to share ideas and methods, especially important in areas where they may be isolated from their peers. The benefit of ongoing training lies not just in the specific techniques the teachers learn but also in the underlying message that their professional skills are valued. 

Escuela Nueva schools also succeed because they are relevant to the students’ lives and lifestyles. The learning process is dynamic, with extensive student participation, and flexible, allowing students to proceed at their own pace and to take time off when necessary, such as during the harvest. The curriculum is practical, covering such topics as farming and local customs. 

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