USAID supports primary school teachers to upgrade through continuous online professional development

On 21 September 2017 at 06:13

This year is ending on a high for Cyprien Nshimiyimana, a primary school teacher at GS Bwiza in Rutsiro district. In a space of six months, Cyprien has made tremendous strides: he gained appropriate teaching skills, became computer literate and is now able to share online resources and experience to mentor other teachers.

Just a few days ago, on 8 September, Nshimiyimana achieved what he considers a new milestone - he represented fellow school mentors at this year’s function to mark the National Literacy Day. During the high-level event, he shared his personal testimony of transformation and experience with hundreds of expert educationists, policy makers and development partners in education.

Nshimiyimana is one of the 148 in-service primary school teachers who will be graduating on the 27st September 2017, with a diploma in Continuous Professional Development (CPD), in early grade reading. The teacher trainees were drawn from several schools in different districts. The course is managed through the Rwanda Mentorship Community of Practice (MCOP), a program funded by USAID and implemented by FHI360. Supervised by the Rwanda Education Board (REB), the program aims to scale, institutionalize and replicate a model for supporting Rwanda’s school- based mentors.

As an inaugural course, the training program is built on the core priorities of Rwanda’s new curriculum, introduced in 2016 to revamp Rwandan education system by promoting literacy in the early grades. Indeed, the critical importance of literacy is presented in Vision 2020, with a literacy rate of 100% as one of the indicators of achieving the vision.

It is believed that using the mother tongue in early education has positive bearing on learning outcomes. To promote this, the CPD program, taken under the supervision of the College of Education of the National University of Rwanda (URCE), has offered trainees the foundational skills of teaching/reading Kinyarwanda. This is part of USAID’s partnership program with the Government of Rwanda to promote early grade literacy in Rwanda.

To give the trainees a unique online experience, the program piloted formal web-based courses in early grade reading instruction to improve Kinyarwanda-language reading instruction for P1-3 pre-and in-service teachers, leading to a Continuous Development Diploma in Foundation Reading in Kinyarwanda. The e-course was developed locally by FHI360 Rwanda, having the beneficiaries’ interest at heart - MCOP made sure it made the learning platform easy to use by users who are not too familiar with computers. As an interactive course, the training platform offers a variety of features that include a mix of video, audio, discussions groups moderated by URCE lecturers as well as in built online quizzes and exams. The course was developed under URCE academic rules and regulations.

In addition to the online course, MCOP developed and continues to moderate the Teachers Community of Practice (TCOP) platform which has been adopted and is now managed by REB through the National Educational Portal.

According to MCOP Chief of Party and FHI360 Director, Mrs. Eustochie Agasaro S, the online course not only provided the teachers with needed pedagogical skills, but also allowed them to access quality education from the comfort of their homes, at the same time giving them the opportunity to interact with their fellow teacher students through an online community of practice, under the moderation of skilled University of Rwanda College of education lecturers. The best of all, as she says, was that the course didn’t disrupt the teachers teaching calendar because they used their free time to follow the course.

The online platform also offers a variant of resources to facilitate training and learning: the trainees have access to 417 education resources to support teaching and are members of an online community that connects over 1,075 teachers in 1,000 schools and 416 Sector Education Officers in all 30 districts in Rwanda. These can access 15,985 topics and 48,887 posts and 452 online library resources.

What beneficiaries say

A good and relevant program is often tested in the skills, experience and testimonies of the trainees. As one of the graduates, Nshimiyimana already has an edge of a professional teacher. He says the experience has reignited his passion for teaching and helping others bytransferring the gained skills to fellow teachers.

As a champion mentor who guides other trainees, teacher Nshimiyimana says accessing reading materials on the platform helped to improve his reading skills.
To quote Cyprien: “access to the Teacher Community of Practice exposed me to the essentials of reading. "During one of the Meet the Expert sessions on TCOP, we discussed about reading as the foundation of all learning which I found interesting. After this discussion, I gained enough knowledge that I have since transferred to my students. I always emphasize sparing reading time during my classes on a weekly basis, which has helped to improve the results of my students”.

He also says skills from the course have helped young students turn into effective readers. "For example, I’ve facilitated teachers to start class library corners in their classrooms, something that has helped our students to develop the spirit of reading and improve on their vocabulary. The number of students borrowing books has also increased from 10% to about 60%, leading to better performance of students compared to the time before I was part of the online e-course diploma.

The same experience is shared by other trainees: Alex Mulisa from Rulindo District also described the online portal as a great resource for teachers. “The online library enables us to access supplementary readers and books. We also share experiences and best practices from different schools.

For Colette Mukaniyongomwa, a teacher at Sha Primary School in Kinyinya Sector, Kigali City, the experience has been rewarding in many ways. The online course offered skills that Colette utilizes while mentoring other teachers. “When I am teaching, some of my colleagues assist with the lessons and use them as model lessons. Even my head teacher requested me to train my colleagues during holidays,” she observed.

The acquired skills also facilitate Colette while revising for her ongoing university course.

The trained teachers are expected to introduce more teachers to the online resource portal and replicate the lessons in their respective schools and communities, thereby promoting early grade literacy in Rwanda.