Photo Credit: Varkey Foundation
Sep 23
September 23, 2015

Can Teacher Training Fuel Africa’s Growth?


The Varkey Foundation has been a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) sponsor since 2010, partnering on several Commitments to Action that focus on improving the standard of education for underprivileged children. In July, Gordon Carver, project director for the Varkey Foundation in Africa, participated in a session focused on equipping teachers for success in sub-Saharan Africa, held during the CGI Week of Action. Here he shares a behind the scenes look at the Varkey Foundation’s current commitment to address the shortage of trained teachers in sub-Saharan Africa—a key factor that Carver believes will either fuel or stall economic progress across the continent.

During the last decade, Africa has been among the world’s fastest-growing continents—its average economic growth rate was more than five percent—buoyed in part by improved governance and economic reforms.  Today, seven of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.

But as I write this, sitting in the Varkey Foundation’s office in Accra, Ghana (where I have now been based for over two years), the future of the continent’s growth will greatly depend on education. UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report shows that while school attendance in sub-Saharan Africa has increased, 175 million children remain illiterate. The inter-related reasons that children become absent from school include systemic poverty issues, illness, and the need to work to support their families.

With 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population under the age of thirty, the need has never been greater for cross-sector partnerships that promote education and address the reasons why children may not stay in school. As we address these current education challenges, improving teacher training quality and raising respect for the profession of teaching is a focus of the Varkey Foundation. We believe every child deserves a vibrant, stimulating, learning environment that awakens and supports their full potential. To shine a spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world, we also founded the Global Teacher Prize.

Among a group of peers at CGI’s recent Week of Action, I had the opportunity to discuss how best to equip teachers in sub-Saharan Africa for success. Around small tables, we exchanged ideas and strategies on challenges including:

  • the kinds of support that can be offered to teachers, especially women, experiencing or recovering from the devastating effects of conflicts and emergencies
  • the lack of resources associated with working in conflict settings
  • the creation of programs that are relevant, culturally and linguistically appropriate, and adequately prepare teachers for the classroom
  • how technology will play a role in preventing teacher absenteeism given that currently, many teachers in sub-Saharan Africa may have to travel significant distances to receive payment

One solution is the Varkey Foundation’s ambitious program to train 250,000 teachers across Africa. So far this program has trained 12,000 teachers over the last two years in Uganda, one of the poorest counties in the world. As part of a recently announced CGI Commitment to Action, our teacher training program will expand across Central and Northern Uganda. Once fully funded, this would involve the training of an additional 3,000 school leaders from 1,500 new schools in six new districts. They would in turn train an additional 24,000 front-line teachers in those districts over the next three years.

Photo Credit: varkey Foundation

Our training program plan moves away from a focus on memorization and repeated facts. Instead, we train teachers to create a culture of ‘personalised learning’ in the classroom with greater participation and exploration of ideas. Rather than simply relying on ‘chalk and talk’ methods of standing at the front of the classroom, teachers are taught to cater to different learning needs—including those students who learn best through visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic methods.

There are a number of factors and obstacles that may contribute to a child’s ability to attend school. But if we are able to one day succeed in getting every child into a classroom, their ability to maintain attendance and learn effectively will depend on the teachers who mentor them—and the support those teachers receive.  

Check out the agenda for the 2015 Annual Meeting to learn about the sessions that will discuss the role of education in empowering individuals around the world. In addition, a series of interactive Future Labs will explore specific global challenges, including girls’ education. You can be a part of these Future Labs by adding your own perspective to the conversation.