The Power of Instructional Support: Using Existing Systems to Change Teacher Behavior in Kenya

Presentation delivered at CIES 2017 (Atlanta). Instructional support is essential in the process of creating and supporting instructional change. Educational quality improvement is the elusive goal for many recent literacy improvement programs and strategies. Many programs focus on the inputs of improved textbook ratios, rapid and massive teacher professional development provision, and the provision of ICT support for this system. The Tusome Early Grade Reading Activity, implemented in Kenya from 2014 through 2019, is designed to fundamentally depend on the power and quality of the existing government personnel that were ostensibly assigned to provide instructional support to teachers. The Curriculum Support Officer function, in place in Kenya for decades, was structured to help teachers improve the quality of teaching by providing classroom based support, cluster based training, and ongoing instructional feedback. As is common in many countries in the region who suffer from limited human resources at the local level, these officers are often assigned administrative duties both at odds and distracting from their core instructional support function. Tusome’s work to support the Government of Kenya to revitalize this function and do so in a national manner was both ambitious and somewhat risky. This presentation share the results of Tusome’s efforts with the government to utilize the curriculum support officers as coaches within Tusome with a frank assessment of what process was most effective and which strategies were less effective. It also shares the experiences in Tusome of how a targeted ICT investment in tablets and a structured tool for the officers to use in classrooms created an environment where instructional support was both possible but also more exciting than it previously was. The Tusome National Tablet Program, utilized on a daily basis by these coaches, was designed over several years to integrate within government systems, to be easily implementable by coaches, but also to provide actionable real time data to the education system’s leadership on how teachers were implementing Tusome. The coaching system has provided each of Kenya’s more than 1200 coaches and curriculum support officers with tablets and training how to use them, to support classroom observation and feedback. The presentation shares the results of this over the 2015 and 2016 academic years. Not only have these officers supported up to 20,000 classrooms in a month, but they have also collected structured literacy assessment data from up to 60,000 students at a national level on a monthly basis. This data is collected on an interactive dashboard that Kenyan education leadership is able to use on a consistent basis to change behavior and support large scale instructional reform. The presentation focuses on the possibilities that this instructional support system has for Tusome, increased accountability within the system, and overall quality improvement at the national level for Kenya.