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Raising Teachers’ Self Esteem and Inspiring More Child-Friendly Classrooms in Ghana

March 2019

Irene Pritzker

Chair & Co-Founder

Irene Pritzker co-founded the IDP Foundation, Inc. with her daughter, Liesel Pritzker in 2008.

In the opening of a video entitled Practical Ways to Make the Classroom Creative and Fun, “Sesame Street” Muppets Zobi and Kami are playing a new song for their favorite teacher, Ms. Efia, slapping out the rhythm on a drum. “You know,” Ms. Efia points out, “you can use numbers to plan your rhythm” and “your eyes and ears to count the beats.”

“How about,” she asks, “instead of using boom-boom-boom, use numbers?” Zobi and Kami are all in, delighted with Ms. Efia’s improvisational twist.

Aimed at kindergarten and primary school teachers, the video is one in a series of 14 that anchor the Techniques for Effective Teaching (TFET) program, a partnership between the IDP Foundation, Inc. (IDPF) and Sesame Workshop. Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit behind Sesame Street) has been serving vulnerable children in more than 150 countries with research-based media, philanthropically funded social impact programs and formal education to help kids grow “smarter, stronger and kinder.” IDPF and Sesame Workshop came together to launch TFET in 2012 to support schools participating in the Rising Schools Program (RSP) in Ghana. These are schools that are simple, social enterprises operated by dedicated, sole proprietors who are serving children of low-income families. More often than not, these children have no other viable means of education.

School operators in the program typically charge less than 742 Ghanaian cedis in annual fees (approximately $156). The schools are under-resourced and accustomed to surviving on a shoestring budget. Most teachers in these schools are untrained because the owners of the schools are charging such low fees that they cannot afford to hire trained teachers to offer professional development for their staff. As a result, teachers rely on rote learning that requires pupils to memorize facts instead of learning through applying critical thinking skills and developing curiosity about the world around them. Classrooms are often missing child-friendly features and many teachers report that their self-esteem and job satisfaction is low.

I knew Sesame Workshop could help children grow by using the power of its Muppets and storytelling, but what about applying the same approach to support teachers? I pitched the organization on joining IDPF, which I run, to develop a training program featuring a series of fun “how to” videos demonstrating exemplary pedagogical practices.

Sesame Workshop, which hadn’t previously produced videos to educate teachers about broadly applicable teaching techniques, took up the challenge. Together, we decided to focus on empowering elementary school teachers and encouraging them to make their pupils feel welcomed in the classroom and joyful in the way they interact and learn. The TFET videos are part of a multimedia kit — developed with input from Ghana’s Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service — that also includes teacher guides and learning materials specifically designed for preprimary and early primary classrooms in Ghana.

Beginning and ending with playful interactions between Muppets Zobi and Kami — and with Matilda Asante in the role of Ms. Efia — each video offers a vibrant demonstration of creative, engaging ways that teachers can work with young pupils. The characters ask questions and share concerns encountered in the classroom, from academic learning of literacy and numeracy to social skills like developing self-confidence among girls, understanding differences and extending empathy to other children. By showing slices of life from underserved Ghanaian classrooms taught by exemplary teachers, combined with voiceover takeaways, viewers receive practical insights into the fundamentals of teaching, child-friendly learning spaces, classroom and time management, and the creative use of low-cost resources, among other topics.

After the opening sequence in the Practical Ways to Make the Classroom Creative and Fun video, with Zobi and Kami jamming with Ms. Efia, the scene shifts to a class in Ghana where the teacher is encouraging hands-on, interactive learning and experimenting with new ways to teach the standard curriculum. The teacher, having noticed that several pupils were interested in birds outside the school, invites his class to speculate about how big a parrot’s nest would be and what types of materials are needed to build it. Students take turns at the blackboard, writing and spelling the items they’ve suggested. Outside, they gather twigs, grass, string and other materials, then imagine they are birds and write stories about building their nests. Finally, they act out the stories for their peers.

Chris Academy is one of the nearly 150 schools that have participated in the TFET program. Proprietor Christiana Adu Kyeremeh reviews TFET materials during the school’s weekly teacher meetings and has her teachers practice together after watching and discussing the videos. TFET’s play-based learning and child-centered techniques have helped her teachers become more confident and relaxed. They have begun to feel more pride in their profession and have learned to better appreciate the significant and influential role they play in their young pupils lives. In turn, this has improved how they instruct students and manage their classrooms.

“The Sesame videos have helped my teachers significantly,” she says. “The instructors’ skills and attitudes towards teaching have changed for the better. I have also seen positive changes in students’ attitudes.”

Students at Chris Academy in Sunyani, Ghana

Many teachers in developing countries can benefit from the impact Sesame Workshop and IDPF deliver through TFET and indeed, it has been heartening to see that the videos have found an audience beyond Ghana. The principles underlying TFET are broadly applicable, and, like IDPF’s approach to financing improvements at low-fee private schools, the model has enormous potential to be replicated and scaled.

Each video contains a number of powerful messages. One of my favorites is the Learning Through Play video, Module 14, which begins with Zobi and Kami pretending to be taxi drivers. Ms. Efia reaches into her box of classroom supplies to provide them with colorful leis for seat belts and “super speedy” steering wheels (paper plates). Zobi fancies himself an explorer, with a pair of binoculars fashioned out of cardboard tubes from rolls of toilet paper.

Later, a teacher asks a young pupil, Kofi, about a job that he’d find exciting. “A pilot!” Kofi beams before the teacher leads a hands-on project making and flying paper airplanes, which becomes a lesson incorporating design, shapes and measurement.

“Let children contribute ideas to help make your lessons more playful,” the video suggests. “They’ll be even more involved if you build things around their interests.” It ends with Zobi and Kami excitedly musing about pretending to fly a rocket ship, drive a bus or build a house or sailboat.

“Tomorrow is going to be so much fun!” Kami exclaims.

For Zobi and Kami, along with the teachers they inspire, tomorrow brings hope, too.

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