Implementing a new teacher professional development system in Tanzania: old habits die hard [CIES 2024 Presentation]

In Tanzania, learning outcomes in early grades have remained stubbornly below expectations. Over a decade ago, the Tanzanian Institute for Education recognized that the curriculum for foundational learning needed to change. Textbooks were updated to reflect a more phonics-based strategy and the existing teacher workforce needed to be re-skilled. The Ministry of Education developed a framework for Continuous Professional Development for Practicing Teachers which focused on close-to-school delivery of new professional content. Unfortunately, the framework was not fully implemented, and instead large-scale face-to-face trainings remained the norm. Two USAID early learning programs at scale in Tanzania (one implemented from 2016 to 2021 and one that is currently ongoing) have focused on implementing the Ministry’s teacher professional development (TPD) framework to overcome three significant challenges: (i) ensuring that content did not get diluted by face-to-face cascade training; (ii) providing an incentive for teachers to apply content; (iii) ensuring that content could be adapted to context. Change is disruptive; old habits die hard – more so when there are financial incentives to retain the status quo. Moving from large scale ineffective face-to-face programs to a more holistic localized approach to TPD was met with protest and it has taken time to overcome the resistance from teachers. The first program adopted cluster-based delivery of training, with 4-5 schools in a cluster and local administrators or head teachers delivering the abbreviated training. Teachers no longer received per diems for attending centralized training. The cluster-based training was extended down to school-based communities of learning. These sessions provided an opportunity for teachers to share how they implemented new strategies in their classrooms – they provided contextualization to the content. However, not all schools or clusters had teachers who were able to adapt the content. The program introduced the idea of coaching, initially by Ward Education Officers (WEO) and then by head teachers, exemplary teachers, and eventually, peers. This allowed more experienced and knowledgeable colleagues to observe a teacher and provide feedback through a constructive dialogue. Because coaching is unfamiliar to the administrative structure in Tanzania it had to be included in the job descriptions of administrators and included in staff annual performance assessments. Despite initial resistance, this process has provided a clear incentive for teachers to apply the content that is administered in the training. Finally, to ensure training is not diluted in the translation through cascades, the follow-on USAID program introduced virtual delivery of key messages. To accommodate teachers with feature phone capabilities only, teachers access content through interactive voice instruction, calling a toll-free number and selecting to listen to a 2 minute “lesson”. With WEO support, over 90% of teachers complete a 5-lesson course. The course is aligned to content discussed at the Community of Learning and is reinforced through classroom observations. Using data collected at the beginning and end of each school year for the past two years, we show how this holistic approach to delivering professional development content has led to improved teaching practice and this in-turn has contributed to improved learning outcomes.