African Education Survey:Science, Maths teachers hard to find

Posted on April 2, 2016 08:40 am

An African education survey conducted in 2015 covering 20 African countries show that Science and Maths classes are being taught by teachers untrained in those subjects in more than three quarters of schools surveyed, and more than 90 per cent of schools in some of the countries, according to a survey by an American think tank.The survey offers the snapshot of schools around the continent where the population is increasing at the fastest rates compared to any other region in the world.The survey revealed 82 per cent of the school principals who responded in the 20 countries and 96 per cent of school principals in some countries reported having maths and science classes taught by teachers who were not fully qualified in those specialist areas.The report, which surveyed more than 22,000 education professionals from across Africa on a range of issues, revealed 73 per cent of school principals were experiencing teacher shortages, up from 51 per cent in 2010.An African education expert I spoke to and who was among the researchers involved in the study said he was alarmed by the survey’s results.”In East African countries the problem is particularly acute, that is, 86 per cent of school principals reporting that they have classes in their schools in maths and science that are being taught by people who are not trained in maths and science,” he said.”When you’re a dedicated teacher, you want to make sure that you do the very best every day by every student and it really does require you to put in an enormous effort to teach yourself the content before you actually step into the classroom to teach students.”

A school principal in Zambia told me she knew what it felt like to stand before a classroom full of students and teach a subject outside of her speciality.In her time as a history and geography teacher in Botswana, she said she was asked to step in and fill a gap to teach maths.”There were students in that class who were so far ahead of me in their mathematics ability, even at Year 4,” the Zambia education consultant said.”What I found was that I was often just a day ahead of where the students were in terms of planning my lessons, getting up to date with the content and delivering.”A science teacher in Moshi in Kilimanjaro region of United Republic of Tanzania whom I sought views on the study told how when she first began teaching in 1995, she was given a scholarship aimed at encouraging maths and science graduates to enter a career in teaching. “So almost 21 years ago that was recognised as being a problem in United Republic of Tanzania,” she said. A teacher from Chinhoyi in Mashonaland Zimbabwe told me teachers have always been expected to fill in across other subject areas when gaps arise.However, she said the current lack of specialist maths and science teachers was a particularly problematic in whole of Zimbabwe. “It’s now getting to the point where there just aren’t enough science teachers to go around,” she said.

She said that in niche subject areas, it could be extremely difficult for someone not trained or experienced in that discipline to try and teach it.She added that even her coming from a science background, which is aligned to maths, when she had had to fill in as a maths teacher it was difficult.”I understand maths but I don’t believe I have the way that a qualified maths teacher or someone experienced in mathematics would have to make it interesting and relevant to the student,” she said.A scholar who works as an education researcher in Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola told me when I sent him an email on his thoughts regarding the survey and while there were problems, he said teachers in schools across the country did a good job of filling the gaps.”Our African countries systems aren’t broken, but they certainly could do with shot in the arm from government,” he said.He says there needed to be a focus on providing incentives for prospective teachers, and in particular making maths and science teaching an attractive option.”And there’s a whole range of ways that that can be done in terms of providing incentives for training, paying people’s so they can study that particular subject area,” the Welsh born researcher who taught my nephew at the university in Western Australia said.Overall, i think African countries can also look at ways that they can encourage existing teachers to take on additional study and retrain in these areas to help address the glaring challenge.

Contador Harrison