In October, the Chinese government marked the 10th anniversary of its international development initiative dubbed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
President William Ruto, is among world leaders who visited Beijing to participate in the ceremony. Whereas BRI is mostly known for its mega infrastructure projects like the Standard Gauge Railway and the Nairobi Expressway, it also has a soft side in its social programme mainly in education.
Since 2017, Shanghai Normal University and UNESCO’s Teacher Education Centre in China with the support of the Shanghai municipal government have been organising a BRI annual forum for teacher educators, educational researchers and government officials from across the globe.
This year’s forum under the theme ‘Integrated training of teachers before and after service.’ was held from 9th to 20th October 2023.
In his opening remarks, Prof Minxuan Zhang, the Director of UNESCO’s Teacher Education Centre observed that having good quality teachers is a pre-requisite for quality education.
Sustainable Development Goal number 4 advocates for quality and equitable education by 2030 and for this to be realised, improving the quality of teachers is a prerequisite.
Having participated in this year’s forum, I reckon that there are some key lessons Kenya can learn from China on how to improve the quality of its teachers.
One is the need for quality pre-service teacher training. Pre-service training is critical as it equips the teacher with foundational Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) that acts as a launching pad to his/her teaching career.
In China, teacher training institutions continuously monitor and evaluate their curriculum and teaching strategies while ensuring a good balance of theory and practice, to produce teachers equipped with the requisite skills for teaching in the 21st century.
While the Ministry of Education in Kenya has reviewed the curriculum for Teacher Training Colleges replacing the certificate programme with a diploma programme lasting three years with an aim of improving teacher quality, a majority of the universities which mostly train secondary school teachers are yet to revise their teacher training curricula to meet the needs of the Competency Based Education as well the 21st century skills.
The need for a for a strong and participatory in-service training for teachers is another lesson for Kenya. In China, in-service training is well designed giving a good balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches.
Although there are some in-service training programmes that are designed at the national, provincial and municipal levels, there is a very strong emphasis on in-service training at the school level that is teacher centred with over 50 per cent of the in-service training taking place at the school.
Teachers form action research groups at the school level which conduct studies with the support of university researchers on challenges to teaching-learning.
Once solutions are found, they are shared with other teachers in the school and upscaled to other schools through Communities of Practice.
In Kenya, the Teacher Professional Development (TPD) programme rolled out by the Teachers Service Commission in December 2021 employs mainly the top-down approach with very little input from the teachers.
The non-participatory approach in the design and implementation of the TPD in Kenya could be the reason behind the resistance it has faced from the teachers and their unions leading to low enrolment despite its compulsory nature.
In China, the government meets the cost of in-service training for teachers unlike in Kenya where they are supposed to foot the bill. Even where teachers enroll for postgraduate programmes on their own, the government reimburses them the money spent upon graduation.
The timing of the in-service training is also critical. Kenyan teachers have been against undertaking the TPD training during school holidays as currently structured arguing that it leaves them with no time to rest bearing in mind that most teachers teach an average of about 30 lessons per week. little time for professional development.
The lesson from Shanghai is that the teacher workload should be rationalised to ensure the training does not encroach on teachers holidays.
In Shanghai, although teachers are supposed to work 45 hours per week, only 14 hours are spent on actual classroom teaching. The other hours are spent on assessing students’ work, counseling, school management, professional development, collaborations.
There is also need to develop a culture of lifelong learning for teachers in Kenya. One way of realising this is by creating a strong linkage between pre-service and in-service training.
In China, teacher training institutions are strongly linked with the Ministry of Education and the schools which ensures constant sharing of information on challenges facing the teaching-learning process at school level.
Primary and secondary schools are aligned with teacher training universities giving a platform for research on and implemenation of best teaching practices.
In Kenya, this linkage is lacking and teacher training institutions produce teachers without any reference to the current challenges being experienced at the classroom and school levels.