Eight teacher educators from higher education teacher training institutions (HETTIs) in Liberia took part in a study tour, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), of educator preparation establishments in Ghana. They networked, observed, and shared experiences with Ghanaian colleagues in an excellent demonstration of South-to-South cooperation in action to fulfill the goals of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4)—high-quality education through high-quality teacher preparation. This article describes what Liberian faculty learned during their visit and their plans for implementing, improving, enhancing, and strengthening teacher preparation in their home institutions of higher education.
The Liberian faculty teach in the eight HETTIs selected to be part of the USAID Transforming the Education System for Teachers and Students in Liberia (TESTS) Activity. TESTS aims to support the Liberian Ministry of Education and the National Commission on Higher Education to improve the quality of teaching in early childhood and primary education. The selected HETTIs are Adventist University of West Africa, African Methodist Episcopal University, Cuttington University, Grand Bassa University, LICOSESS College of Education, Lofa County University, Nimba University, and the University of Liberia. They are a mixture of private, public, and faith-based institutions. The goals of the TESTS project are to build the capacity of the HETTIs to train primary and early childhood educators, develop critical skills for high-quality teaching, and improve the environment for teaching practice. The group was led by Dr. Patience Sowa of RTI International, Dr. Eric Moyen of Mississippi State University, and Mr. Sainkolo Sondah of TESTS (and co-authors of this article).
The purpose of the tour, which took place May 7–13, 2023, was to strengthen teacher education in Liberia by affording Liberian faculty opportunities to learn about Ghana’s teacher education reform and observe its implementation in visits to selected universities and colleges of education in the country. The objectives of the tour reflected what the faculty had said they wanted to learn in Ghana regarding teacher preparation. Faculty members were most interested in learning about the use and integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching and learning; the structure and organization of teacher aspirants’ professional experiences in their preparation programs; the use of professional learning communities (PLCs) in Ghanaian basic schools (kindergarten, primary, and junior high schools), as well as colleges of education; and the implementation of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) policies.
Study tour agenda: "A classroom beyond four walls"
The study tour started with visits to the Ghana Tertiary Education Council and Transforming Teaching Education and Learning (T-TEL), a nongovernmental organization. With the aid of these two organizations, Ghana had embarked on a reform effort that included transforming teacher training colleges into colleges of education. In 2018, the new colleges began offering a four-year Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree. Each of the 46 public colleges of education also formed partnerships with the five leading universities in the country (Cape Coast University, the University of Ghana, the University of Education–Winneba, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and the University for Developmental Studies). The five universities serve as mentors and facilitators for education improvement at the colleges of education. During these visits, the USAID TESTS participants learned about Ghana’s new model for university–college of education collaboration and mentorship. These visits gave the Liberian faculty a firm grounding in the history, policies, processes, and execution of teacher education reform in Ghana.
The Liberian educators visited three of the partnering universities: the University of Ghana, the University of Education–Winneba, and University of Cape Coast (UCC), where they learned ways in which these three universities provided mentorship for the colleges. For example, the university in Winneba boasts strong programs in special education and inclusion. UCC guides many colleges regarding pre-service observations and practicums in local schools. UCC also houses a Center for Teacher Support and Professional Development. The University of Ghana guides its affiliated colleges with training on integrating ICT and continuous professional development into teacher training. All the universities support their affiliated colleges of education in developing summative assessments for teacher aspirants.
In addition to these university visits, the Liberian faculty participants also visited four colleges of education. These were the Presbyterian College of Education, Akropong; Seventh Day Adventist College of Education, Koforidua; Our Lady of Apostles College of Education, Cape Coast; and Fosu College of Education, Fosu. Visits to these colleges of education allowed the Liberian educators to learn about the ways in which the colleges benefited from the support of the larger universities. In many ways, they saw the potential for the future of teacher training in Liberia. “This trip was a classroom beyond the four walls,” Mr. Dennis said. “It was exciting to discover how our counterparts are fast achieving their agenda for quality at every level of their various educational institutions.” All participants also commented on their Ghanaian counterparts’ passion for preparing teachers. Professor Zakamah noted: “Everywhere I have been I have seen zeal and commitment,” and Wokie Kpanyor, Head of Department said, “I saw dedication to duty and the desire to see education at its best … universities and colleges are working on those things they can handle to make teaching and learning enjoyable and affordable for all.”
“It was exciting to discover how our counterparts are fast achieving their agenda for quality at every level of their various educational institutions.”
Infusing ICT into the Teacher Education Curriculum
An essential element of the reform in Ghana is the mandate that all teacher preparation institutions ensure teacher candidates acquire the skills to integrate ICT into teaching and student learning in their classrooms. The Liberian faculty visitors were impressed with the methods that the colleges of education employed to integrate ICT into all the courses, despite challenges with intermittent electricity, internet access, and lack of various types of hardware, which many low- and middle-income countries experience. Regardless of these challenges, Ghanaian institutions, to varying degrees, have found means to purchase laptops for computer labs, as well as projectors and screens. To ensure equitable access to the internet, many of them provide teacher candidates with subsidized smartphones and data. Additionally, teacher educators use learning management systems like Google Classroom and Moodle as well as social media applications like Telegram and WhatsApp to enhance teacher aspirant learning. Mr. Wright commented, “How Ghana uses technology in its teacher education program to enhance learning is commendable. All of the universities and colleges we visited have some kind of e-learning platform to teach and communicate online with their students.” Accordingly, all the Liberian faculty resolved to take steps to ensure that ICT is infused into their teacher preparation courses. Assistant Dean Nyumah asserted, “Instead of complaining, we need to work with what we have and integrate ICT into every course.” Dean Garlawolo declared, “We [members of] the Faculty of Education are going to design our lesson activities so that ICT will be included in the teaching and learning process.” A few faculty stated that to achieve this goal, all faculty should have ICT training. In this regard, Dean Garlawolo also stated, “For ICT, I will look within my university for someone to train faculty in the Education College in the use of platforms for teaching and learning.” To support HETTIs in integrating ICT into teaching and learning, the USAID TESTS Activity plans to provide these institutions with handheld digital tablets and other ICT equipment.
Tutor and Teacher Professional Development
Teacher preparation institutions in Ghana have continuous professional development sessions at the college level and support the implementation of professional learning communities in schools. Although the purpose of the tour was to learn about teacher education, Liberian faculty also learned how they might facilitate their own professional development. They stated that they would introduce the two types of professional development at both levels in their institutions of higher education. Assistant Dean Nyumah said that he plans to introduce weekly PLCs, stating that he would “involve the university administration so that meeting times will be embedded in faculty schedules.” Mr. Wright indicated that he would work to ensure “teachers and teacher aspirants at the demonstration school … come together to reflect and share their knowledge of teaching practices and co-facilitate PLC sessions on pedagogy and content areas.”
Professional Experiences and Demonstration Schools
At the heart of a vibrant teacher education program is its innovation in designing programs to support teacher aspirants to improve the quality of their teaching practice while they are still undergoing training. Liberian faculty were inspired by the stories and experiences shared by their counterparts at the Ghanaian colleges of education about teacher candidate professional experiences, or supported teaching in schools, as it is known in Ghana. Dean Kofah noted that just like the Liberian HETTIs have done as part of the TESTS activity, Ghanaian colleges of education have signed partnership agreements with their affiliated demonstration schools, and the agreements cover the training of mentor teachers.
Other ideas and strategies Liberian faculty planned to implement for teacher aspirant professional experiences included using no or low-cost materials (see photo, at right) writing reflective journals and teaching philosophies as well as developing teaching portfolios. Dean Garlawolo stated that she planned to introduce a “teaching portfolio which has a teaching philosophy and a set of artifacts that provide evidence for their claims … and select a range of materials that provide a holistic picture of their teaching to put in the portfolio.”
Gender Equality and Social Inclusion
The faculty participants in the study tour also noted the similarities regarding GESI in teacher preparation in Ghana and Liberia. Faculty in both countries have gained a deeper knowledge of GESI principles through trainings, and have infused these principles into their coursework, through gender-responsive pedagogy, processes, and practices.
The purpose of South-to-South collaboration and cooperation is the exchange of knowledge, technical expertise, and resources among low- and middle-income countries. Liberian faculty hope the tour has set the stage for establishing mutually beneficial partnerships to further the work of both countries in attaining SDG 4. The study tour afforded Liberian teacher educators the opportunity to exchange knowledge with their Ghanaian counterparts and gave them an in-depth look at the possibilities in teacher preparation in a similar country context. Head of Department, Kpanyor aptly described this experience using an old African saying: “The child who has not gone out to eat sees his mother as the best cook.” As is the goal of South-to-South cooperation, the tour helped spark participants’ ideas for developing strategies to solve challenges they experience in teacher preparation. They “tasted” the possibilities and potential in teacher education and are ready to use their experience to develop recipes that strengthen teacher education in Liberia.
Title photo: Study tour participants at T-TEL. Standing, from left to right: Assistant Dean, Joseph Nyumah, Lofa County University; Professor Wilfred Dahn, Adventist University of West Africa; Dean,Grace Kofah, Grand Bassa University; Dean Patience Garlawolo, Cuttington University; Mr. Darric Dennis, LICOSESS College of Education; Mr. Robin Todd, T-TEL; Mr.Sainkolo Sondah, TESTS; Dr.Patience Sowa, RTI International; Mr. Akwesi Addae-Boahene, T-TEL; Head of Department, Wokie Kpanyor, African Methodist Episcopal University. Front, left to right: Professor Oultarcious Zakamah, Nimba University; Mr. Alphonso Wright, University of Liberia.
Body text photo: Supermarket center at the Our Lady of Apostles (OLA) College of Education demonstration school (Photo: P. Sowa, RTI)
Authors: Dr. Patience Sowa of RTI International, Dr. Eric Moyen of Mississippi State University, and Mr. Sainkolo Sondah of TESTS