Opportunity & Access

Kwabena Amporful: Building Better Teachers

A new program looks to improve student outcomes in Amporful's native Ghana, and beyond, by starting at the source of success.

September 20, 2012

| by Lee Gomes

Combining business disciplines picked up at Stanford and his finance career with his own deep knowledge of realities in Ghana, Kwabena Amporful, MBA ‘08, has designed a teacher training initiative for which he received an $80,000 Social Innovation Fellowship from the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford GSB. The Institute for Teacher Education and Development, or INTED, is a nonprofit organized in the United States and Ghana, that has just finished its first year of operation in Ghana. Amporful talked about what INTED has been able to accomplish so far, and what was left for it to do.

How would you describe the basic problem that you are trying to address with INTED?

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, secondary school enrollment is increasing; currently, about half of students of high school age are in school in most countries on the subcontinent, which is about 20 percentage points higher than 2 decades ago. There are many problems in the schools, but one of the most significant is that most of the education systems in these countries do not put in place support for teachers to be able to handle the increasing class sizes. One way this problem manifests itself is that student outcomes, at least from performance on terminal exams, has steadily declined or remained low in most African countries. UNESCO describes Sub-Saharan Africa as having the worst teaching gaps in the world.

We chose to begin our work in Ghana, which has one of the easier and more willing education systems to work with in Africa. But we have a serious problem in Ghana, where there is the stigma of limited social regard for the teaching profession: university graduates will mostly prefer to remain unemployed rather than to teach at the pre-tertiary level. Incentives and poor training explain this. In a country beset with generally low levels of remuneration, salaries of pre-tertiary teachers are at the lowest of the range. Consequently, the teaching profession recruits individuals mostly with high school certificates, and provides them with the kind of pre-service teacher training program that one principal from our participant schools asked INTED to help improve. The country’s existing teacher training colleges could use an upgrade. Newly trained teachers end up using pedagogical techniques that are decades old. And due to limited funds, there are usually inadequate and insufficient teaching and learning materials to go around.

Can you give me some examples of the classroom challenges?

You have some teachers who think teaching involves coming into the classroom, sitting down, and reading out loud from a textbook. Or, they might write things on the board, and have students simply copy what they write into their notebooks. Or, teachers will present topics with no discussion or input from students. There is a general hurry to complete the syllabus, which makes learning an exercise in memorization and regurgitation for students. Teachers feel that the three-year high school experience is short, and that it leads to undue focus on exam preparation. In the United States and elsewhere, low-paid teachers are usually exposed to professional development. In Ghana, teachers are lucky if they get professional development programs once or twice in their career.

So what exactly does INTED offer?

Our training, which we hope goes viral, starts from a basic professional development curriculum that focuses on six key pedagogical modules, where we bridged modules that teachers had some familiarity with, such as lesson design, with new modules, such as critical thinking and active use of technology. Our basic curriculum also has a team focus on instructional leadership. Basically, we bring in teachers for a six-day, ‘8 am-5 pm’ Fellows Program, with each day devoted to one of these modules. We also have a 2.5 week residential Master Fellows Program, where we select the best teachers in a school and train them so that they can return to their school and propagate the training among their colleagues. The Master Fellows lead the training of the Fellows in our programs. The Fellows and Master Fellows then begin a yearlong mentoring and collaboration where they cross-mentor each other during the academic year when they take these practices to their schools.

How did you plan the basic curriculum in the first place?

We worked with the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching at the School of Education at Stanford University to design our professional development curriculum, together with input from several local schools. We went to 51 high schools throughout Ghana, asking teachers and school leaders what they were lacking that could be addressed with professional development and training. Then we asked them what they would like such a program to have. Then, we spent 12 months designing it.

What sorts of results have you had so far?

In this first year of our 3-year pilot program, we trained 67 teachers and school leaders from 14 schools that directly impact 1,340 students. It’s a little too early to comprehensively report any results, and there are definitely no test or exam scores. But there have been two meaningful developments so far. First, we received a lot of follow-on training requests from our school-participant schools, and we support Master Fellows to work across schools to train each other’s colleagues. For the first time teachers from different schools are collaborating to train their fellow teachers. Another area we have some early anecdotal evidence from is our baseline and program evaluation surveys, where we saw a significant increase in teacher confidence. Before the program, only 17% of participant teachers and school leaders said they had confidence in their teaching skills across the 6 areas we taught. Once they got through our program, the figure increased to nearly 100%.

Do you have adequate funding to train as many teachers as you’d like to?

Not by a long shot. The $80,000 associated support we got from the Social Innovation Fellowship was a fantastic start — a blessing really — toward our first full-year budget of about $250,000. We trained about half of our target 10% of the teachers and leaders in the 14 participant schools in our inaugural class. But we have big plans: we are looking to reach 10% of the 700+ schools in Ghana in our first 3 pilot years, and starting next year, we will be developing a focus on girls education: training female teachers to be role models for girl students.

Is there anything Ghana-specific about the program, or could it work in other parts of Africa as well?

The good news is that most of the education systems across West Africa use pretty much the same syllabus at the secondary level. So even these early solutions that we are coming up with to support teachers in Ghana are very transportable to the 17 countries across West Africa. In Ghana, there are over 700 secondary schools; in Nigeria, there are more than 3,000; in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the needs are greater. The economies of these countries have been growing above 5% over the last few years, and I believe they will need a trainable workforce with at least solid high school education that contributes to and benefits from the expanding economies. There are 15 other countries in West Africa other than Ghana, and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa beckons.

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