Lessons on Technology-Enabled Teacher Professional Development from Bangladesh’s National Curriculum Reform

Why and how did we do this? 

This blog presents Part 1 of our lessons on tech-enabled professional development. We shall be bringing you more insights in Part 2. Stay tuned! 

Through Bangladesh’s national curriculum reform, the Government of Bangladesh intends to transform education by reducing the pressure of high-stakes exams and enhancing teaching practices (for example, through experiential learning, interdisciplinary approaches, critical thinking, and problem-solving). Evidence shows us that, aside from updated textbooks and learning resources, curricular reform needs significant investment in the development of a supportive environment that nurtures teacher professional development (TPD). Understanding this, the Government of Bangladesh has made significant investments in teacher professional development as part of accelerating education for a ‘Smart Bangladesh’. While the Government has developed new teacher guides to help teachers scaffold experiential learning in the classroom, teaching practices are also being developed through the use of technology.

The Government has introduced a new national curriculum for primary and secondary levels. For the first time in the country’s history, the strategy to implement curriculum reform began with online orientation for teachers.

With guidance from the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) and the Ministry of Education (MoE), the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) developed online orientation courses to supplement face-to-face teacher training. The NCTB received support from the European Union (EU) and UNICEF to develop the content of the courses for the primary and secondary levels, respectively. Nationwide implementation and monitoring of these courses are being led by the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) and Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) for their respective sub-sectors, with technical assistance from the ICT Division’s Aspire to Innovate (a2i) programme.  

What have we learnt?

Given there are several factors that can influence the effectiveness of technology-enabled TPD, stakeholders are currently trying to identify what these may be in order to improve the implementation of the national curriculum reform. Our blog delves into the experiences of individuals and entities, drawing valuable lessons from the journey thus far. 

  1. Identifying areas for improvement does not require rigorous research; instead, available data can be supplemented with light-touch methods to enhance implementation.

While formal plans for developing rigorous monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanisms are still underway, the entities involved are tracking data on some aspects of the digital TPD component. While the Muktopaath (Bangla for “free reading”) platform identifies metrics related to reach, completion, and certification, stakeholders recognised other aspects that were important to inform improvements. They proactively surveyed over 600 teachers and conducted a focus group discussion with 48. Although this process was not rigorous, it opened avenues to consider how TPD effectiveness can also be impacted by various factors such as teacher attitudes, technical difficulties, and the workload demands of teachers. Available data can be used to identify and address challenges that teachers may be facing to enhance implementation.

  1. Head teachers and government education officers play an important role in championing teacher participation in digital TPD programmes.

Global evidence highlights the role teacher motivation plays in effective teacher education. In the case of digital TPD programmes, challenges of technical difficulties can exacerbate constraints caused by teacher attitudes and workload demands. Initial insights from the national curriculum reform training suggest that TPD champions, like head teachers, District Education Officers, and Upazilla Education Officers, play a vital role in guiding teacher progress. Based on these insights, government stakeholders are hopeful that TPD champions (including head teachers, District Education Officers, and Upazila Education Officers) will continue to have a strong role in increasing teacher participation in digital training. This will mark a shift in peer motivation, rather than pressuring teachers to complete the course with course deadlines.

  1. Focus on the needs of teachers in hard-to-reach areas to increase participation.

The unequal distribution of technology access, particularly in urban and rural areas, is quite prominent in low- and middle-income countries and presents a significant challenge for scaling TPD. In their study of Bangladesh’s Teacher Portal, Hansson and team (2018)  found that several factors, including slow internet speed, high costs, insufficient equipment, and frequent power outages, prevented teachers from accessing the platform. Although, at this stage, it is too early to gauge TPD effectiveness, the Government is exploring ways of addressing access challenges. A2i has found that providing teachers with internet access, devices, and ICT labs can contribute to higher completion rates. Interestingly, data on Muktopaath suggests that teachers in remote areas, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, have higher enrolment and completion rates than teachers in more urban areas. However, at this stage, we do not know enough about the reasons for this.

  1. Formalising peer networks can help move beyond one-way ‘dissemination’ and towards integrated implementation.

Given that TPD programmes position teachers as learners, it is critical to consider interactive methods with potential to enhance implementation. Evidence indicates that two-way communication improves the effectiveness of learning through technology. Accordingly, Bangladesh’s digital TPD programme utilises peer networking in different ways. First, ambassador teachers are responsible for encouraging their cohort to participate in the programme and respond to challenges they may be experiencing. Second, WhatsApp and other social media platforms are being used to resolve challenges with Muktopaath as well as to host communities of practice for teachers. Third, queries related to the course can be addressed through a Government-run call centre.

Moving from training to practice

The Government has made a tremendous effort to rapidly implement the national curriculum reform through training teachers across face-to-face and digital modalities. Plans for more rigorous M&E processes are underway. However, in the meantime, if key stakeholders continue to collect and share initial insights, the sector can quickly identify gaps in TPD provision to inform improvements with the aim of impacting the most disenfranchised learners. As a next step, EdTech Hub is journeying through the national curriculum reform implementation process with stakeholders in Bangladesh to understand how these avenues for TPD are equipping teachers to support experiential learning in the classroom. As part of this effort, EdTech Hub has commissioned the Open University in the UK (in collaboration with the DPE, A2i, and Dhaka University’s Institute of Education and Research) to lead the 3MPower study.  The study explores the relationship between at-scale TPD with technology and the teaching and learning of numeracy skills in primary schools.

We hope that such collaborations will strengthen innovative teacher professional development initiatives in Bangladesh and generate evidence for implementers across the world.

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