AfricaELTA / EVE Female Leadership programme

Since November 2021, I’ve been mentoring a teacher in Niger as part of the Female Leadership programme organised by AfricaELTA and EVE, coordinated by Amira Salama and Fiona Mauchline. 10 mentees from all over Africa worked with mentors from around the world, and 8 managed to complete the programme. These ladies were already leaders in their local areas, but the aim was to help them make their voices heard on an international stage, with the project working towards them doing their first presentation for Africa ELTA. They have worked so hard over the last 3 months to put together their presentations.

It’s been a privilege to work with Hadiza on her presentation, and to see how much all of the women involved in the project (both mentors and mentees) have learnt over the last few months. I look forward to seeing what our mentees go on to do in the future as their impact grows in ELT, and hope to be involved in future iterations of the project.

Here are the videos of the two sets of presentations. Each presentation was about 15 minutes long, with a question and answer session afterwards.

Part 1 (presentations 1-4):

Part 2 (presentations 5-8):

[pending link]

These are brief summaries of the presentations, which took place on 5th and 12th February 2022.

Raising Awareness of Global Issues through Reading and Listening Comprehension – Marie-Clemence Bance, Burkina-Faso

Marie-Clemence shared examples of lessons she has taught with students which brought global issues into her classroom.

The Tragedy of Migrants was one lesson she put together to combine different skills in a lesson which was motivating and engaging for her students as they knew it was about an issue which was relevant to people they knew. The history and geography teacher mentioned that the students had were able to use ideas from their English classes in their humanities lesson.

Due to a lesson about plastic waste her students asked her if they could collect plastic from the schoolyard afterwards, and told Marie-Clemence that they would encourage their peers not to throw away plastic.

Other lesson topics included a lesson about education for girls, which is a major issue in Burkina Faso, especially in areas controlled by terrorists. For the first lesson when students returned to class after the pandemic, her students were already prepared to talk about the pandemic because they knew that’s what the lesson would be about!

Bringing Poetry Alive – Iyabo Adebimpe Akintola, Nigeria

Iyabo talked about how she uses poems in her classroom to develop critical thinking. She shared a thought-provoking poem called ‘Not my business’ by Niyi Osundare. She starts by telling students about the poet, the setting and why the poet wrote this work. She then reads the poem aloud, and encourages students to do the same. Then she encourages students to notice patterns in the poem, and look for literary devices like similes, metaphors and personification.

Challenges for girls attaining early literacy: the role of teachers – Claudia Duedu, Ghana

Claudia chose this topic because of watching her single mum bring up her and her sister. These are some of the statistics from Ghana:

She talked about many different causes for these issues: late enrolment, unqualified teachers, high illiteracy level, teenage pregnancy, sexual violence in school, overburdening girls with household chores, foster parenting (girls being sent from rural homes to relatives in towns, but who are then not sent to school or supported with their education) and menstruation. These causes were from Worldbank and UNESCO reports in 2021.

Due to all of these issues, there are many knock-on effects: comprehension difficulties, problems with oral expression, poor academic performance, low self-esteem, absenteeism, dropping out of school, social vices, and girls being forced to repeat years and ending up out of grade.

Claudia mentioned recommendations which teachers could follow to support children to build their literacy:

  • Improvise materials based on what you have – for example, writing letters on bottle tops which the children can manipulate.
  • Ask people to donate newspapers they have finished with, or publishing companies to donate materials they don’t need.
  • Get simple grade-specific internet materials and print them on small cards which students can use.
  • Play-based methodology – integrating play into your lesson to achieve your lesson objectives.
  • Use age-appropriate materials. For example, books based on their reading abilities.
  • Continue your own Professional Development, and join Communities of Practice. As Claudia said, “The 21st century teacher is the one who is willing to keep learning.”
  • Mentorship – this enthuses both adults and children. Each teacher could mentor one girl at a time – this is something Claudia has been doing for a while. If girls realise that somebody cares about their development, they benefit a lot. They also get support and sponsorship from local organisations.
  • Supplemental learning – giving extra teaching to girls who need it.
  • Community engagement – get the community involved. Talk to parents, chiefs, community leaders to talk about the development of their communities.

This was the quote Claudia finished with:

Using Technology to Teach Creative Writing: Creating a Storyboard – Lzuchukwu Light Chime, Nigeria

Light talked about making storyboards using Google Slides as a tool for creative writing. She starts by changing the format of the slide too 11 x 8″ (like a portrait piece of paper). She adds squares and arrows to indicate the possible structure of a story, which can then be used by students to think up a story. They can add text, pictures, or a combination to help them plan their story. Here’s one example:

Light recommends using Google Slides because it is easy to create and share frameworks with students, and they can edit them themselves. These are her steps:

  • Think of ideas
  • Write first draft
  • Get feedback
  • Rewrite
  • Proofread
  • Publish

She says you can also use Zoom, Canva or WhatsApp for similar storyboarding. This is an example from Zoom:

Excerpts from a WhatsApp storyboard:

If you have no technology, Light says that you can also create storyboards with post-it notes, as a template on A4 paper, as circles in the sand outdoors, and as group work.

Creative writing stimulates the imagination, brings the real world into the classroom, engages and encourages critical thinking, allows active learning, helps students to see possibilities, and lets them see progress. It involves students not just as writers, but as editors, and giving them the chance to give feedback to each other.

ICT usage in EFL teaching in Niamey secondary schools – Amou Ali Hadizatou, Niger

I’ve worked with Hadiza since November to help her to run some small-scale research using Google Forms, then summarise it in a presentation. Due to internet problems, I was sharing her slides during the presentation so wasn’t able to write about it as she was presenting, but here’s my summary.

Niamey is the capital of Niger, where Hadiza lives. When the COVID pandemic started, teachers were forced online, but many of them were very reluctant. Hadiza wanted to find out about Niamey EFL teachers’ general attitudes to ICT and some of the reasons for this reluctance. She got 26 responses to her survey. Some of her interesting findings:

  • 65% of respondents had access to a smartphone, and 50% had access to a computer.
  • 85% use ICT in their teaching, but only 30% do so frequently.
  • Many teachers were reluctant to use ICT because of a lack of availability, poor network connections, and student attitudes, as some of them try to cheat.
  • Teachers are also concerned about their own lack of digital literacy compared to the students.
  • Despite this, teachers recognise how useful ICT can be in teaching, making lessons engaging, helping with time management and giving access to tools like online dictionaries.

In the Q&A, Hadiza talked about including parents and the community in making ICT available to the students, for example by lending students their smartphones.

Hadiza uses mp3s to introduce other accents to the classroom via videos. She doesn’t have internet access in the classroom, so she downloads materials before the lesson to be able to use them.

In her school, students aren’t supposed to bring phones into lessons. Hadiza spoke to the headmaster, told him what she wanted to use phones for in the lessons and was given permission, as long as she asks students to switch their phones off before they go to other teachers’ lessons.

Creative Writing: An important spice in the classroom dish – Joan Kumako, Ghana

Why is it that so many educational systems develop such unimaginative approaches to teaching?

A paraphrase of a quote Joan shared

Creative writing is an art, producing texts with an aesthetic purpose expressing the author’s voice uniquely. It can be poetry, drama, prose (short stories, fiction, novellas), movies and songs.

Some techniques:

  • Brainstorming
  • Small groups / whole class activities
  • Role play
  • Dialogue
  • Drama
  • Story / poem-writing activities

Creative writing is important to help students develop many skills: creativity, imagination, critical thinking and problem-solving. It’s also important for cultural preservation, development and transformation. It allows learners’ self-discovery and self-expression.

As an example activity: What impression does this image suggest to you?

This is what Joan did:

  • Brainstorm words the picture suggests in whole class
  • Write words on the board
  • Put students into small groups (which helps to encourage those who might be more reluctant)
  • Students select a few of the words that interest them the most
  • Allow students to create a poem with their words
  • Let students share poems with the rest of the class
  • Paste the poems on the classroom wall or notice board as a form of motivation for students

Here’s an example of their poems:

There were more great poems in the presentation – to see them, you can watch the video (link at the top – about 35 minutes in).

After this, students came to hear and told her they wanted to write more poems: ‘Madam, I want to write a poem about love’ 🙂

Impromptu Meeting that Revealed Girls’ Untapped Potentials: Creating Unlikely Leaders – Oliver Kimathi, Tanzania

When observing her students, Oliver noticed the girls seemed shy, seemed to lack confidence and had no confidence to lead (both in the classroom and beyond). There was also higher truancy among girls. All of these factors led to poor performance.

As a result, Oliver conducted an impromptu meeting to bring girls together to think about how to address some of the challenges they faced: education, leadership, early pregnancy, and menstruation (a highly sensitive topic). This meeting led to the idea of creating a Girls Empowerment Club, involved both girls and boys.

She conducted a needs analysis to find out from the girls:

  • what challenges the girls faced
  • their needs
  • their strengths
  • the role of their parents and traditions in their life
  • what they know
  • what they want to know

Information is powerful.

The children read stories about female leaders. Girls and boys work as a team to think about how to uplift girls in the community. They learn new skills like cooking, making detergents, and how to conserve the environment. They learnt how to make cakes (not common in their area), and more about how to create employment opportunities.

Public speaking is also worked on – the girls feel more confident about talking in public, improve their speaking and listening skills, and improve their English skills. English is introduced at secondary schools.

Students are also able to talk about menstruation freely and have learnt about reusable sanitary pads. They are working on breaking the taboo against menstruation. Everything in their reusable sanitary pad kit is locally available, and can last for 2-3 years. Reusable sanitary pads was an idea brought to the club by a student who took part in a project outside the country and then shared it with the group.

The clubs improve the students’ team work skills, helping them to identify challenges, find solutions, be creative and improve their English language skills. It has promoted freedom of expression, increased their confidence and boldness, improved attendance, encouraged girls to participate in school leadership, shared resources, and raised girls’ academic performance.

Members of the club had a booth at a wider event at a university with attendees from six different countries, sharing the books they read, the menstrual pads, and the success of the club. This helped them with networking, and motivated girls to want to go to university. Most of the club members from the first group are now at university, and have started girls empowerment clubs of their own.

Empowering girls at schools makes sense because they fight for their education.

Tanya Lee Stone, 2017

This is an amazing project, and I recommend you watch the full video to learn more about it and see the photos. There was also a long Q&A (around 65 minutes in) covering many interesting areas, like parents’ responses to the clubs and how Oliver got boys involved.

The value of pre-reading activities in teaching reading – Patricia Keageletse Sechogela, South Africa

Why is it important for learners to read?

We can communicate through reading, we can enjoy reading, and we can extend reading beyond the classroom, encouraging learners to read at home too. This will help them to become more critical and fluent readers.

Through reading we can learn about what happens around us and around the world. Reading doesn’t stop – it continues throughout our lives.

We use reading to learn the content of other subjects.

Why use pre-reading activities?

We can pre-teach new vocabulary.

It gives learners a purpose for reading.

It can motivate and engage them, preparing them to read.

Examples of pre-reading activities

  • Brainstorming
  • Discussing the title
  • Discussing new words
  • Looking at pictures
  • Prediction activities
  • Pre-teaching vocab games (like Pictionary)

How can we motivate learners to read?

Teach reading strategies, including peer reading and silent reading.

Model positive reading habits.

Create a book club.

Let learners choose their own books.

If learners aren’t motivated, try to identify why they are reluctant. For example, they might lack phonological awareness. Give them books which are easy for their level to improve their confidence, so that they feel willing to try by themselves.

A writer only begins a book.

A reader finishes it.

Samuel Johnson

What a great quote to finish these Africa ELTA and EVE Female Leadership presentations on!

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Africa

This was the first IATEFL where I saw talks which mentioned Africa at all. I know there must have been related talks at the previous conferences I was at, but they didn’t cross my radar. This year I had no choice but to notice them, as the Monday and Tuesday plenaries were both about the continent, and what a perfect choice that was.

The justice and imperative of girls’ secondary school education – a model of action – Ann Cotton

Ann Cotton’s plenary was truly inspiring and got a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. She described the evolution of the organisation which was to become Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education.

Camfed logo

Back in the early 1990s, Ann was doing university research which involved her visiting a Tonga village in Zimbabwe to find out why girls’ educational attainment was so low. What she saw there surprised her. Contrary to the standard belief that girls weren’t sent to school for cultural reasons, she actually discovered that poverty is the main barrier to girls’ education. The people in the village she visited had been moved there by the government when a dam was built, away from the river they depended on for their livelihood and to land which was not suitable for resettlement. To force people into the cash economy, the government also imposed many different taxes, like a hut tax, a dog tax, and a requirement for a fishing license if they wanted to use the nearby lake for food. There was food aid for the first two years, but after that the people were on their own. In order to meet the economic needs of their families, boys needed to be educated as a priority because they were likely to be able to earn more money later. When Ann arrived, there were seven boys for every one girl at the school. Although Zimbabwe had made huge strides in its education system after desegregation, there was still a long way to go to achieve true equality. It wasn’t that the Tonga people did not want to educate girls, but that they were forced to prioritise boys’ education because of the local economic situation.

They were making the only decisions they could on the basis of economics and survival.

When girls are poorly educated, it has many knock-on effects, including high infant mortality and the exclusion of women from the economy and decision-making. If a girl leaves school young, she will probably marry very soon afterwards because her family will struggle to sustain her financially. Both her and their security depends on her finding a husband. This means she’s likely to become pregnant while still a teenager, and in the villages Ann visited, she would be far away from medical services. If she had trouble during labour, she would be taken to a hospital two hours away for free medical treatment. However, if she died, the family would have to pay for the return of her body, leading to some incredibly difficult decisions. Some families chose not to let their daughters go to the hospital because they wouldn’t be able to get the body back afterwards if anything happened. The people at the clinic thought this meant families didn’t care about their daughters, but again poverty was the true underlying cause.

You have to make the decision that makes the best economic sense.

In all of the research she had done, she had never met the idea that poverty was a potential reason for girls not being sent to school. In fact, there was a huge desire for education, and this inspired Ann to try to do something about it. She felt completely out of her depth, but she knew it needed wider consideration. She abandoned her studies, and started to go to organisations to explain what she’d found, but she met repeated resistance and minds closed to the idea that there might be another explanation for educational and health issues.

When Ann returned to the Tonga village, the chief was very surprised to see her. They called a meeting about how to get more girls in school, and Ann was amazed when hundreds of people turned up. The chief sent out the word to local villages, and when the people came it proved that they really wanted their daughters to be educated. The chief provides the bridge between the traditional world and the modern world, and is trusted by the tribe. They built a committee to decide how to progress, including the chief, educators, people from the health system and the mothers’ support group, ensuring that women were represented in the decision-making too. The Camfed model endeavours to understand the girls’ lives both inside and outside school to make the system fit the child.

The child is at the centre of everything.

They draw on the social capital of the people in the tribe and of the girls who have been educated thanks to Camfed to strengthen their model. For example, there have recently been severe floods in Malawi which is likely to lead to severe problems with food as the year goes on. Camfed has been providing food which local mothers distribute. They are all illiterate or semi-literate, but can decide who needs extra food based on observing the way the children eat, without needing any tests or scientific basis for their decisions. Ann also mentioned learning a lot from James Rebanks in the book The Shepherd’s Life [affiliate link], where he talked about how much he has learnt from talking to semi-literate people. These are examples of ‘knowledge capital’ and show us that a lack of literacy does not mean a lack of intelligence, and that in fact some knowledge can be lost as the world becomes more literate.

Shepherd tending his flock
Image by Biegun Wschodni from Unsplash

There is an intense arrogance in seeing poor people as potential data points.

It’s important for us to gather information about the situation related to girls’ education. However, we need to be sensitive in how we do this and ensure that the data is returned to the community so that it can be used fully: often it goes up the system and the community never have access to it. Ann gave examples of the power of data to acknowledge and change behaviour. By demonstrating to families how the changes they had made in their approach to girls’ education had impacted on their lives, the communities felt hugely positive and were more likely to continue with these changes.

From a small start, they have grown and grown. In 1991, they supported 32 girls to get an education. In 2014, it was 1.2 million. There is now also a sister organisation called ‘CAMA’ made up of the alumni of Camfed, who are supporting more girls in their turn: 63,274 so far. The organisation spread to Ghana, and now works in five different countries, including Muslim communities where people said the system wouldn’t work. On the contrary: everyone wants their children to be educated!

Camfed has also worked to provide role models. Because nobody from the local tribes had got through the education system, none of the teachers spoke the tribal language. At secondary school, English was the language of education, and the children had had no exposure to it outside the classroom. One of the first things Camfed did was work to reduce the entry requirements for Tonga people to go to teacher training college. As well as the language barrier, there’s also a barrier in the metaphors and examples the children are expected to understand. In collaboration with women from CAMA and Pearson, they are working on materials to reflect the children’s experience more closely, to reduce the feeling of detachment and remoteness of the educational environment the children were entering. ‘Learner Guides’ are the bridge between these two areas. They are young secondary school graduates who work with teachers, bridging the gap between the ‘imported’ teacher and the local children. Because the learner guides are from the local community, they can help with the language, dealing with large class sizes, moderating materials, and providing a friendly face for the children when they come to the school. Parents can see their daughters progressing and earning respect in the local community, with teacher training college being considered the next step.

Ann gave some inspiring examples of some of the girls who have come through the Camfed system, entrepreneurs, doctors, and even a member of a UN advisory committee. Because of their backgrounds, they understand poverty in a way nobody else can, and they are more able to make changes because there is a bridge to their communities. Their communities celebrate them and are proud of them: they are not trying to hold them back at all.

They emerge as extraordinary global leaders who are fighting for change for others like them. What a loss to the world if they had not been educated!

Ann finished with these words:

When everyone thinks the way you do, it’s time to think differently.

Mark Twain

Ann’s slides and handout are available along with the session details on the IATEFL online site here. I would strongly recommend watching her plenary, because my summary does not do justice to it at all:

You can also read a summary by Lizzie Pinard.

ELT in difficult circumstances: Challenges, possibilities and future directions – Harry Kuchah

Apart from a brief stint volunteering at my old primary school when I was 18, and two months at a primary school in Borneo, all of my teaching has been at private language schools, where the largest classes had 16 students. More than half of the classes I’ve taught have had fewer than six students. The majority of the reading I do about ELT deals with similar situations, with the occasional diversion into primary or secondary contexts with up to forty students. I always knew that this was not the reality for many teachers and thought it must be very difficult to teach huge classes, with little chance of seeing progress in your students. Until Harry Kuchah’s plenary on the final day of IATEFL, I never really understood how teachers managed in this situation. He had an inspiring and positive message, and one which I hope to see more of at future conferences.

Harry was the recipient of a Hornby scholarship to study an MA in the UK in 2006. He learnt a lot, but it wasn’t always easy to apply to his context. Even the ‘difficult circumstances’ described in the literature he read were a far cry from his context. He’s from Cameroon, a country with 258 languages and tribes, where French and English are the mediums of instruction. As well as being a teacher, he works for the Ministry of Education as an inspector. The average teacher to pupil ratio is 1:72. It used to be 1:125! This doesn’t take into account the fact that subject teachers teach consecutively, not concurrently, so the maths teacher and the English teacher count as two teachers in the ratio, even though they will actually teach classes that are twice the size (125 each, not 63) one after the other. Many teachers also prefer to stay in urban areas, so rural classes are larger too. Seven or eight students share a single textbook, and three or four sit at a desk designed for two. The ‘Education for All’ movement has led to an increase in the number of pupils at schools, but no corresponding increase in the infrastructure available to educate them. Other initiatives from the ministry, mainly due to the offer of finance from interested third parties, have meant that teachers are constantly required to change their methodology: there have been 12 required changes in pedagogy since 2000, almost entirely influenced by Western pedagogy. It’s impossible to keep up with this rate of change. Teachers are constantly told that they need new training, but there is little or no acknowledgement of the effort they put in. There is severe danger of burnout.

In Harry’s classroom he had 235 teens in a classroom designed for 60. Temperatures regularly reached 46 degrees. Through a process of negotiation with his students, they decided to move outside, and started to have lessons under the trees. They decided that the best thing would be if all of them became teachers, and they worked collaboratively to help each other. His children didn’t have books, so they found texts and produced their own materials. As the teacher, Harry’s role was to check that the texts students brought to him were relevant to the syllabus. You can find examples of the materials he used and his students created on the IATEFL site, for example, a poem they wrote based on Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. I’d highly recommend looking at them: in most cases, the first text is the sample, and the second is what the students produced in response to it, often with much longer and more complex language as they enriched their texts. Another idea was to take pictures students drew in response to a text in one class into another class, with the second class writing original texts based on the pictures. During the plenary, Harry showed us a video of one of his students telling a story based on these pictures: as well as the complexity of the language the child produced, what particularly struck me was the noise of the class. I find it hard to imagine being able to concentrate, having come from the luxury of quiet environments. The materials the students created served as a diagnostic tool for ‘accuracy therapy’ (I love this metaphor!) Harry published his story with Richard Smith in 2011.

English is the life-giving language for many people in the world.

Learners are partners. We can share the burden of low resources with the students, no matter how young they are.

Based on his own experience and the lack of correlation with what he had studied on the MA, Harry decided to do more research. The changes in pedagogy which teachers had imposed on them were confusing and often irrelevant to their context.

Context-appropriate pedagogy needs to be developed across the world.

Harry defines this as:

  1. The aspects of practice which are considered good by teachers (and students, I think – didn’t have that in my tweet!)
  2. Doable within that context
  3. Worth doing within that context

In order to facilitate the development of a pedagogy which is appropriate to the situation in Cameroon, Harry asked teachers and students for their opinions about good/appropriate practice within their context. He conducted interviews with teachers and students, observed classes, and videoed lessons which teachers felt were successful. As a follow-up, he watched the videos in workshop groups with 30 teachers, and fed in information from his interviews with students too. It was the first time this kind of discussion of learning had taken place for any of these teachers or students, and it had a very positive effect, since it emerged that teachers and students didn’t always agree about what was ‘good’. This was an eye-opener for some of the teachers, and led to changes in their approach. For example, one teacher believed that group-work would be too chaotic in his class of 87, then saw a video of it happening in a class of 120, with the children saying how much they got out of it, and was inspired to try it out. Another teacher said they used to underestimate their pupils, but realised they could do more than they thought because of the workshops.

Many of these practices also contrasted with what was recommended by the Ministry of Education, and Harry saw a huge difference between the lesson plans he was given before the class and what unfolded in front of him. Teachers told him that they write the plans to satisfy requirements by following the model they are told to use, but this is rarely what they do in class. The challenges they faced and the huge rate of change meant that many of them employ ‘survival teaching strategies’, which often do not respect the recommendations of the ministry.

Harry believes that teachers are more likely to accept pedagogic innovation when it is seen to come from their colleagues and/or their context, rather than being imposed from above. As a result of this, he is now working with the teachers of the Cameroon teaching association, CAMELTA, to do ‘teaching association research’. After a plenary, 170 teachers wrote three possible research questions each. Working with the IATEFL Research Special Interest Group (RESIG), a questionnaire was created on the basis of these questions and sent out to teachers in CAMELTA, asking for one problem the teachers face in their classroom, solutions they have tried, and whether they work. The idea is to build a bank of knowledge specific to the context which other teachers can draw on. This is still in progress, but they already have 504 responses, with more coming in all the time. The teachers involved feel a sense of ownership, and are participating in research and building knowledge in a way that they wouldn’t have time to do as individuals.

In conclusion, we need to:

  • Create an enabling environment, rather than just telling teachers what to do and how to do it;
  • Incorporate the perspectives of both teachers and students;
  • Negotiate the divergence between these perspectives through critical reflection;
  • …and last, but not least: Focus on the positives and appreciate teachers’ efforts.

Harry’s slides and handout are available along with the session details on the IATEFL online site here. Again, I would highly recommend watching his plenary yourself:

Talk English: from CELTA to volunteer ESOL in South Africa – Julie Douglas

The third talk I went to connected to Africa was about a volunteer teaching project helping .

Julie and one of her colleagues did the CELTA at IH Durban in 2005. At the end of the course, they discovered that many of the students who were coming to the free teaching practice classes wouldn’t be able to continue studying English because they couldn’t afford it. With the support of IH Durban, they started offering free classes to anyone who wants them, particularly refugees who need English to start their new lives in Durban. This has developed into a project called Talk English, which has gone from strength to strength, but still needs the support of as many volunteers and financial backers as possible. You can find out more and donate through their website.

Taken together

These three talks have changed my vision of how English teaching is done in Africa. I wish all three of the speakers continued luck with their projects. I fully intend for my future Kiva loans to go to Camfed projects. I would like teaching association research to take off as context-specific methodology is sorely needed in so many places. Finally, I hope that Talk English finds the permanent location it is searching for and the money to fund it.