In Practice

Example of a blended initialteacher training (ITT) approach for women in rural Sierra Leone by Plan International and Open University

The Learning Assistant Programme in Sierra Leone emerged from the GATE-GEC project, funded by UK aid through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) Girls’ Education Challenge. 

GATE-GEC aimed to support marginalised girls and children with disabilities in primary and junior secondary schools in Sierra Leone to attend school, reach their full learning potential, learn in a safe and inclusive environment, and successfully transition to further education and beyond. In Sierra Leone, only 27% of teachers at primary level and 14% at secondary level are female; this has immediate consequences on girls’ enrolment, retention and achievement as well as school culture, with longer-term impact on girls’ aspirations, safety in school and job prospects. 

This programme was designed to support young women, who had not previously completed their own primary education, through their professionalisation to qualify as primary school teachers. The programme was delivered through a partnership with Plan International, Open University, the Teaching Services Commission and initial teacher training providers within Sierra Leone. The project currently has 483 graduates from two cohorts; a third cohort of 228 teachers have been trained and sat their NCTVA teacher qualification exams at the end of 2021. Participants initially worked as Learning Assistants in schools within their local communities, undertaking a practical work placement and engaged in a distance learning programme (Maths and English) supported by a tutor, before sitting their entrance examinations for Initial Teacher Training Colleges (ITTCs). 

This model is not an example of blended continuous professional development per se, it is a blended model of initial teacher training. An initial work placement is accompanied by a foundational literacy and numeracy skills development programme. After passing their ITTC entrance exams, participants begin the distance model of ITT training. The model requires a combination of face-to-face mentoring and support from Programme Study Mentors who visit the teachers throughout their school-based placements, ensuring that participants are receiving appropriate support from head teachers in the school setting with access to relevant teacher training materials. 

Materials for distance learning included paper-based learning materials and the use of digital technology in the form of tablet-based teacher training modules. The tablets allow trainees to access digital content in the form of ITT modules including literacy, numeracy, child protection, safeguarding and inclusive pedagogy and others via a mobile Moodle application. This mitigates internet connectivity issues within rural areas in Sierra Leone, with content updates and maintenance accessed by the trainees periodically while visiting an area with connectivity and when attending face-to-face training. In additional to the distance learning and school-based training, trainees met for face-to face training to encourage reflective practice and enable participants to form regional communities of practice. 

The programme was adapted throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with newly-qualified teachers trained to support vulnerable girls and children with disabilities in their localities during school closures, providing telephone-based home learning, child welfare and protection.

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