Q&A: Working with and through the government and wider school community to ensure project success

[Editor’s Note: Vidya Putcha, a senior program officer at Results for Development, which manages the Center for Education Innovations, recently caught up with Dominic Bond, the chief executive officer of Sabre Education to discuss the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training project. The project just received the prestigious UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize for Outstanding Practice and Performance in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers 2017-2018.]


Vidya: First of all, a big congratulations on receiving this very prestigious prize for the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training project! I’d love to know more about this work — could you describe for us what this project is all about?


Dominic: Thank you! The Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training project is a highly innovative and impactful teacher training approach, which is drawn directly from Ghanaian government strategy and is a critical part of Ghana’s efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 in respect to the provision of quality early years education.


The project works simultaneously with in-service and pre-service training systems to create networks of good quality kindergarten practice around the Colleges of Education. These Model Practice Classrooms, not only showcase the active and play-based pedagogy, but also provide high quality placements for student teachers, under the guidance and mentorship of experienced teachers who have transformed their own practice.


The training to create these Model Practice Classrooms is intensive and is delivered over the course of two years, during which the teachers are supported to implement the Government’s new child-centred, active and play-based kindergarten methodology.


Teachers support children to develop the 5 C’s (Confidence, Communication, Cooperation, Curiosity, Concentration) as the foundation of 21st Century Skills, early grade literacy, numeracy and creativity, in a child-friendly and non-threatening learning environment. Student teachers are exposed to best practice giving them the confidence and capability to enact the teaching methodology as newly qualified teachers.


Sustainability is a key theme of this project and school management and head teachers are actively included in all aspects of the training. In the final project year, the delivery and monitoring is handed over to the Colleges of Education and the Ghana Education Service.


Vidya: It sounds like partnering with government is pretty central to the project’s approach. What advice do you give other implementers seeking to engage with the government for scale?


Dominic: One thing that we feel sets Sabre apart from other actors is that we are very much supporting the government of Ghana to deliver its strategic objectives to scale up quality kindergarten education nationwide. We are not setting up a parallel system, which is vital for the sustainability of the teacher training programme and its impact.


To achieve this we spent many years building up a trusted working relationship with the Ghana Education Service and demonstrating that were an experienced credible organisation, willing to work hand in hand with the government and support their policies and plans. The pivotal moment came when we were invited to join the multi-agency group which carried out the review of kindergarten provision to inform the Operational Plan in 2012. Sabre then supported the Ghana Education Service to develop the Kindergarten Operational Plan, providing staff to the technical support team, and facilitating a study tour to the UK. Since the plan’s publication, Sabre’s Brighter Futures Programme has been re-focussed to respond to the priorities outlined in the plan, and the programme is directly addressing or supporting seven out of its twelve priority components.


Through the plan we started piloting the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training project with OLA College of Education in 2012/13 and then in 2015 expanded to work with Holy Child College of Education, building on the success of the project and expanding our Memorandums of Understanding.


Vidya: I imagine that having a successful partnership with government also relies on securing buy-in from teachers. Has it been challenging to do this especially when stressing the importance of 21st century skills for students, like confidence or cooperation?


Dominic: It has been a gradual process, but we have found that once the teachers begin to enact the new pedagogy and see the change in the children, both in terms of the classroom environment and behaviour, they are encouraged to continue and really commit to the programme. Being part of this project has also helped challenge the stigma of the early years teaching profession in Ghana, which was seen as the least important stage to be working in. It is changing not only teaching practice but the mind-set and culture of the education community in Ghana.


The other important actions we have taken to support teacher buy-in is to get buy-in from school management. This not only includes head teachers, but also District Ghana Education Service officers and parents. All of these stakeholders are involved in the project, either as part of the training workshops or through sensitisation activities. These actors influence each other and come together as the education ecosystem, and once they are all on board, engagement is enthusiastic and more importantly, sustainable.


Vidya: What do you hope this award recognition will help your program accomplish next?


Dominic: This award has served to bolster the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training project’s reputation as a successful programme and one which we hope will be taken to scale across Ghana and inform further projects. Being recognised as a global leader in teacher training has attracted attention from potential implementing partners that will allow this project to be replicated beyond our present capacity while we continue to support national education reforms in Ghana. We hope to share this methodology as widely as possible in order to give all new kindergarten teachers the benefit of an enhanced placement experience.


Photo © Sabre Education

~ Vidya Putcha