Providing universal access to early childhood care and education for 4-6 year olds

Posted on 18 October 2019

This is the first in a series of think pieces produced as part of Cambridge Education’s work with the Government of Uganda.

Through funding from the Global Partnership for Education, Cambridge Education is currently working with the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports to develop a revised 2018 early childhood care and education policy.

Tough assignment: making pre-service teacher education work in West Africa

Posted on 27 September 2019

Donor-led education programmes are traditionally drawn to in-service teacher training, as they can achieve expected results and targets in a rapid timeframe. However, the lifespan of sustainable change is often limited by the wider education system. Teachers soon regress to bad habits because they lack the right support and incentives. In addition, new teachers enter the system having learnt the old ways.

Pre-service teacher education is the tougher nut to crack. Any long-term change depends on the institutional reform of colleges of education and universities, as well as transformation of teaching practices. The risks are higher, but so too are the rewards of putting better teachers in the system at source.

Cambridge Education has recently managed UK aid-funded pre-service teacher education programmes in Ghana and Nigeria with the shared aim of tackling the poor quality of teachers entering the profession. Both programmes have proved successful, with clear evidence for sustainable improvement.

Here are some of our key lessons

Lesson 1: Follow the leaders

Both programmes were initiated by the host governments. Instead of a short-term fix, they saw the need to changing their policy about how teachers are educated, recruited and promoted. As a result, institutions were obliged to follow the new legislation if they wanted to be accredited. In fact, most recognised the change as an opportunity for improvement. Our success was in helping to implement good internal policies, rather than bringing change from outside the system.

Lesson 2: Raise the status

Primary school teaching was broadly seen as a career of last resort or a back door into university. One professor even described primary as an ‘embarrassing’ choice. The low entry level into college meant that considerable time was spent on remedial teaching of reading and writing, rather than learning how to teach. Upgrading the college qualification from a diploma to an honours degree is just one way that the countries are attracting higher quality students into the profession.

Lesson 3: Set the example

The theory of change for pre-service training is actually quite simple. Student teachers will imitate the behaviours of their tutors when they go and teach in basic schools. If students are taught using a ‘chalk-and-talk’ approach by tutors, then it’s no surprise when they enter a primary school classroom and start lecturing the students. The use of interactive, child-centred techniques and reduced reliance on written exams is proving popular on all sides. The “demonstration effect” of good teaching technique results in student teachers being inducted into a new community of practice, which they themselves had never experienced in their own schooling.

Lesson 4: Prioritise quality assurance

Where possible, the change needs to come from within the colleges. Our job is to provide advice, ideas and supportive spaces for change where needed. The colleges have meanwhile adopted quality assurance frameworks to demonstrate the level of learning as a basis for gaining accreditation and attracting funding. This provides a roadmap for improvement and puts the emphasis on learning outcomes—rather than numbers of students and facilities.

Lesson 5: Think local first

Across both programmes, we had excellent teams made up almost entirely of nationals, who knew how to contextualise advice for decision makers. Likewise, they could more quickly disarm critics or resentful professors, who saw the programme as unnecessary, foreign disruption of their status quo. We also had the right technical people, including a small number of international consultants for quality assurance, fresh external thinking or where experience was lacking. This approach reflects Cambridge Education’s commitment to a balanced Global Public Investment model of development, in place of the conventional donor-recipient relationship.

Lesson 6: Keep it real

There was a clear disconnect between the colleges and the primary schools. Student teachers had little opportunity to experience the classroom environment. The curricula didn’t reflect the current needs of schools. As a result, the vast majority of graduates entering the job market were unfit for purpose. The programmes have helped to bridge that gap. Now, student teachers get a range of practical, hands-on training, both in books and audiovisual smartphone apps, but also by teaching children in relevant schools and speaking regularly to mentors. They are observed and receive feedback. Student teachers also gain advice that pushes them towards the areas where they have more chance of finding employment when they finish.

Professional development is the “first of its kind in Africa”

In Nigeria, we set up the Continuing Professional Development Course (CPDC), which broke new ground in building the capacity of college tutors. Through online self-study, they developed their skills in child-centred, interactive teaching as part of their regular professional development programme. Importantly, their training was ongoing and in-college, rather than one-off courses run by external consultants. Not only has this approach changed their perception of technology, but it has achieved a ‘paradigm shift’ in how they see their role, transforming from top-down lecturers to eye-level teacher educators. Our approach to embedding improvement is the first of its kind in Africa.


Posted on 12 September 2019

This year's conference theme is Inclusive education systems: futures, fallacies and finance.

The Education and Development Forum, provides a proactive forum for universities, non-governmental organisations, consultancy groups and professional associations to share ideas, knowledge and expertise. Andy Brock is on the Board of Trustees and Sharon Tao, one of our senior education advisers, is a member of the Executive Committee.

Cambridge Education is a lead sponsor of the conference and our colleagues and project partners will be taking part in a number of sessions and talks, highlighting some of our work worldwide and discussing key education issues such as teacher development, girls' education, and delivering sustainable programmes.

Two of our assistant project managers will be tweeting from the conference. Follow @chloebritt_ and @GracemApm for live updates.

You can find out more about the conference on UKFIET's website