A teacher trainer in Ethiopia - case study

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Head teacher Isabel Hodger had 36 years’ experience in education and just three years until retirement when she decided to volunteer with VSO. She’s sharing her expertise in Ethiopia, where classrooms are bursting with children due to free education, but teachers are poorly trained. Here Isabel describes how her work with teacher trainers from all corners of the country will ultimately benefit millions of school children.

When my husband saw the advert for VSO in The Independent it was asking for people with exactly my experience. 
We looked at each other and the seed was sown.  Suddenly we thought how good it would be to use the end of our careers to do something to help other people, and after attending an inspiring road show in Brighton we made our decision. 

‘Education is the way out of poverty’ is an often-heard phrase in Ethiopia.
Parents will go without many things to ensure their children get a good education. Education is free but the uniform, exercise books and pens are not. Some children don’t attend school because they can’t afford them; others will work on the streets as shoe shiners or selling chewing gum to get enough money to pay for them.

The number of children being educated has grown hugely in the last five years.
This is great for the potential of the country but it creates many problems too. Lack of classrooms means very large classes.  In many schools they have half of the children attending school in the morning and the other half in the afternoon in order to cope with the numbers.

More classes creates a need for more teachers. 
The need for more teachers means the need for more training colleges and universities.  The number of people needed at all levels - schools, colleges and universities - means that people are doing the jobs without the desired experience and qualifications.  So the quantity of those being educated is growing, but the quality of the teaching is at best standing still.

I thought that my experience and skills would quickly be put to use.
Even though in VSO training we are told again and again to be patient and not to expect too much at first, when you are actually here it’s difficult not to immediately have things to do.  It is so different from my experience of the pressure in UK schools.  I was frustrated and annoyed that my skills were being wasted.  But two years on, I have so much work to do that I can’t complain at all.  My advice to everyone who comes to Ethiopia is ‘be patient’ or as Ethiopians say, ‘cas per cas’ (little by little).

My placement is with the Ministry of Education.
Teachers are now expected to do Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to upgrade their teaching skills. Working alongside other VSO volunteers, my role is to develop a new strategy for CPD.

Daily work includes designing documents, running training workshops and going on field visits around the country to monitor progress in schools. It’s a really varied work life and one that gives lots of opportunities for meeting people and traveling. We drink buna (delicious Ethiopian coffee) and eat bombalinos (Ethiopian doughnuts) when we feel the need!

We’ve just run a five-day workshop to launch the new strategy.
Five people from each of the 11 regions in Ethiopia attended, so the whole country was represented.
We invited six Ethiopian colleagues to run the CPD training alongside us. We divided up the sessions each day so that everyone got a fair chance to be a trainer.  It was the most wonderful experience for us as we sat and watched our Ethiopian colleagues leading the training on the new strategy.  It was very powerful and overwhelmingly emotional after two years of development.

Of course, this isn’t the only programme in the country improving teaching skills. But it is one that should reach all teachers and therefore all children. Ultimately all children in the country will get a better education.

I’d recommend volunteering to others 100 per cent.
Volunteering is the most amazing and humbling experience. It’s a wonderful way to finish a career in education.