By Winny Cherotich, Program Officer, Network Building, PAL Network Secretariat
As the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the World Teachers’ Day, I cannot help but recall vividly the moments I spent in the classroom, right from pre-school to college. The most memorable were those spent singing in pre-school and in lower primary school. I have my teachers to thank for teaching me how to write, how to interact with my peers, how to think and most importantly how to tackle life issues with confidence. For me, and for many other children all over the world – my teachers were my second parents.
Even as the world celebrates this day, teachers face a myriad of challenges as they try to educate their students. In most classrooms found in developed country contexts, teachers are expected to teach a group of pupils who have been grouped by age, into a particular grade, or class. Across the developing world, the reality is quite different. Even when children are enrolled in school, they may start school late, attend school irregularly, repeat grades and drop out. In many classrooms, multi-grade teaching is inevitable.
The ASER 2016 report notes that 63.7% of primary schools in India had Grade 2 children seated with one or more other classes. The diversity of different learning needs in the classroom often means that teachers are unable to meet every child at their specific learning level, with the result that many children are being left behind. The same report indicates that only 12.7% of children in grade 3 were able to read simple sentences of Grade 2 level, demonstrating that children are moving from one Grade level to another without having acquired the basic competencies that will provide them the foundations for all subsequent progress in school. The collective experience of PAL Network countries over the past eleven years has demonstrated that inequalities in learning widen throughout the primary school years. Children who do not learn the fundamentals in reading and mathematics in the early primary years face greater challenges later on. This has tremendous implications for equity as the most marginalized are the most likely to fall behind.
The Uwezo Kenya 2012 report shows that high teacher-pupil ratios (on average, there are 64 children per classroom) are compounded by low teacher-to-classroom ratios, with 12 teachers for every school with 10 streams (including headteachers). This poses two specific problems. Firstly, with teacher absenteeism averaging 12%, not all teachers are in school. For a school with 12 teachers, this means that at any time, between 1 and 2 teachers are absent, bringing down the total number of teachers to between 10 and 11. This means that in order for every stream to have a teacher, all teachers must be in school and teaching. This means that little or no time is left for the teachers to mark classwork or prepare teaching and learning materials within the school hours as doing so will mean a lesson will go without a teacher.
Some teachers are also not adequately equipped to deliver lessons in the classroom. Uwezo Kenya report that only 42% of preschool teachers are trained, despite evidence that the acquisition of basic competencies in the early grades provides the strongest foundation for all future progress in school. Uwezo Uganda report that 6% of all primary school teachers do not possess sufficient training. To compound the problem, the teaching-learning materials may also not be sufficient. Findings from the citizen-led assessment TPC Mozambique show 28% of Grade 2 classrooms did not even have a blackboard. As the saying goes, desperate situations call for desperate measures and blackboard or no blackboard, teachers are still expected to ensure that their students learn.
For teachers to deliver better results, it is important for them to be holistically supported. Governments need to ensure that teachers are adequately trained and receive regular and relevant in-serve training as they progress throughout their teaching career. Parents on the other hand need to follow up on their children’s progress with the teachers and participate in all school events, thereby playing an active role in their children’s learning.
Despite all the challenges, many teachers work hard, ensuring that their students get the best. I am one such beneficiary. My success, in my career and life, is the success of my teachers too. Whenever I meet my grade three teacher with his friends back at home, he will always boast to them of the ‘good product’ he made out of me. I also recently attended a high-school reunion at my alma mater, Kenya High School and when I met my former teachers, they were excited to learn about the successes of all the girls. One of them remarked, “It is interesting to see how the young girls we saw join form one have grown into confident professional ladies”.
Teachers are proud of their former students when they hold leadership positions in the society, when they excel in their careers and when they are voices to reckon with. To them, this is the ultimate payoff. To all my teachers, I salute you!
 Primary Schools in India denotes schools that have grades I-IV/V, while Upper Primary Schools have grades I-VII/VII