There is a global commitment, through the UN’s Millenium Development Goals to have every child in primary school by 2015. Yet in Africa over 30 million children have no chance of going to school, and for those in school the chances of completing a full primary education are less than 50-50.
Crucial to changing this is the quality of teachers. But major structural problems exist. Teaching generally is poorly paid and status is low. Few countries can recruit the numbers of teachers needed and today, at least a third of all primary teachers are unqualified. HIV/Aids is also impacting on the teaching force. In some countries, more teachers die annually from HIV/Aids than leave the teacher training colleges.
In this context, TESSA is working across nine countries in all parts of the continent – including Ghana and Nigeria in the west, all the East African countries, Sudan, South Africa and Zambia – to help improve teacher education and training systems.
TESSA is particularly concerned with providing support for unqualified teachers, who must gain training and qualifications whilst working in schools. Over 100 African academics, working with staff from The Open University, have created a large bank of resources or study units for teachers to work through in their schools. All the study units are focussed on classroom based activities aimed at improving practice. Particular attention is given to the basic core areas of literacy, numeracy and science.
TESSA works through a specially designed and built web site (www.tessafrica.net ) which has home pages for all the participating countries. The TESSA study units have been adapted so that they are appropriate in different national systems and in different languages. The TESSA resource bank now exists in Arabic, English, French and kiSwahili.
Communication technologies are expanding fast in Africa, especially through the growth of mobile phones. Some teachers can access the web directly; this is still a minority. The TESSA web site, however, makes available all the resources in web and pdf versions, so universities and training colleges in all the countries can provide printed versions for thousands of teachers. By the end of 2010, it is expected that around half a million teachers will be working with TESSA.
A key aspect of TESSA is that all the resources are free for any user, anywhere. TESSA has been pioneering the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement which argues, given the changes in communication technologies, for the freeing up of information where it serves a public good. Using the Creative Commons licencing mechanism, which allows for free use, TESSA aims to bring a wholly new resource and support system to the service of teacher educators.
Just as the challenge to educate more teachers becomes most acute, so the means of creating and communicationg ideas and advice appears, through new technological applications, to be now, or shortly, available. TESSA aims to be in the forefront of the veritable revolution in communication technologies that could transform the education and training needed by teachers and other professions.