By the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030
Innovation has always been critical to improve the quality of education and make it more equitable and inclusive of marginalised groups. Teachers can play a pivotal role in innovating, but only if their educational systems give them the necessary support.
The value of innovation has traditionally been unrecognised – but after the educational disruptions and widespread school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is firmly back under the spotlight. Historically, educational innovations have been tied to digital technologies and that continues to be true, as exemplified by over half the examples collated from 166 countries for a recent study. However, the experience of the last two years shows how reliance on technology risks amplifying inequalities in skills and access to devices and infrastructure. Use of EdTech in sub-Saharan Africa increased during the pandemic, but at the start of the pandemic an estimated 82% or 216 million learners had no access to household internet.
Too often overlooked, there is plenty of scope for innovations that do not involve technology: from instructional practices – such as using rap music to teach maths – to different ways of organising activities for example establishing professional learning communities and mentoring programmes for teachers across clusters of schools or co-developing tools and resources.
Innovation is the focus of the 13th Policy Dialogue Forum of the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, which will take place from 2-3 December in Kigali, Rwanda and online. The Forum will examine how innovation can be recognised in -and leveraged for- educational practice, harnessed by teacher education and professional development, and fostered through policy. The forum is structured around the following three themes:
Innovation in teaching and learning
Evidence shows that innovations flourish when they are developed in partnership with teachers, rather than imposed from the top down. Teachers need the autonomy and agency to use their professional judgement to adapt content and pedagogy to meet their learners’ needs and aspirations.
During the pandemic, teachers around the world had to improvise – from delivering lessons via WhatsApp and SMS in Rwanda, to making more use of peer learning and mentoring systems, in Germany and in Indonesia and partnering with health workers to distribute and collect student assignments.
Education systems should value teachers’ creativity and their willingness to take risks and provide ways for them to share their knowledge and ideas. They should gather evidence so the most promising practices can be taken to scale – something which does not always happen . Innovations with the potential to scale up beyond the pandemic – such as apps to monitor student learning – need to be robustly assessed, with decisions on their further use based on evidence about how effective teachers and students found them to be.
Innovation in teacher education
Some teachers adjusted more easily than others to distance and online teaching during the pandemic. However, gaps in teachers’ skills and knowledge emerged: pedagogic use of digital tools; digital literacies; supporting students’ social and emotional needs; responding to gender issues such as gender-based violence; assisting students with disabilities; and working with communities. Very striking were the wide gender gaps in digital literacy. In Rwanda, for example, only 9% of female teachers had online experience, compared with 22% of their male peers However, just 6 out of 10 countries globally offered teachers professional development on pedagogy and effective use of technology – falling to 3 in 10 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ideas to rethink teacher education have proliferated, with early reports indicating particular potential for greater use of blended learning in continuing professional development. Other promising innovations include communities of practitioners, which can affirm teachers’ sense of professional belonging and strengthen their knowledge and skills. In South Korea, for example, the government set up the Community of 10,000 Representative Teachers, with one teacher from each of the country’s 10,000 schools. However, when such communities depend on access to social media, in some countries they risk excluding teachers in areas with poor connectivity.
Innovation in policy and enabling innovation through policy
Policy innovations during the pandemic included a collaboration in Denmark between teaching unions, health authorities and the education ministry on safety measures for the post-lockdown return to school. In Uganda, diverse stakeholders are operationalising a new National Teacher Policy to bring teachers’ voices into government policy development.
However, only 9% of teacher unions around the world reported feeling that their views are fully taken into account. More broadly, few countries have formal policy structures to promote innovations and select which ones to scale up, based on evidence about considerations such as equity, quality and cost effectiveness.
For innovations to spread, governments and funding agencies need to be flexible. Examples of policies using evidence from pilots to scale up come from Sierra Leone, on a pathway into teaching for rural women, and Cameroon, where sex-disaggregated indicators increased gender responsiveness to teachers’ living and working conditions. The Policy Dialogue Forum will generate recommendations for a wide range of stakeholders to make education systems more adaptive and resilient as they build back better from the COVD-19 pandemic. You can register to participate in the Forum on-line.