Exploring Teacher Training and Support: Session 2 of the RISE Annual Conference 2023

Session 2 of the RISE Annual Conference 2023 highlighted teacher training and support, and the complexity of the relationships and interactions that impact learning.


Image of Lillie Kilburn

Lillie Kilburn

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

In 2022, the RISE Programme included “support teaching” as one of its five actions needed to accelerate the world’s progress in learning. RISE’s Policy Brochure further detailed two key aspects of supporting teaching:

  • Reforming teacher career paths and compensation structures to attract, retain, and motivate quality teaching, and
  • Refocusing professional development on the craft of the teaching profession, ensuring that teachers receive ongoing support to build specific content knowledge and pedagogical skills.

Session 1 of the RISE Annual Conference 2023 explored the first of these elements, as we discussed in a previous blog. In this piece, we’ll explore Session 2, which focused on the second aspect: teacher training and support.

Exploring Teacher Training and Support

Clare Leaver, former RISE Research Coordinator and current Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, chaired Session 2. In her introduction, she noted that while Session 1 explored ways of supporting teachers, teaching, and the teaching profession through career structures and motivation, Session 2 was designed to explore the role of teacher support more explicitly, mostly through the topic of teacher training.

Does Effective School Leadership Improve Student Progression and Test Scores? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Malawi

Starting off Session 2 was Salman Asim of the World Bank, discussing an intervention in Malawi focused on school leadership (video). In the literature, Asim said, school leadership has major effects on resource use, teacher effort, and aligning policies with curricula. However, most of this evidence comes from middle-income and high-income countries.

Asim explained that in the Malawian context, challenges in the education system include high repetition of grades, low learning outcomes, and issues in school management such as low utilisation of resources such as textbooks. Could a school leadership training programme help schools to maximise their use of teacher resources and improve teaching practices and school culture?

A multi-phase training programme, including a ten-day intensive training and follow-up visits, of headteachers and other school managers focused on facilitating just this kind of improvement, with the goal of ultimately improving learning. And, indeed, learning outcomes did improve, especially for students whose scores had been below the median at baseline. The suspected mechanism was that school leaders had improved their provision of remedial classes.

Why Programs Fail: Lessons for Improving Public Service Quality from a Mixed-Methods Evaluation of an Unsuccessful Teacher Training Program in Nepal

Next in the session was Paul Glewwe of the University of Minnesota, sharing quite different results from a mixed methods study combining a randomised control trial of nationwide in-service teacher training in Nepal with qualitative research to investigate the mechanisms behind the results (video). This two-week training aimed to instruct secondary mathematics and science teachers about ways of teaching these concepts in an interactive, tangible manner involving demonstrations and local materials.

As it turned out, this programme had no positive impact on student learning. In fact, any effects appeared to be negative. Through the qualitative research component, Glewwe identified five potential weaknesses in the programme:

  • Low rates of teacher participation
  • The material and preparation provided to the trainers might have been insufficient
  • Some teacher content knowledge and skills might have been missing
  • Little motivation or support for a real change in teaching practice was provided
  • Some students’ content knowledge and skills might not have matched the complexity level of the material in the training.

Glewwe’s conclusion was that service providers needed both motivation and ongoing supports such as time to prepare lessons and teacher resources for trainers. To learn more about the programme and the findings of the qualitative research component, take a look at Glewwe’s slide deck.

RISE and Refine: Diagnosing Teacher Management Policies and Practices in Jordan

Third in Session 2, Lindsay Brown of New York University Global TIES for Children discussed what happened when the ERICC (Education Research in Conflict and Protracted Crisis) consortium partnered with the Queen Rania Foundation to employ the RISE Education Systems Diagnostic to examine teacher management in Jordan (video).

One-third of Jordan’s population are refugees, Brown explained. About half of these refugees are Syrian and have arrived since the Syrian war began in 2011. The resulting doubling in size of the school-age population immensely strained school systems, which responded by instituting a two-shift system in which Jordanian children went to school in the morning and refugee children, mostly Syrian children, went to school in the afternoon.

The diagnostic found policy incongruences including major differences in management of teachers in the two shifts: teachers in the morning shift are salaried and employed by the national ministry of education, while teachers in the second shift are employed ad-hoc or month-to-month by regional ministries. The diagnostic also found tension and confusion as to who had the authority for supervision and evaluation of teaching practice.

Brown suggested that for crisis contexts, the diagnostic should also consider the influence of global actors as well as NGOs and donors.

The Fragmentation of Local Government and Education Performance—Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Tanzania

The last presentation in Session 2 was from James Habyarimana of Georgetown University, formerly a Researcher on the RISE Tanzania team (video).

Habyarimana explained that over the past thirty years there has been a trend in middle- and low-income countries of administrative unit fragmentation and decentralisation of service delivery. Tanzania experienced the same pattern between 2011 and 2019 as its districts fragmented, resulting in over 50 percent more districts in existence at the end of the process.

The literature about the impact of this sort of fragmentation is ambiguous. But did it improve learning outcomes in Tanzania?

There was a small increase in test scores in the years after a district was split, peaking about three years after the split. However, it seemed this might have been because districts were reducing the number of children taking the tests at those points. It also seems that districts with new headquarters were driving those small gains in learning. Ultimately, said Habyarimana, it might be difficult to know the extent to which gains were due to district splits because a reform called “Big Results Now” was being implemented at the same time and might have been responsible for some portion of the learning gains.

Takeaways from Session 2

Session 2 really demonstrated the importance of systems thinking in education when it comes to teacher training and support. These presentations showed the complexity of the relationships and interactions that impact learning. Trainings that were implemented more as an isolated piece, lacking alignment with other components of the system, might not be as successful as trainings that were implemented in a long-term way that aligned with the system.

Catch up with more from the RISE Annual Conference

If you’re keen to catch up with more research and findings from the RISE Annual Conference, recordings all of the conference sessions are available in our 2023 conference playlist on YouTube. You can also check out the conversations that happened online during the conference via our #RISEConf2023 hashtag on X (formerly Twitter).

RISE blog posts and podcasts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.