Challenges Facing Implementation of Effective TSC Teacher Professional Development-TPD

By | March 29, 2023

Challenges facing the implementation of Effective TSC Teacher Professional Development, TPD, Programmes in Kenya.


By Wamalwa Philip Wafula, PhD Introduction

The need for quality teaching and learning as an educational experience in schools features prominently in the six Education for All (EFA) goals established in Dakar, Senegal in 2000. It is the centerpiece in each of the 15 annual EFA Global Monitoring Reports (GMRs). Quality is explicitly used in the titles of the 2005 and 2014 reports (UNESCO, 2005; UNESCO, 2014).

It points to the need to strengthen access, quality and equity of provision for all children. Despite significant gains made in improving access to education for children in developing countries, new challenges have emerged in making sure all children receive a good quality education.

The 2015 GMR estimated that out of a total world population of 650 million primary age children, 58 million children were out of school and around 100 million did not complete primary school resulting in millions of children dropping out without basic skills (UNESCO, 2015).

How can we improve learning for all children, particularly for the poorest and most marginalized children, through effective teacher professional development and support? In addressing this question, there is a clear link between pedagogy and learning outcomes. Engaging and training teachers in effective pedagogy, informed by observations of how they teach and how pupils learn in the classroom, is central to raising achievement.

Kenya has been able to get more children into school and has tried to ensure that once they are enrolled they learn. It has been recognized that teachers are central to improving the quality of education and reforms to teacher education are ongoing. Such reforms have focused on improving the pedagogical practices of teachers and developing the capacity of teacher educators in order to bridge the theory-practice divide identified in studies of initial education and training and continuing professional development. Such initiatives have brought teachers together in professional learning communities in and beyond the school, informed by external expertise  from teacher supervisors and teacher educators, and regular follow-up in the classroom (Hardman et al., 2015).

While classroom pedagogy is recognized as a key variable for improving learning outcomes in Kenya, a major challenge has been the availability and competence of teachers. It is estimated that 120,000 additional teachers need to be recruited to achieve universal primary education currently, based on Teachers Service Commission (TSC). Although teachers have received initial education and training, it is judged to be of poor quality. It is found to be largely institution- focused, lecture-based (usually from trainers who lack experience and expertise in primary education), with little in the way of supervised practical teaching, thereby creating a large gap between theory and actual classroom practice (Orr et al., 2013).

Similarly, the provision of continuing professional development is also judged to be of poor quality with little transferability to the classroom. It has been found to be ad hoc with little follow-up in the classroom and is mainly concentrated in urban areas (Hardman et al., 2012). The poor quality of teacher education and training often means that rote and recitation approaches to teaching and learning are the norm. Classroom talk has largely been found to be teacher-fronted, made up of teacher-led explanation, recitation, cued elicitations, chorus responses and use of chalk/whiteboard. Such narrow pedagogical approaches do not support critical thinking, conceptual learning, or problem-solving and teamwork skills (Ngware et al., 2014). Yet these are the 21st Century skills and competencies needed now.

In response to the identified weaknesses at the initial and in-service stages, we, as a country have started to overhaul the teacher education systems by moving away from largely college-based provision to a more long-term sustainable vision of continuing professional development that systemically updates the key competences teachers require in the classroom. International development partners such as DFID, Save the Children, UNICEF, JICA, USAID and the World Bank have been assisting governments in many regions of the world to develop national continuing professional development systems for teachers (Save the Children, 2011).

In line with international research, the emphasis has been to bring together initial and continuing professional development to ensure coherence, consistency and quality of training so that all children, including the most marginalized, have access to teachers with minimal competences (Orr et al., 2013). Such trends represent a clear strategic shift away from institutional-based primary teacher education towards more flexible school-based provision. The Ministry of Education has also been setting up in-service units with their own budgets to work through a

decentralized network of provision at the regional, County and zonal-level to monitor and support school-based programmes, and putting in place local support agents to work with head teachers and teachers in the schools (DeStefano, 2011).

Kenya recognized the need to develop a national in-service programme to improve pedagogical practices in the late 1990s. It also recognized that professional development programmes need to focus on processes in the school and classroom as necessary levels of intervention for improving the quality of teaching and learning (Hardman et al., 2009). Likewise, it saw the need to link teacher education with head teacher training and community empowerment, including the development of a school-based textbook management system and quality assurance procedures (Crossley et al., 2005).

Support for school-based teacher development was provided through the two complementary projects – Strengthening Primary Education (SPRED) and Primary School Management (PRISM) – funded by DFID. The systems that were developed during this period were to prove critical when Universal Free Primary Education (FPE) was announced in 2003 by the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government. Efforts to cope with the huge surge in enrolment and to attain the goal of universal primary education by 2015 focused attention on the scaling up of textbook provision, as well as countrywide in-service training provision.

Since 2003, Kenya has managed to significantly increase the proportion of children completing primary school so that more than three-quarters of primary school age children make it beyond grade 4, and 70 per cent of children are able to read (Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality [SACMEQ], 2010; UNESCO, 2015). The Ministry of Education through its in-service training unit ran a national, distance-led teacher education scheme for classroom teachers known as the School-based Teacher Development (SbTD) programme.

The SbTD was designed to be cost-effective and to combine the benefits of cascaded training at a national, regional and district level with school-based teacher development. The aims of the programme, which ran from 2001 to 2006, were primarily to improve the quality and cost effectiveness of teaching and learning in primary schools Teacher Professional Development (TPD) through teachers acquiring new skills that promote active learning and training them in the use of new textbooks (Hardman et al., 2009). TPD was developed as a programme of self-study, using paper-based modules with directed activities, combined with regular face-to-face cluster meetings. It successfully graduated over 47,000 primary school teachers throughout the country in the three core subjects of English, Mathematics and Science. This initial focus was important to SbTD’s success in rolling out the training.

Three teachers from every school, called Key Resource Teachers (KRTs) were trained to lead school-based professional development within their subject area in their schools. The programme was supported by a zonal-based teacher advisory system of over 1,000 Teacher Advisory Center (TAC) tutors, who were trained to provide group-based support service to the KRTs who were working with the self-study learning materials while carrying a full-time teaching load in the schools.

Head teachers also received leadership and management training materials as part of PRISM so that they could support the KRTs in providing school-based training and support. Too often, it has proved difficult to assess the impact of interventions due to the lack of baseline data (Riddell, 2008). However, in the case of Kenya, SPRED supported the Kenyan national primary baseline in 1998, which incorporated the SACMEQ survey of the same year, as well as specific studies, including an evaluation on teacher-pupil interaction (Ackers & Hardman, 2001). The classroom interaction baseline was specifically designed to allow for the future measurement of the impact of SbTD.

In common with many other east and southern African countries, the baseline suggested classroom pedagogy in many Kenyan primary schools was largely made up of teacher-led explanation, rote and recitation, chorusing of responses by pupils, and use of the chalkboard. In response to the baseline findings, the SbTD programme recognized that school-based training can help teachers develop more of a dialogic pedagogy to broaden the repertoire of whole-class teaching. In the training modules, dialogue and discussion through, for example, the use of open- ended questions (i.e. allowing for more than one possible answer), probing and building on pupil answers, and peer-to-peer discussion were promoted alongside the more traditional drilling, closed-ended questioning and telling, thereby raising cognitive engagement and understanding.

Such an approach was designed to build on the traditional model of whole-class teaching found in many Kenyan classrooms, but avoid the simplistic polarization of pedagogy into ‘teacher-

centered’ versus ‘child-centered’ that has characterized much educational discourse in the international donor community (Schweisfurth, 2013). It was also designed to help ensure there was a better balance and blending of local socio-cultural practices with internationally informed reforms to teacher education, particularly with regard to adult–child relationships (Crossley, 2009).

Building on the baseline study, follow-up evaluations using systematic observation and stakeholder interviews were conducted in 2005 and 2006 to investigate the impact of SbTD and the training of teachers in the use of textbooks (Hardman et al., 2009). While the 1999 national primary baseline on classroom interaction found an overwhelming level of directive teaching and rote learning going on in the teaching of primary English, mathematics and science, characteristic of many classrooms in the region, the follow-up evaluations suggested that there had been major changes in pedagogic practices in Kenyan primary schools.

For examples, 34 per cent of teachers in the 2005 sample used paired/group work in their lessons compared to only 3 per cent in 1999. The findings also showed that a greater range of organizational arrangements were being deployed by teachers to meet different educational goals: in the 1999 national primary baseline, most classrooms (97 per cent) were organized using a traditional classroom layout (i.e. desks organized in rows); this compared to 42 per cent of classrooms in the 2005 evaluation using an alternative classroom layout where pupils reorganized the classroom to accommodate paired or group work to promote peer-to-peer interaction and exploration of ideas. Textbooks were also far more in evidence compared to the national primary baseline with an average pupil/textbook ratio of 2:1 at class 6 and 3:1 at class 3.

Another premise for change that was addressed was the role of the head teacher, which was seen to go beyond the traditional role of administrator to include the leading of pedagogic change and providing feedback to teachers about their classroom performance and supporting teacher professional development (Crossley et al., 2005). The practice of having KRTs and head teachers collaborate with other educational professionals, such as Quality Assurance and Standards officers (QUASOs) and Teacher Advisory Center (TAC) advisers, to examine what is taking place in classroom and schools, and provide constructive and non-directive feedback, was also identified as an achievement by the study.

In addition, the practice of distributing training allowances directly to the KRTs through a school bank account who in turn would pay the TAC tutors so as to participate in the training was judged to have been a success: it increased resources, incentives and accountability at the local level as tutors were informally monitored in their effectiveness in programme delivery and record keeping. However, findings from the evaluations suggested that the ‘cascade’ model of school-based training, whereby KRTs worked with other colleagues in the school to pass on their training, was having less impact than had been anticipated by the programme’s designers.

It was found that 62 per cent of KRTs used some form of peer interaction in their lesson, compared to 17 per cent of the non-KRTs. A similar picture emerged with the use of open-ended questions: KRTs were twice more likely to ask an open question: 11 per cent of the questions asked by KRT teachers were open compared to 5 per cent asked by non-KRTs. The main reason given for the lack of effectiveness of the KRT in leading school-based training was the heavy workload of all teachers, which left little time for systematic input. This suggested the need for all teachers to undergo in-service training with official time being set aside for school-based training, and for KRTs to be given time to observe, coach and provide feedback to their colleagues.

The success of the expansion and sustainability of the SbTD programme is still evident in Kenya with a greater emphasis on the teaching of literacy, numeracy and science (Akyeampong et al., 2013). Similarly, from 1998 until 2013, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) supported the Kenyan government to raise the quality of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in primary and secondary schools through the use of cascaded training at a national, regional and district level with school-based teacher development. The teacher development programme was divided into three phases.

The first phase (1998–2003) was entitled the Strengthening of Mathematics and Science in Secondary Education Project (SMASSE) and piloted in nine districts. In the second phase of SMASSE (2003–8) the programme was scaled up to all districts in Kenya. In the third phase (2009–13), the programme was expanded to primary education under the title Strengthening of Mathematics and Science Education (SMASE) through a combination of training at national, regional and district level making use of the zonal-based TAC tutors (Haruo, 2012). The primary component later went under but was revived in 2019 and refined so that it now uses nationally

trained County trainers drawn from primary school teachers. Six teachers are competitively selected (3 for Mathematics and 3 for Science) from every County who attend training nationally and come down to their counties to cascade to zonally selected teachers who are expected to cascade the same to zones and schools.

More recently, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) have been supporting school-based teacher development programmes focusing on literacy and numeracy including the Education for Marginalized Children in Kenya (EMACK), Primary Mathematics and Reading (PRIMR) and Tusome (meaning ‘let’s read’ in Kiswahili) programmes (Epstein, 2014). From 2006 until 2014, the EMACK programme was implemented in 29 districts across eight counties of Kenya in the Nairobi, Coast and North Eastern regions by the Aga Khan Foundation. It focused on enhancing equitable access and improving learning outcomes for children in Teacher Professional Development in East Africa primary grades one, two and three in areas historically marginalized by cultural practices and poverty such as those living in nomadic communities and informal settlements.

It also focused on training head teachers in school planning and management through a whole- school development approach. PRIMR ran from 2011 until 2014 and was mainly focused on schools in urban areas in Nairobi, Nakuru and Thika, with teachers receiving two weeks’ face-to- face, workshop training in the teaching of literacy and numeracy, followed by cluster-based meetings and school-based observation, coaching and feedback provided by TAC tutors and master trainers. PRIMR also used video cameras to provide feedback to teachers and mobile phone technology – SMS – to facilitate communication between coaches and teachers.

The Tusome early grade literacy programme was a four-year (2014–17) intervention designed to substantially improve reading skills in the first two primary grades in approximately 21,600 public primary schools and 1,000 low-cost private schools in non-formal settlements in four cities: Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa. The project was expected to reach approximately

5.4 million Kenyan children. The Tusome programme materials provided daily activities in phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and writing. The approach to Tusome was dependent on school-based teacher development, where regional and national trainers provided modelling and practice opportunities for TAC tutors and instructional

coaches who in turn would provide frequent and ongoing structured feedback to schools in each zone or cluster as they visited and observed teachers in the classroom.

With a more gender-specific focus, the DFID launched the Girls’ Education Challenge in Kenya 2012. The programme was expected to run for five years and to enable girls to have the opportunity to improve their lives through education by understanding what works and why in girls’ education.

Conceptualizing Teacher Professional Development (TPD)

The defining attributes of teacher professional development (TPD) programs fall principally into three categories. The first is the content of the TPD program: What is taught? The second is the delivery of the TPD program: Who is teaching, when, and for how long? The third is the organization of the program beyond content and delivery: What are the scale and resources of the program? Are there incentives for participation? Was it designed based on a diagnostic of teachers? In this section, we discuss the theory behind each of these three categories.

On the content, TPD programs focusing on subject-specific pedagogy are likely to be most effective. General pedagogical knowledge—i.e., broad strategies of classroom management and organization—may contribute to student learning, driving the recent development of a range of classroom observation instruments (Molina et al. 2018). However, different subjects require radically different pedagogies (Villegas-Reimers 2003).

A highly scripted approach may work to teach early-grade reading, whereas teaching science or civics in later grades—for example—may require more flexible approaches. TPD programs that focus on arming teachers with subject-specific pedagogy are thus likely to make the largest contribution to student learning. With respect to the delivery, the method, trainers, duration, and location of instruction all play a role. First, because working, professional teachers are the students in TPD, principles of adult education are relevant to the method of instruction. Adult education tends to work best with clear applications rather than a theoretical focus (Knowles, Holton, and Swanson 2005). The method of instruction should include concrete, realistic goals (Baker and Smith 1999) and the teaching of formative evaluation so that teachers can effectively evaluate their own progress towards their teaching goals (Bourgeois and Nizet 1997).

Second, the quality of trainers—i.e., those providing the TPD—is crucial to learning (Knowles, Holton, and Swanson 2005). In terms of the delivery of TPD, this calls into question the common cascade model of TPD in low-income environments, in which both information and pedagogical ability may be diluted as a master trainer trains another individual as a trainer, who may go on to train another trainer below him/her, and so forth.

Third, on the duration of instruction, there is no theoretical consensus on exactly how long training should last, although there is suggestive empirical evidence in the literature in favour of sustained contact over a significant period of time and against the brief, one-time workshops (Desimone 2009).

Fourth, on the location of instruction, TPD in the school (“embedded”) is likely to be most effective so that participating teachers can raise concrete problems that they face in the local environment, and they can also receive feedback on actual teaching (Wood and McQuarrie 1999). However, this will depend on the environment. In very difficult teaching environments, some degree of training outside the school may facilitate focus on the part of the trainees (Kraft and Papay 2014).

Finally, the organization of the TPD—which includes overarching aspects such as who is organizing it, for whom, and how—provides an important backdrop when we consider any TPD program. This includes aspects such as the scale, cost, and targeting of the program. In general, it is predictably easier to provide high-quality TPD through smaller-scale, higher-cost programs that provide more tailored attention to a given teacher.

In terms of targeting, TPD will work best if it adjusts at different points in the teachers’ careers: One would not effectively teach a brand-new teacher in the same way as one would train a teacher with 20 years of experience (Huberman 1989). Teachers see their greatest natural improvements in the first five years of teaching, which may be an indicator of greater skill plasticity, so there may be benefits to leveraging that time (TNTP 2015).

Contextualizing Teacher Professional Development (TPD) in Kenya

The government spends enormous amounts of time and money on in-service professional development. In Kenya, we have multiple in-service TPD programs running simultaneously, such

as SMASE, KEMI, CBC cohorts and so forth. Many go unevaluated and may be ineffective. This paper makes three major contributions: first, it reveals broad weaknesses in reporting on TPD interventions. There are almost as many program types as there are programs, with variations in subject and pedagogical focus, hours spent, the capacity of the trainers, and a host of other variables. Yet reporting on these often seeks to reduce them to a small handful of variables, and each scholar decides independently which variables are most relevant to the report.

Second, this paper demonstrates that some characteristics of TPD programs—notably, linking participation to incentives such as promotion or salary implications, having a specific subject focus, incorporating lesson enactment in the training, and including initial face-to-face training— are positively associated with student test score gains. Furthermore, qualitative evidence suggests that follow-up visits to reinforce skills learned in training are important to effective training.

Further documentation of detailed program characteristics, coupled with rigorous evaluation, will continue to inform effective evaluations.

Kennedy (2019) proposes that the impact of TPD programs be benchmarked against a much less costly “community of practice” model in which teachers help each other, like Papay et al. (2020). Alternatively, comparing TPD results to a pure monitoring model, such as an increased frequency of monitoring and inspections would be a much more cost-effective way to reduce effective class sizes (through reduced teacher absenteeism) than hiring more teachers (Muralidharan et al., 2017).

This approach has limitations. First, the evidence of what works within rigorously evaluated programs is limited by those programs that have been evaluated. There may be innovative TPD programs that are not among the “top performers” simply because they have yet to be evaluated. While this evidence base can push policymakers away from approaches that do not work, it should not deter policymakers from innovating and evaluating those innovations.

A second, related limitation concerns the relatively small sample of evaluated TPD programs in low- and middle-income countries, on which our findings about effective TPD characteristics are based. Some of the larger coefficients in the regressions are driven by a small number of teacher training programs.

Third, a conceptual concern with evaluating teacher professional programs is the risk that impacts may be explained by observer effects (also referred to as Hawthorne effects). These effects have been documented in education (Muralidharan et al. 2017) and health in low- and middle-income countries (Leonard and Masatu 2010). The impact of any education intervention may partly be due to observer effects since the introduction of intervention suggests that someone is paying attention to the teacher’s efforts.

Improving in-service teacher professional development may be a clear win for governments. They are already spending resources on these programs, and there is broad support for these programs among teachers and teachers’ unions. Interventions such as the above provide learning opportunities for country governments and stakeholders seeking to design effective TPD programs. While no single characteristic of top-performing TPD programs may transform an ineffective TPD program into an effective one, this paper highlights trends in top-performing programs, such as including incentives, a specific subject focus, and lesson enactment. These are characteristics that, if included and implemented successfully, have the potential to improve the quality of teacher TPD programs, and ultimately, the quality of instruction and student learning.

Key Priorities for Teacher Professional Development (TPD) Intervention

The growing body of research on effective professional development models for teachers provides support for the general trend in developing countries towards school-based professional development. However, developing the capacity and assessing the training needs of those charged with organizing and providing the training, mentoring and coaching, such as Sub-county education officers and college tutors, remains a major challenge in the effective delivery of school and cluster-based training.

Teachers and teacher educators need to know the content of the relevant curricula and what teaching practices make a difference for pupils. The teacher educators also need to be able to make new knowledge and skills meaningful to teachers and manageable within the practice contexts, to connect theory and practice in ways that are helpful, and to develop teacher self-regulatory inquiry skills. As has been argued, it will entail engaging teachers, head teachers and teacher educators in discussions around teaching effectiveness, quality of education and the implementation of innovative approaches for teacher training.

Governments supported by the international donor community should continue to prioritize the development of teacher educators, pedagogic advisers and inspectors as they are often overlooked in teacher professional development programs despite the centrality of their role in delivering effective initial and in-service education and training (O’Sullivan, 2010). While it is vital that all children and young people acquire basic skills in literacy and numeracy, they also need to be educated as responsible global citizens. Their education needs include issues such as environmental sustainability, peace-building and disaster risk reduction, and the development of core transferable skills such as critical thinking, communication, cooperation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, leadership and advocacy, as well as the promotion of core values such as tolerance, appreciation of diversity and civic responsibility (UNESCO, 2014).

It is essential that teachers are equipped with the pedagogic skills to allow for the teaching of controversial issues and conflict-sensitive education through the use of dialogic approaches that promote teacher–student and peer–peer dialogue and discussion (Hardman et al., 2015). It is also essential for teachers to address these themes in a manner that is relevant to the children’s situation and that motivates them, particularly for the most marginalized and vulnerable children from minority groups and nomadic and internally displaced communities.

There is also a need to build a more rigorous evidence base for policymakers, teacher educators and teachers about the kinds of experiences that help to build teacher capacity and bring about transformations in teaching practice and children’s learning. Many of the recently launched programmes such as Tusome in Kenya ought to be evaluated now.

The greater use of quasi-experimental and randomised designs with baseline and post-testing of student learning, combined with systematic observation of classroom processes, will enable both impact and process evaluations of the teacher training interventions (King, 2014). It will help build a more robust evidence base for answering outstanding questions about the most effective approaches to teacher development. It will also help assess their cost effectiveness against other approaches to teacher education in resource-poor environments.

Such programme evaluations combining both quantitative and qualitative data will help in the identification of promising variables and finding out ‘what works, in what contexts and why’ by investigating the differences between learning outcomes in schools where teachers have been

trained in more dialogic approaches to help build reciprocity and student engagement compared to similar schools where teachers have not had this very directed training. They will also enable the development of international benchmarks against which to evaluate and compare the status of professional development within and across countries.

Longitudinal studies investigating the scale-up of national reforms to teacher education will also help build a rigorous evidence base for policymakers on the sustainability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of field-based approaches compared to other forms of professional development.


In summary, there is a need to evaluate all the teacher professional development programmes being undertaken by the various donor agencies and assess their impact. There is also a need to create an environment where teachers can enthusiastically take up lifelong learning by providing the right incentives. Providing similar training to those almost exiting the profession together with those entering the profession might not provide the desired results. In all, there is a need to borrow best practices from around the world on this issue. Despite the foregoing, teacher professional development and lifelong learning remains very relevant in the fast-changing world requiring technological updating after every six months or less.


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The writer is a head teacher at Kirenga Primary School in Trans Nzoia County holding a doctorate in leadership