Promoting innovation: a priority to better manage the quality of education in Africa

School achievement evaluation days at the local level, peer learning spaces, walkabouts, teaching through play: how do the professional methods of teachers’, supervisors’, or inspectors’ impact the quality of education offered to pupils? And above all, how can best practices be identified, and innovative initiatives encouraged, followed-up and shared on a larger scale? These questions were at the heart of a regional experience-sharing workshop which brought together 250 participants from 11 countries at the end of February 2022. 

In brief
  • Nearly three in five African pupils have inadequate literacy and numeracy skills on completing primary school.
  • Since 2018, IIEP-UNESCO Dakar has conducted an innovative programme supporting basic education quality management. This project currently involves 15 African countries.
  • From the 21st to 25th February 2022, a regional workshop was held in which 250 participants from 11 countries shared their experiences in managing the quality of education.
  • The first results show that promoting innovations in education is one of the five main priorities for improving education quality management on the continent. 

After several decades of rising enrolment rates in Africa, the quality of education remains a major concern for the continent's education systems. In its support for basic education quality management programme IIEP-UNESCO Dakar addresses this challenge from a previously unexplored angle: the role of actors on the ground. All countries involved in the programme start off by carrying out a participatory diagnosis.

Participatory diagnostics: initial results in four countries

Following a methodology developed by IIEP-UNESCO Dakar, the members of each national team spend nine months identifying, dissecting, and analysing the professional practices likely to influence the quality of education in their country. This concerns not only the pedagogical practices of teaching staff in the classroom, but also the broader managerial and steering practices involving field actors at different levels of the education system: supervisors, inspectors, trainers, and other Ministry of Education staff at the central or decentralised level, etc. The aim of these diagnoses is always to go beyond what is officially recommended in national texts and policies, to understand what happens in practice in the field, and to gather the points of view of the main stakeholders.

While four African countries are currently carrying out their own participatory diagnoses, four other countries have already finalised this first stage, rich in insights: Burkina Faso ,  Madagascar ,  Niger and Sénégal.

Inspiring initiatives... that raise many questions

Many informal or isolated initiatives were identified by the national teams during this diagnostic phase, which often go unnoticed by the management of education systems. For example:

  • In Senegal the diagnosis revealed unofficial in-service training partnerships between teaching staff. Locally, some schools organise ‘pedagogical discussions’ in the form of ‘tea-debates’ during breaks or even at weekends at the home of a colleague to compensate for the lack of pooling of teaching practices.  "Faced with the challenge of improving the quality of education, these initiatives are relatively innovative and demonstrate a form of resilience on the part of actors in the field in the face of the realities they encounter," explains Moussa Hamani Ounteni, an expert in planning and institutional analysis at IIEP-UNESCO Dakar.
  • In Burundi, the national team currently in charge of the diagnosis identified interesting initiatives by teachers to help pupils concentrate and memorise lessons learned in class. For example, after each teaching session one teacher systematically asks his pupils what they plan to say to their parents about what they learned at school today.  To encourage autonomy in the classroom, other teachers encourage each pupil to keep a small personal notepad to write down the information he or she considers important to remember: rules, formulas, etc.

"What will you tell your parents when they ask you what you learned at school today?"

However, "officials tend to devalue this type of initiative when it is not officially prescribed by the authorities", observes Triphine Safari, Pedagogical Advisor at the Bureau d'études des curricula (BACPEF) in Burundi - and member of the country's national research team for the programme. While a few supervisors encourage these original practices (without capitalising on them), the others insist that they are not included in the teacher's guide - and may even verbally sanction these initiatives.

Valuing innovations: a common need in African education systems

At the classroom level and across the education system, great successes in education quality often come from small innovations. Yet these remarkable initiatives from the field need to receive the support and encouragement they deserve at different levels of the system. The question of how to support and steer innovations is therefore crucial.

The first national diagnoses carried out within the framework of the ‘quality management’ programme have highlighted five converging themes in various countries. Promoting innovations from the field is clearly one of them.

"The lack of incentive, capitalisation and valorisation of innovations in education is a major obstacle to the management of innovation in Africa. Strengthening the capacity of countries to identify isolated initiatives and to identify and share innovative practices is a priority issue."

Émilie Martin
Education policy analyst and specialist, IIEP-UNESCO Dakar

The ‘little tutors’: an experiment tested in Niger

The programme to support education quality management is innovative in the sense that the initial diagnoses do not immediately lead to theoretical recommendations, but to very concrete fields of activity. The aim is to compare and adjust field practices deemed promising to make their adoption by the education system realistic.

  • In Niger, the diagnosis carried out in 2019 opened the way to a teaching experiment that answered the need to promote and support innovations in education. By reorganizing group work in the classroom, micro-teaching workshops were led by several student-tutors prepared by the teacher. This experiment was carried out in two schools in Niamey and TahouaThis solution is part of the Nigerien educational context, where overcrowded and multigrade classes do not allow teachers to give sufficiently personalised attention to pupils in difficulty.

"One of the most important challenges is for the Nigerien education system to seize this practice to develop an engineering of initial and in-service training, that will enable teaching staff, whether in service or in training, to have all the tools to effectively adopt this practice," explains Idrissa Moussa, Director of Studies at the Ecole Normale des Instituteurs in Niamey. This is precisely what IIEP-UNESCO Dakar's ongoing support to the national team is all about.

A solution tested in Senegal to help inspectors and directors question their pedagogical support practices

  • In Senegal, one of the experiments launched as a result of the diagnosis addresses another issue: sharing practices aimed at improving the quality of education. The national diagnosis showed that inspectors often have divergent points of view on how to approach compliance checks on teaching staff within the same department. In addition, due to the lack of a sufficient number of inspectors, local support for teachers is sometimes delegated to school headmasters, who lack the necessary preparation to carry out this function. Despite a well-defined institutional framework in Senegal, support for inspectors and school heads is lacking due to the absence of mechanisms available to them to discuss and share their practices. In response to this, the programme is currently experimenting with ‘training groups for the analysis of professional practices’ in Senegal. The aim is to create spaces for dialogue, reflection and professional development dedicated to each of these two groups, to help them take a step back and develop their practices.

Innovation in education: what are we talking about?

Classroom dialogue, cooperative dictation, environmental study techniques, playful teaching... some of the so-called innovative teaching practices discussed at the regional workshop are based on old models. Montessori, the Freinet methods amongst others mentioned originated in the 18th century. So can we really talk about innovations when we are discussing well-known approaches? "The question of the development of these practices still arises, because despite their effectiveness, they have never been given the chance to blossom within education systems... the past is not necessarily where we think it is," said Brian Bègue, a consultant education quality management at IIEP-UNESCO Dakar.

For IIEP-UNESCO Dakar any solution that’s tried and tested by an actor in the field with the aim of improving the quality of education that isn’t known about or prescribed by the country's educational authorities, is, by definition, considered to be an innovation in education. Therefore, innovation is not necessarily revolutionary: it is often based on small things that can trigger big changes.

Another key issue raised on the fringes of the discussions was the potential risk posed by some educational innovations. While it is essential that ministries have strong evidence of effectiveness before scaling up an innovative practice, inertia also appears to be a major risk. "The traditional model has provided ample evidence of its ineffectiveness. What is lost by trying to put it aside?" asks the consultant.  

"The diagnoses carried out so far with the participating countries show that there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of monitoring and supporting the transformation of professional practices. The other major project concerns capitalisation. We need to encourage systems and staff to produce reliable data, to innovate, to document their practices, to create spaces for dialogue to share good practices."

Patrick Nkengne
Head of the Education Quality Management Support Programme, IIEP-UNESCO Dakar

To find out more download the daily workshop digests available in English on the initial results of the programme to support the quality education management and the summary of the discussions of the regional sharing workshop.

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