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EDUCATION: Meet TESSA, Ugandan Teachers’ Best Friend

Joshua Kyalimpa

KAMPALA, Dec 17 2010 (IPS) - Beatrice Namuzibira’s class of 90 pupils is not even considered a large one, compared to classes in other schools. Universal primary education has filled classrooms beyond capacity across Uganda, putting a strain on teachers.

Overcrowding in Ugandan Schools  Credit:

Overcrowding in Ugandan Schools Credit:

Namuzibira admits that she found her early days as a teacher extremely stressful, between teaching, marking and preparing for the next day’s lessons.

“From the classroom, I would straight away start marking the books at home and later make the lesson plan for the next day; I had no time for my family.”

Under pressure, Namuzibira soon abandoned creating fresh lesson plans, a crucial aspect of her job. Over the years she came to rely on simply repeating the same lessons over and over.

But her teaching – and her home life – have received fresh inspiration, thanks to innovative online modules for teachers offered by the Teacher Education for Sub-Saharan Africa project (TESSA), a network created to support effective teaching in every subject area.

Richard Mutiibwa, the head teacher at Masajja Kibira Parents’ School on the outskirts of Kampala, says the modules have made teaching fun again. He told IPS that with the modules, teaching is like a game. Students are often guided to learning in the form of puzzles to be solved. “In one of the modules, numbers are also assigned different letters on the reverse side. When pupils put together the numbers, they find they have also made a word, such as POT,” says Mutiibwa. Doris Kaije, a lecturer at Kyambogo University and coordinator of TESSA in Uganda, says what Namuzibira was doing was wrong.

“A teacher has to be dynamic because the world is changing. You can’t keep repeating the same example you used last year. It simply can’t work because you will sound stale.”

Kaije says an ideal class should consist of 40 pupils or less but now that classes are overflowing, over-stretched teachers’ creativity is stifled.

Namuzibira still has to cope with the large classes but the TESSA modules save her precious time and allow her to come to work each day with an imaginative plan and fresh examples to use. Each TESSA lesson plan is a joint effort by different teachers who are members of the network.

The modules also help overcome a lack of books and other teaching aids at Namuzibira’s school, Buyala Church of Uganda Primary School.

“My school would never buy so many books but through the internet you can get several easy-to-read modules and it’s up to you to choose what to use,” says Namuzibira.

The project that Kaije is coordinating makes modules freely available on the internet. Kaije prints out some modules to distribute to teachers and participating schools because many still have no access to a computer or the internet.

The TESSA project was started by the Open University in the UK and is supported by Commonwealth of Learning. It is helping teachers in several African countries to share teaching modules and experiences online.

Kaije is convinced that the project is changing the job of teaching for the better.

“We started out with five coordinating primary teachers colleges and through those the project has been expanding to other schools where teachers are given printed teaching materials, although those in schools [with computer access] can readily get the materials online.”

She says the project has been embraced by teachers but limited resources means it cannot reach many who may wish to participate: If only schools could have computers and internet connection it would make our lives easier.”

The Open University gives Kaije $20,000 each year to print materials and conduct workshops with teachers but she would like to do much more.

Education consultant Fagil Monday worries that the modules could kill teachers’ own creativity if they are able to get everything they want on a virtual platter. But Doris Kaije says this fear is unfounded.

She says the online modules are not rigid and teachers are free to add their own thoughts and ideas, which means their own creativity can also be shared with others.

“What we are working on is to have an editor to ensure quality control of the content that gets onto the site.”

The TESSA modules are answering the challenges faced by many teachers in sub-Saharan Africa. For teachers like Beatrice Namuzibira, until now struggling outnumbered and alone in a rural classroom, TESSA links them with resources and a supportive community of colleagues across the continent.

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