Solution: Supporting Teachers’ English through Mentoring (STEM) is an innovative pilot project designed by the Rwanda Ministry of Education to help primary school teachers in a remote parts of Rwanda enhance their classroom English language and pedagogical skills to improve learner outcomes.
Goals and objectives: Since October 2008, Rwanda Ministry of Education has required teachers from Primary 4 upwards to teach their subjects in English: previously they had taught in French. One of the main interventions to facilitate their transition to English medium instruction was the 2009 – 2011 nationwide Rwanda English in Action Programme (REAP). Feedback from REAP indicated a strong desire for further inputs and support to teachers to help them develop specific classroom competencies in English, as well as classroom teaching strategies.
Implementation: STEM was initiated in 2012 under the management of the British Council and its project implementation partners were the International Education Exchange (IEE) and the Association of Teachers of English in Rwanda (ATER). The implementation has involved activities ranging from the initial creation, review and revision of appropriate self-study materials to the support provided by school-based personnel to their peers in learning the materials and applying their learning in the classroom. Some of the specific steps taken by the project team include: conducting a baseline survey, from which classroom English expressions and vocabulary were selected and verified against the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) levels A1-B1 in order for them to be used in the creation of twenty units of printed and audio self-study materials. A total of 120 teachers in ten schools from two sectors of Nyamasheke district in the far west of Rwanda were selected to pilot the innovation. The STEM implementation team were then prepared for conducting learner support activities and monitoring evaluation and learning activities in the field. The STEM approach was trialed with teachers through a ‘taster’ unit and, after some revisions, the completed set of materials was distributed and teachers were inducted into the STEM approach.
Four months after the first 120 teachers started working with the materials, the project team launched a mini scale-up which has involved working with an additional twenty-six schools, an additional 413 participants and two additional sectors of Nyamasheke district. In addition, the team applied a slightly different model of STEM, based on lessons learned during the initial pilot.
The current number of direct beneficiaries is 533, including primary school leaders as well as teachers. Indirect beneficiaries are the 32,400 estimated school children whose learning experience in the classroom is improving.
Achievements: The solution has had a positive impact on the lives of teacher beneficiaries in the following ways: their knowledge of classroom English has improved, as evidenced by the mean score of classroom English tests taken in May 2014 being 52% compared with a mean score of 27% in February 2014; they are creating a more effective learning environment, with pupils more actively involved in lessons, as evidenced by improvements in scores against a range of criteria during observations carried out by the STEM monitoring and evaluation team; and teachers are developing their skills in self-assessment, as evidenced by data collected from case study teachers.
The Ministry of Education and its implementing partners (the British Council, ATER and IEE) have developed their capacity considerably as a result of working with STEM (e.g. they have developed observation, feedback, interviewing, planning, reviewing and presentation skills) and these organizations have developed their knowledge and ability in relation to managing projects and to planning for nationwide scale-up in consultation with local stakeholders.
Strong evidence for the success of self-directed study as a mode of continuing professional development in other (European and Asian) contexts gave the implementers the initial idea that this intervention could work in Rwanda. This belief was especially due to Rwanda’s ambitious and positive approach to developing its education sector. Since initial results suggest that this Good Practice has been very successful in four sectors of one district in one of Rwanda’s five provinces, there is evidence to suggest that it can work, through a phased roll out process, both nationally and in other Commonwealth countries that have similar contexts, e.g. where their teachers have relatively poor classroom English and pedagogical knowledge and skills, where there is an urgent need for them to improve these and where there is also high motivation to work towards this improvement.
The solution was the winner of the Steve Sinnot Award (an award that goes to one of the finalist of the Commonwealth Education Good Practice Awards with the strongest teacher professional development component) was presented to a representative of the Ministry of Education, Rwanda at the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (19CCEM), held in 2015 in Nassau, The Bahamas.
Partners: the British Council, the International Education Exchange, the Association of Teachers of English in Rwanda (ATER)Local community leaders, local activists, Youth, volunteers, Theater Group Team, community.
Budget: USD 900, 000
Rwanda Education Board, Ministry of Education