STEM teachers Gratien Gasasira and Marie Solange Nyirazaninka share how their training in Educational Mentorship and Coaching has equipped them with effective tools and skills to initiate and facilitate continuous professional development activities at their schools.
In November 2019, the University of Rwanda – College of Education and Rwanda Education Board graduated more than 1,400 in-service teachers and school leaders in partnership with VVOB and the Mastercard Foundation through Leaders in Teaching. The graduates had successfully completed continuous professional development (CPD) programmes: a diploma course in Effective School Leadership for school leaders and a certificate course in Educational Mentorship and Coaching for school-based mentors and STEM subject leaders.
The course in Educational Mentorship and Coaching consists of two modules, which are offered over the course of four weekends. The first module focuses on coaching, mentoring, communities of practice (CoP) and induction activities. The second module is dedicated to the pedagogy of teaching STEM, which is centred around the 5Es: Engage/excite, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.
Finding solutions and 2 additional Es
STEM subject leaders and school-based mentors learn to establish and facilitate CoPs, a platform to discuss common challenges, learn from each other and identify contextualised ways forward. For Ms Nyirazaninka who teaches mathematics at G.S Rutoma, a 9-year basic education school in Rwamagana district, communities of practice were new to her.
“Before I attended the training STEM teachers would meet to discuss issues in general, without a clear strategy to find solutions. Now, we identify issues, prioritise them, and then set activities to solve one issue at a time. For instance, we resolved the issue of conducting experiments: we now make use of the science laboratory of a neighbouring school since our school doesn’t have one. This has increased the love for science among our students,” she said.
Small efforts, big impact
Having completed the certificate course in Educational Mentorship and Coaching, Biology Subject Leader Mr Gasasira at G.S Gahini secondary school in Kayonza district, is now working with his colleagues to address challenges together:
“We didn’t have such things called ‘community of practice’ nor ‘induction of new teachers’ at our school! These concepts were new to me! Since we introduced communities of practice especially for STEM teachers we have managed to address a number of issues: classroom- management, handling students, elaborating effective lesson plans, and other activities. We realised that none of us were paying much attention to those issues and yet they didn’t require extra efforts to be solved—most of them are under our control as teachers. We simply need to come together, identify them and plan activities to overcome them.”
“New teachers would face different challenges but there was no formal way to induct them. Since one of my colleagues and I attended the training we approach new teachers and they can also approach us whenever they face any challenge.”
Mr Gasasira also learnt that there are alternative ways to teach science. “We were relying on imported laboratory reagents in our science laboratory. However, we learnt that locally available substances can also be used to perform the same experiments. So, we started using potatoes, maize, beans, avocado, eggs to conduct food experiments. Students understand better when you perform experiments using things they are familiar with, things they use/eat in their everyday life. This increases their passion for science”.
YES to girls in science
Many girls in Rwanda hesitate to choose STEM-related fields out of the belief that STEM is a subject for boys. Some girls are also reluctant to choose those subjects since they believe that they are difficult subjects. Teachers have the power to change those beliefs. That is why the certificate course also includes a unit on gender.
When Ms Nyirazaninka attended the certificate course she decided to encourage and inspire girls to choose for STEM: “I was not paying much attention to whether my students like/appreciate STEM subjects. However, when my colleagues and I investigated, we realised that some students - mostly girls - would be absent during maths class as well as during other STEM classes. Some of the students said they don’t like science subjects, especially maths, and that’s why they stay home on the days these subjects are taught.”
Ms Nyirazaninka and her colleagues involved the school management and decided to create science groups for girls to stimulate them to choose STEM. “In those groups, girls are given STEM exercises and assignments and they are encouraged to ask any question they have. Other than the girls’ science groups, we now also provide small gifts such as pens and notebooks to the best performing students (boys and girls) in science. Since we initiated this, students’, especially girls’, performance has increased,” explained Ms Nyirazaninka.
“My father was a teacher and inspired me to like science. He would help me to do my homework, especially mathematics. I always tell my students, especially girls, that they can choose for STEM fields just like I did,” she said.
The CPD training programmes are offered in primary and secondary schools in 17 districts through VVOB’s five-year programme: Leading, Teaching and Learning Together (2017-2021).