Like a Rich Jewel in the Ear of an Ethiop

21st February 2016

By Richard Finch ELT-Consultant

Honorary Doctor of Letters. University of Namibia



“ …like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear”

                                                                                                  William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


The growth of professional teacher- led development in sub-Saharan Africa.

I first came to Africa from the UK, eight years ago- originally for a two year period in Namibia with VSO, and here, I remain; now in South Africa to be precise. The bluest of skies, the wide open spaces and the welcoming and warmest of smiles from the Ovambo, Herero, Xhosa, Zulus and many other tribal groups with whom I have developed  programmes of school based Teacher Training made thought of relocation an inevitability. And so it was that in 2011 I made my home in Durban, South Africa, after living sixty two years in the UK. From here, many other African countries were to be within my reach as I continued my strong belief in and saw the need for, the continuing professional development of teachers.

What teachers know and their willingness to develop a wide range of teaching strategies has a marked influence on what and how their students learn. A teachers’ professional development has to be an ongoing enquiry into and a reflection on their practice. Teaching and learning is a complex process that requires more than short term skills training in periodic episodes. What is required is a continuing programme of learning activities and collaborative exchanges to enhance their professional knowledge, their skills and in many cases to bring about a change in attitude. Often, the challenge was to get many of the teachers to overcome the tendency to teach as they were taught. There was a need to “put one’s heart back into teaching.

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we are robbing them of tomorrow.”                                             John Dewey.

I could see that Courses should not be just skills based; they needed to provide opportunities for teachers to challenge their assumptions about their role, experiment with alternative teaching strategies and develop a deeper understanding of and a passion for their subject content, the students they teach and consider more closely how their students learn.

The test of effective professional learning as Warren Little(1997) suggests, “is whether teachers and other educators come to know more about their subjects, their students, and their practice, and to make informed use of what they know”

Since so much of the African continent is essentially rural, getting teachers to attend regular In Service Courses and Workshops is just not practical. I found in Namibia, working from the University of Namibia’s Northern Campus in Oshakati that when such a Language Conference or a day’s Workshop was announced, provide the information reached them through SMS’s, they would arrive in droves, some hiking many, many kilometres. They were hungry for knowledge, skills and practical classroom strategies and so it was that I encouraged and supported them, with the help of the British Council and US Aid Fund to set up the Namibian English Teachers’ Association( North). Namibia is a vast country, largely desert and so this encouraged four other branches, within the country to reach out to many English Language Teachers across the country and share the joys and the challenges of their profession; to learn and to grow professionally.

I have just returned from my fourth visit to Ethiopia where I facilitated a Workshop on “Using Drama to develop and enrich language learning.” The Addis Ababa English Language Teachers’ Association, although operating within a dense urban area nevertheless has used its example of professionalism and commitment to encourage the setting up of satellite groups throughout Ethiopia where teachers bring in other professionals but more importantly share ideas and run the sessions themselves. On a warm and sunny Saturday morning in Addis, at the height of the Wedding season earlier this month, thirty teachers attended my two hour session, after which many of them, including myself quickly changed to attend wedding ceremonies.

This Association, set up in 2012 and affiliated with IATEFL and TESOL began with a small group of passionate teachers who believe in Teacher Development; similar associations are now replicated in other parts of Africa- Rwanda and the Cameroon being particularly active. They are to be encouraged and supported by whatever means. They are indeed the jewels whose brilliance can enrich teaching and learning within the African continent.

Richard Finch. February 2016

References: Warren Little, J (1999) Organising Schools for Teacher Learning in Darling- Hammond L (Ed.) Teaching as a Learning Profession, Handbook of Policy and Practice.  Jossey-Bass

Susan Gomez( Editor)Running an Association for Language Teachers. IATEFL/ British Council 2011

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