How can education systems enhance and scale teacher professional development through the integration of tech-based solutions?

teacher stands in front of board while streaming live from a mobile phone
Photo credit: Praveen Khanna/ Representational

EdTech Hub and the World Bank have been working closely with decision-makers around the world to identify ways to continue to support teachers while schools are shut. This involves ensuring that teachers are being given the opportunity to grow and develop their skills while they’re away from school.

In this blog Tom Kaye from EdTech Hub and Aishwarya Shivaji Patil from the World Bank reflect on some of the ways in which technology can be used to enhance and scale teacher professional development activities.

The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers, and the quality of teachers cannot exceed the quality of the work organization in schools and the ways in which teachers are supported.

(OECD, 2018).

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education service delivery and pushed many education systems to take-up remote teaching and learning practices. These rapid changes and demand for continuous education services placed a heavy burden on teachers, who are a central ingredient of student learning.

It is now more relevant than ever to support teachers through quality ongoing teacher professional development (TPD), and to explore the potential benefits of integrating tech-based solutions that can help scale up such practices.

Policymakers and practitioners are increasingly interested in adopting TPD approaches that utilize tech-based solutions. Regardless of how cutting-edge the tech-based solution is, impact of the intervention will not only depend on the novelty of the technology, but on the implementation design to provide training and support.

The key question is: How can education systems enhance and scale teacher professional development through the integration of tech-based solutions?

When considering TPD solutions that can be scaled up through technology, it is essential to ensure that interventions are designed in line with the factors that we know are contingent to improve teacher outcomes. The World Bank’s work program – Coach, identifies four key evidence-based principles of high quality TPD: (1) tailored to teachers’ needs; (2) practical, not just theoretical; (3) focused, selective and strategic in scope; (4) ongoing, continuous support over a sustained period. 

EdTech-enabled TPD programs should be grounded in these principles, using technology to amplify their impact by extending access, improving efficiency, effectiveness, and quality. “Technology is not “the” solution, but “a” solution which can be leveraged in several ways to amplify the characteristics of effective teacher education, as identified by the EdTech Hub with evidence from low-middle income countries. Technology can facilitate the effective design and delivery of remote TPD, by personalizing content delivery through its unique attributes, including intelligent computing features, two-way or multidirectional communication, and audiovisual media capability.

As we have observed in most regions, tech-based solutions can also help build teacher communities of practice – via WhatsApp, online forums, and other tools – which can allow teachers to share their experiences nationally and regionally. These kinds of professional communities are key not only for sharing pedagogical knowledge, provide wellbeing and support, but also to offer other informal opportunities of professional development for continued support and engagement. 

In an effort to counter Learning Poverty, several governments, not-for-profit organizations, and private players swiftly provided a diversity of resources to support teachers. For instance, a digital education program in Africa helped improve access to training material focused on improving teachers’ digital literacy and pedagogical practices by dissemination of lessons through the radio.

An initiative in Ghana facilitated access to training content through low-cost devices which link to an offline digital library of learning resources in poor connectivity settings including remote villages and refugee camps. This access to professional development resources powered by a Raspberry Pi server not only promoted participation among teachers, but also allowed them to practice their skills by completing tasks on the go.

To ensure ongoing support to teachers in the absence of face-to-face options, a program in Zimbabwe utilized the network effects of WhatsApp to share PDFs of activities and conduct fortnightly interactive discussions on groups. Many such organizations have employed tech-based solutions to enhance critical TPD practices known to improve teaching quality. 

As noted above, low-tech solutions such as lessons broadcasted via radio in poor connectivity contexts, or high-tech options involving synchronous interactive learning offer a way to reach millions rapidly, connect teachers with one another, maintain sustained feedback mechanisms, use open education resources, and participate in collaborative learning opportunities. It is important to remember that low-tech trainings can lead to good results (and the opposite is also possible).

While technology has much potential, the evidence on its use to deliver in-service teacher professional development, especially in low resource settings is (still) limited. Given this paucity, the need to gather and disseminate such evidence is now more profound than ever. To come out of this pandemic stronger and better, it is essential that the lessons we are learning now, help us to spotlight the best ways to support teachers to deliver high quality learning experiences.

The World Bank’s Technology for Teaching (T4T) initiative aims to identify impactful and scalable in-service teacher professional development interventions that utilize low and high-tech solutions to train and support teachers and pedagogical leaders. A global contest, Teachers for a Changing World (video) launched as part of the T4T initiative is crowdsourcing scalable solutions to TPD utilizing technology from around the world.

Promising interventions selected from applications to this campaign, along with existing evidence on use of technology to deliver TPD will be collated to help countries ensure that their teachers continuously develop the competences needed to adapt to the new realities.

1 Coach is a World Bank work program (under development) focused on improving in-service teacher professional development, moving away from a traditional focus on inputs to a focus on the impact on the quality of student-teacher interactions.

2 Learning poverty is defined as being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10. COVID-19-related school closures threated to increase the Learning Poverty rate in the low- and middle-income countries by 10 percentage points, from 53% to 63% (Azevedo, 2020).

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