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Zambian teacher training project thrives during pandemic

The ZEST (Zambian Education and School Training project) team have reported some surprising benefits arising from re-planning required during the pandemic. By changing the way teachers accessed learning materials and taking advance of smartphone technology, a new way of working has emerged, making the project stronger, and possibly improving its prospects of sustainability.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, OU teams working on educational projects around the world focussed on five interlinked priorities: Retention, Relationships, Refocussing, Reflection and Resilience. For ZEST, this included setting up WhatsApp groups for teachers and schools so they could communicate regularly with their colleagues and programme coordinators.

Opening up communication through technology

Writing in a recent blog post, members of the ZEST team (Dr Kris Stutchbury, with Clare Woodwood, Dr Lore Gallastegi, and Rachel Hanson) say that although the last few months have been a steep learning curve, new skills and competencies have been developed by both project team members and the teachers; skills which are transferable to other aspects of participants’ diverse roles in education and will support the sustainability of the programme.

“Examples of practice have been shared in the WhatsApp group in the form of videos and pictures taken in the schools and discussed in ZOOM meetings. This created lively discussions around inclusive education and the role of peer-observations in SBCPD (School Based Continuing Professional Development).”

The blog also describes how smaller class sizes (due to some children’s learning being interrupted) gave teachers involved in the project the opportunity to practise teaching approaches with smaller groups of learners.

Improving outcomes for primary children

As they look towards supporting the recovery of schools in Zambia, the team reflect:

“What has been learnt and what has been achieved in these testing circumstances, has the potential to enhance teachers’ professional practice and Zambian children’s learning experiences.”

Led by Dr Stutchbury, the ZEST team is part of the International Teacher Education and Development Group (ITED), based within The Open University’s School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport (ECYS). Working towards realisation of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education, the ZEST training programme is co-designed with Zambian teachers to improve the quality of teaching and thus the learning experiences and outcomes for children in primary schools in Zambia’s Central Province.

ZEST is funded by the Scottish Government and is a £1.6m project running from 2017-2022 in partnership with World Vision

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