Opinion | CPD, A Gateway to Professional Transformation of Teachers in South Sudan

The Government of South Sudan, through the National Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MOGEI), recently launched a Continuous Professional Development (CPD)) training across the country in a bid to equip teachers with the requisite professional knowledge and skills. The two-year in-service holiday program, funded by UNICEF and implemented by several education partners, is expected to benefit over 7,450 certified and volunteer teachers who are expected to boost learner enrolment and learning outcomes in schools across the country.

Quite a laudable move, especially considering that the bulk of teachers in primary schools in South Sudan have not attended any professional training in education. While in some counties some of the volunteer teachers have acquired a Diploma or a Degree in other “non-education” disciplines, in others there are hardly any who have been able to acquire even a Senior Four Certificate! This is especially true in primary schools located in hard-to-reach areas. Due to hard economic conditions, often exacerbated by low and delayed salaries, most of the qualified and professional teachers on government payroll are currently employed either in the private sector or in the nongovernmental organizations whose salary scales are perceived to be attractive and regular.

The void created by the flight of qualified and professional teachers to areas with “greener pasture” was soon filled with a new category of schoolteachers – the volunteer teachers. As the name suggests, these teachers ideally would be expected to teach schoolchildren on basis of “volunteerism” or “freewill.” Simply put, they would be expected to teach without any expectation of payment for their services. By not recognizing the important role they play in schools would be unfair, if not inhumane.

In recognition of the important role they play, MOGEI, in partnership with humanitarian agencies engaged in education delivery, agreed on the payment of a monthly “incentive” to volunteer teachers in schools. However, provision of monthly incentives is usually done to a few schools and volunteer teachers basing on the availability of grants. This payment is based on the number of volunteer teachers in a school in accordance with the “teacher-pupil ratio” – whereby a teacher is expected to teach an average of 50 learners. If a school has an enrolment of 550 learners and 20 volunteer teachers, for instance, the number of volunteer teachers to benefit from a monthly incentive would ideally be 11 (that’s to say 550/50).

The “excess” of 9 volunteer teachers would have their payment handled by the PTA/SMC from the school’s “revenue” collections… In many schools, however, the PTA / SMC bodies are so weak that they are not able to mobilize enough resources for the running of schools. In fact, they even often put pressure to be included among beneficiaries for monthly incentives!

Besides the monthly incentive payment, often dependent on the availability of a grant, volunteer teachers in South Sudan stand to benefit more from the ongoing CPD training. Through this intervention, they will acquire the requisite knowledge and skills in education theories and practices as well as on the applicable code of conduct and values that will eventually qualify them as professional educators. After being certified as “professional” teachers at the end of the two-year CPD training, some of them may opt for further studies in order to advance their careers. This is only achievable if and when the volunteer teachers undertaking this training show commitment and are able to complete the course as planned. The tutors engaged in facilitating this training might have to undergo regular orientation or refresher capacity-building workshops to fully increase their competence in handling the teachers.

Important as it appears to be, the CPD training might be beset by some obstacles. In hard-to-reach areas, which this training is primarily intended for, the seasonal displacement due to floods and intercommunal conflicts might hinder the same teachers enrolled on the program from attending and completing the training. If such happens, some county education authorities might be tempted to make replacements of absent teachers with others who were not part of the first stage of training. Doing so might affect the expected project outcomes! It is important for MOGEI and education partners to put in place measures that minimize or eliminate such temptations.

Another visibly clear obstacle to the smooth conduct of the CPD training is that many volunteer teachers have low ability in English which is the medium of instruction in learning institutions in South Sudan. Some of the volunteer teachers can hardly read and understand the contents in the CPD course books. Some of the tutors find themselves “forced” to translate their presentations into the local language of the area. What workable solutions can be applied to enable such volunteer teachers to benefit meaningfully from this professional training? In an ideal situation, a “catch-up” course in form of an Intensive English Course would have been embedded into the CPD to cater to such challenges. In fact, besides the volunteer teachers, some of the tutors require some help aimed at “adjusting” their English and facilitation skills upwards.

Teachers attending the current CPD training have to be provided with monthly incentives to encourage them to continue with the course. The objective of empowering them professionally through this training might not yield the desired impact if they are not facilitated financially to be able to meet some of their basic needs in life. It would not be a surprise to anyone if only a tiny fraction of the total target of volunteer teachers complete all the two years of the in-service holiday CPD training without access to monthly incentives.

All in all, the current CPD training is a laudable move by MOGEI, UNICEF, and all the humanitarian agencies involved in its implementation. It incorporates learner-centered teaching methodologies which are key in accelerating learning among pupils. All the different stakeholders have to play their respective roles effectively well so as to help put in place a formidable team of professional teachers for South Sudan. It is especially important for technical staff from the national and state ministries of general education and instruction to regularly monitor the delivery of the CPD course to ensure it conforms to the expected standards.

Source: Radio Tamazuj

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