The Virtual STEM project was carried out in two countries – Nigeria and Kenya by Co-creation Hub (CcHub) – Africa’s largest innovation institute. As of 2019, Nigeria and Kenya are respectively ranked first and fourth largest economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Although both countries have made progress in education since their individual independences, they both continue to face numerous problems including poor education infrastructure, insufficient teaching aids, paucity of quality of teachers and so on. These challenges have been compounded by the recent and ongoing global health crisis – Covid-19. Teachers have been at the forefront of the educational crises caused by the pandemic – with increased pressure to find innovative ways to maintain teaching and learning activities. Re:learn, the education practice of CcHub started the virtual STEM project to support schools and teachers with training and skills necessary for them to adopt and leverage on technology to improve education delivery.
PURPOSE OR GOAL
The Covid-19 pandemic led to the disruptions of regular teaching and learning activities across the world. The situation necessitated a change in traditional classroom delivery from face-to-face to online and/or blended learning using information and communications technologies (ICTs). Across the developed world, governments, schools and teachers rapidly mobilised and adopted several modern tools like mobile and web platforms to maintain learning activities with students. This is in stark contrast to most of the educational responses in developing countries which were centred on traditional radio and television stations broadcasting lessons to students. The difference in the education response could be attributed to two reasons, well documented in literature – lack of adequate infrastructure like internet and power, and two, the self-efficacy of teachers in using technology tools in teaching. Online delivery requires new pedagogical approaches, challenging previous practices with regards to assessment, group interaction and student/teacher dialogue. The use of Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) approach is encouraged in schools, as it has been shown to be an effective method for raising students’ motivation in STEM subjects and increasing their understanding of scientific concepts. Beyond the pandemic, teachers play a vital role in the skills development and training of young people. However, the teachers themselves need to be trained and supported to feel confident to nurture and mentor the young people they teach. Majority of the teachers in sub-Saharan Africa lack the basic skills needed to support the needed transition from traditional to online teaching. The Virtual STEM training program was aimed at providing support to train and educate in-service and pre-service teachers with the right skills, tools and teaching methodology while integrating the IBL approach to foster the continuous learning for their students while at home and in turn support teachers’ development. The goal of this research is to examine the impact of the programme and to evaluate the effectiveness of the project approach in delivering remote teaching training activities.
127 teachers participated in the project. Interested participants were asked to sign up through an online form and the final participants were selected based on the subject they teach (must be a teacher of either physics, chemistry or biology), the country they live in (must be from Nigeria or Kenya), and their teaching activities at the time (must be delivering some form of online teaching). The teachers were trained on science topics in physics, chemistry and biology with the use of WhatsApp using the Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) approach. This program design and approach is unique and innovative as it ensured a proven teaching methodology was delivered on a low-cost, low-tech platform to teachers. WhatsApp was chosen because of its simplicity of use, ease of access and its allowance for real-time interaction.
During the training sessions, the teachers engaged in 145 hours of learning engagement through 51 learning sessions and were trained on:
- IBL approach: This session introduced the teachers to the new teaching model and learnt about each phase of the IBL process.
- Collaboration in learning: Teachers learnt the art of using group activities as an approach to foster collaboration and cooperation amongst students while they learn online.
- Engaging learners effectively through IBL pedagogy: In this session, teachers were taught on how to use the IBL approach to engage their students in STEM curriculum.
- Critical thinking and creativity: In this session, teachers were given various online activities, which enabled them to apply a critical and creative way to solving different challenges.
At the end of the training sessions, the teachers were evaluated with the use of quantitative (questionnaire, feedback bingo) and qualitative (survey with open-ended questions, phone interviews) methods based on what they had learned.
- Teachers’ Awareness of IBL Approach: At the start of the intervention, the baseline results show that only 60% of the participants had heard about the IBL method. Of the 60%, half said they had once used it and only 12% said they used it regularly. Also, only 35% had an idea of the possible stages and strategies involved in the use of IBL. At the end of programme, results indicate that there was an increase in the awareness and knowledge of IBL amongst the teachers. All the teachers who participated developed awareness of the stages involved in IBL approach and indicated interest in adopting it in their classrooms. On a scale of 1 to 5, 3% rated their confidence level in using the IBL approach at 3, 64% rated their confidence level at 4 and 31% rated their confident at 5.
- Effective Content Delivery with WhatsApp: The training was conducted online using the WhatsApp platform. The teachers were asked in a survey on a scale of 1 to 5 how effective the use of WhatsApp was in delivering the training to them, 4% rated the effectiveness of WhatsApp as 2, 19% rated 3, 38% rated 4 and 38% rated 5. In terms of accessibility and availability to participate in the training, it was found that WhatsApp is an effective tool as 69% of the participants were able to participate and be active in about 80-100% of the training sessions and 31% were active in 50-70%. With respect to the general method of delivery on WhatsApp which includes using the IBL approach and delivering content and explaining topics and concepts using WhatsApp groups, on a scale of 1 to 5, 42% of the teachers rated 4 and 57% rated 5. This means WhatsApp is an acceptable and useful tool for online teaching and lesson delivery.
- Challenges with using WhatsApp: Even though the majority of the teachers accepted WhatsApp as a good tool for online training delivery, some pointed out issues with using WhatsApp. One particular issue pointed out was the difficulty in accessing course materials as it usually involved scrolling through a whole thread of WhatsApp messages to reach a particular material being sought for or if a person missed the class for the day and needed to read up what had been done.
IBL as an approach to teaching and learning has been employed extensively and widely accepted in teaching sciences in literature. In this study, teachers assumed the position of learners in a bid to understand the IBL approach and explore ways to use it in their online classrooms. Our findings show that the IBL approach presents an effective strategy to maximise the benefits on online learning, especially during a pandemic. Furthermore, the innovative use of a low-cost platform like WhatsApp has been seen to be a successful approach to training teachers and an effective alternative to face-to-face professional development for teachers, which would get increasingly difficult to organise in the current climate.
Inquiry-based learning, teacher training, STEM