When she first learned about a national competition in teaching skills on her school’s WhatsApp group, Sophia Kawegere, 30, thought it was the perfect opportunity to put the preschool teaching profession on the map. “For a long time, preschool teaching has not been considered a respectable profession. This is what motivated me to join the competition because I wanted to show the joy and honor that comes with teaching at this level,” she said.
Sophia teaches pre-primary (pre-K) counting or numeracy at Enaboishu Primary School in the Arusha region of northern Tanzania, as well as primary (elementary)-level Kiswahili and Social Studies. She would end up winning the competition, the first of its kind to be held in Tanzania.
“I never thought there would come a day when I would be recognized for teaching preschool. To be honest, my goal had always been to teach at higher levels, including college. I never saw myself teaching students at this level, but when I did, I truly felt at home,” said Sophia Kawegere.
The competition, organized by Tanzania’s Institute of Education (TIE) and financed by the World Bank under the Boost Primary Student Learning Project (BOOST), has a key component supporting the government’s school-based Teachers’ Continuous Professional Development (TCPD) initiative, popularly known as Mafunzo Endelevu kwa Walimu Kazini (MEWAKA).
It seeks to create an annual event to celebrate teachers’ competencies, while also providing them with a reason to use its Learning Management System (LMS), an online platform through which teachers can access digital teaching resources and deploy and track online learning initiatives.
The competition is also a way to make sure national stakeholders understand how teachers teach, and what the gaps/areas of improvement are for a competency-based curriculum.
In its first year, the competition covered the 26 local government authorities (LGAs) piloting the Teacher Continuous Professional Development under the BOOST Project, inviting preprimary and primary teachers to show their skills in helping students with mathematics, particularly the areas traditionally difficult to learn, such as geometry, algebra, integers, and statistics.
To take part, teachers recorded a video of themselves teaching a live class. They submitted the videos through the LMS operated by TIE. In total, 99 videos were received by the deadline. “We wanted teachers to familiarize themselves with the LMS, and that is why it was the platform for this competition. The videos sent by teachers were a testament to their skills and readiness to use technology in teaching and learning,” said Dr. Aneth Komba, Director General of TIE.
Three phases to winning
The entries were reviewed in three phases by a panel of judges composed of school quality assurers, university lecturers, trainers from Teacher Training Colleges, and curriculum developers from TIE. Fifty videos were first selected, and then 18. The 18 entrants had to display their skills in person before a panel of six judges. The judges then chose the top 10, and the ultimate winner received a cash prize and certificate of recognition at a ceremony attended by the Minister of Education, Professor Adolph Mkenda, and officials from the World Bank, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), and the President’s Office–Regional and Local Government (PO-RALG).
TIE’s Dr Komba attended the live sessions as an observer. She said while she knew there were many skilled Tanzanian teachers, she was surprised by the level of skills shown. The finalists’ videos will be published on the LMS for other teachers to access and learn from. “I believe if every teacher does what these teachers did in the live sessions, it is very clear we will not have students who cannot read, write, and count by Standard Two. I hope other teachers will be influenced by this competition to ensure that our students are truly learning,” she said.
Sophia, the winner, hopes the promise of recognition will inspire others. “I feel motivated to continue teaching with more creativity, knowing that my efforts will be recognized,” she said.
Gervas Rwegoshora, one of the finalists who teaches at Mchukwi Primary School in Pwani Region, said the competition gave him a networking opportunity to meet teachers from different parts of the country and share experiences. He credits MEWAKA for already strengthening his skills. “We attend workshops every week to exchange our knowledge through MEWAKA at my school, and this has made a significant contribution to bringing unity and competence-based teaching skills not only among the teachers at the school where I teach but also among teachers from other schools in the ward,” he said.
To make the competition more effective, he suggested training for teachers in the LMS in advance of the competition; some had not taken part because they did not know how to create files compatible with the system. Sophia and Gervas said that, in the future, the in-person assessment should be in an actual classroom environment with students matching the level of the subject.
As well as developing quality teaching-learning materials (including digital resources), BOOST is helping build at least 12,000 pre-primary and primary school classrooms and 800 ICT hub schools, empowering 184 LGAs and 18,000 primary schools to make schools safe and conducive for learning, and providing policy advice and technical assistance to the MoEST, PO-RALG, and key agencies of curriculum, assessment, and teachers.
“To improve the quality of education and competitiveness of any nation, we must prioritize support and respect for teachers, particularly those who educate early grades and shape the skills of future generations,” said Dr. Xiaoyan Liang, the BOOST task team leader.