Africa: Can Mandatory Refresher Courses Improve African Teaching Standards?

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Securing a certificate from a training school is no longer enough to become a teacher in many African countries. Periodic referesher courses and renewable licenses are fast becoming the norm.

In many African countries, all that one needs to qualify as a teacher is a certificate from an accredited training institution. However, that is changing with the issuance of professional teaching licenses.

Educators are required to periodically renew their licenses to keep their professional profiles up to date.

Several African countries have even gone a step further by rolling out mandatory refresher courses and teaching certificate renewal programs.

It is not just about teachers going back to the classroom, but also ensuring that they acquire skills that can improve upon their profession and impact positively on educational standards.

In Ghana, for example, teachers have to renew their professional licenses every three years. The refresher courses are not an option but compulsory.

Zambia is also implementing a similar program and in Nigeria undergoing professional development courses before renewing teaching licenses has become an important issue.

The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria said that teachers will have to continually develop themselves in order to renew their licences.

The council said this would significantly bring the country's teachers up to date with stabdards in the global educational sector.

Kenya announced last year that its 340,000 teachers must renew their certificates every five years and, in order to achieve that, they have to complete refresher courses.

Impact on educational standards

The Africa Education Watch, a pan-African educational policy research and advocacy organization, said that these policies are crucial if education standards across the continent are to improve.

Kofi Asare, who heads the organization, told DW that continuous training to enhance teachers' capacities should be treated as an essential element of the educational program.

Asare said that "continuous professional development programs undertaken by teachers to continuously enhance their capacities" are now being built into promotional systems by some African countries, something he said is significant if teachers are to take their profession seriously.

For some African countries, though, the number of professional development programs undertaken and the kinds of courses enrolled in are ways to access career opportunities.

"I think all these interventions are great in the sense that the teacher promotion should not be only based on the number of years one person spends at work or how one person performs in an interview alone," Asare said.

Phyllis Nduta is a teacher in Kenya who has taken up a mandatory professional development program to renew her license. Although some of her colleagues are not enthused, she is.

"I propose this idea since as a teacher I will be updated on the systems of learning since the world is changing on a daily basis, so as a teacher being updating my certificates, I will be on a safer side in a position also to teach on new skills according to the pace of the way the world is changing," Nduta told DW.

Who pays?

Some teachers, such as Owino, are against the policy due to the inability of some African governments to take up the cost.

Owino said forcing teachers to renew their professional certificates every five years, first by taking refresher courses at their own cost, isn't fair.

"When you renew your certificate after every five years you will incur some charges, that will be a bit expensive and we are good at what we are doing, so there is no need for us to renew our professional certificates after every five years. So that one is not fair," Owino said.

The concern of teachers bearing the cost of the professional development programs is a legitimate one, according to Asare from the Africa Education Watch.

In Ghana, the government provides teachers with financial allowances to cover the cost of professional development courses so they can renew their licenses.

Asare said other African governments must emulate that and bear the cost of training programs of teachers.

"There are many countries that do not have teacher professional allowance, where teachers have to finance their participation in professional programs among others. The recommendation I will make is that governments must prioritize supporting teachers with professional allowances," Asare said.

Improving standards

Despite the controversy over who should bear the cost of such refresher courses across the continent, African education expert Lucy Wakiaga told DW that while those issues are ironed out, teachers should still be interested in enhancing their teaching skills.

"Professional development is always a good thing, you already know and we already know ... we are aware that teachers already are overstretched, so we know the economic situation that our teachers are in ... so requiring them to pay for their own professional development, in my opinion, I think it is a long stretch, but for me the parting shot is, for the teachers it would be a plus, growing oneself professionally is not bad," Wakiaga said.

Asare agreed with Wakiaga's position on teachers growing their profession. He said that as well as the teachers' growth, education in general benefits.

He wants African countries yet to implement such development programs and licensing regimes to imrpove educational standards.

Andrew Wasike contributed to this article.

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