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We’re training the teachers of tomorrow, today

©VSO/Jeff DeKock

There are now more children in education than ever before, but millions are leaving school without basic reading or maths skills. The solution? We think it begins with better teacher training.

Cast your mind back to your school days. Everyone remembers that one great teacher, that stood out for going the extra mile, offering words of encouragement and support.

But now, imagine if that same teacher had been placed into a classroom of 50 students, with inadequate training and outdated teaching methods. How would they have coped?

In that environment, no teacher can truly flourish.

This is the reality for thousands of struggling teachers in developing countries, often battling education systems which haven’t received the investment needed.

Every student needs a teacher that will champion, inspire and believe in them. But how can teachers make a difference if they’re set up to fail? Even heroes need help.

The learning crisis

Research shows that if you have a really well qualified, highly skilled teacher, that will make the most difference to a child’s education.

Gwen Harris

Education Volunteer in Myanmar

Behind positive statistics showing more children in school than ever before, lies the truth that many children aren’t receiving a quality education that will set them up for life.

An estimated 617 million children are unable to reach minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics, even though two thirds of these children are in school.

And sadly, if you are a child with a disability or from an ethnic minority, you are far more likely to be left behind.

It’s clear that being in school isn’t enough. Schooling does not equal learning, and hundreds of millions of children reach adulthood without basic life skills.

Even heroes need help

Sixteen-year-old Zena Boko is a bright, ambitious student who just wants to go to school. However, where she lives in West Guji, Ethiopia, ethnic conflict displaced over 190,000 children last year, including herself.

Zena Boko, Age 16, Grade 8, smiles sitting in class having returned to school. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/Nahom Tesfaye

Zena Boko, 16, dropped out of school after her home was destroyed. Since returning to school, her teacher Mr Mideso has been given training in psychological support.

In May last year, Zena came home from school to find her house destroyed, and her family was forced to flee to a safer area.

Many of the displaced children have had their schooling interrupted, and Zena was no exception. However, she was determined to return to school.

Fortunately, her teachers were able to give her the support she needed.

“I am one of the smartest students in school and the teachers know this. They didn’t want me to stop learning.

"So, when exams were happening, my teacher called to check on me because I was not in school.”

VSO partnered with UNICEF to bring in experts in psychological support for a three-day intensive training for local educational experts, who shared this training with school teachers in conflict-affected areas.

Mohammed Mideso, chemistry teacher, took part in a UNICEF-supported training this summer that covered psychosocial support and emotional learning. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/Nahom Tesfaye

Chemistry teacher Mohammed Mideso was trained in psychosocial support and emotional learning.

Now, teachers are better equipped to respond to the emotional needs of the children – something not covered in Ethiopia’s regular teacher training.

Zena’s teacher, Mr Mideso, said, “When the students come to school they think about the conflict and the problems and pain it is causing.

“We are trying to change the students’ behaviours so they leave the problems behind when they come to school.”

The training has reached over 400 teachers – that’s 400 classrooms of children who now have teachers who can better respond to their students’ needs.

Change starts with a great teacher

Gwen Harris on her education placement in Myanmar with staff from the Ministry of Education ©VSO

Gwen Harris, centre, is here with members of staff from Myanmar's Ministry of Education.

In Myanmar, teachers have been using old-fashioned teaching methods for decades.

Teachers here have had little exposure to new teaching practices, ever since the country became closed off to the world in the 1960s.

Now, with the country opening up and a change of government, VSO volunteers are supporting Myanmar to overhaul its education system, and engaging children with more interactive teaching styles.

Gwen Harris, a volunteer who worked in education in the UK for over 30 years, is supporting the training of new teachers.

She says, “VSO is supporting the momentum for change in Myanmar, as the government brings in a new curriculum.

“Some children with different needs have been ignored and then fall out of the system. The better trained that teachers are, the better equipped they are to respond to children with different needs.

“Research shows that if you have a really well qualified, highly skilled teacher, that will make the most difference to a child’s education.”

Gwen’s right. There is a growing body of research that show that great education starts with great teachers. And, over the next five years of the project, teacher trainers will be supported to teach a brand new curriculum, which will reach every school in Myanmar.

Teaching the next generation

Improving education standards is essential to a happy and healthy society, says Gwen.

“There are all sorts of issues like health and wellbeing that are impacted by education - but also it’s about training children to meet the economic needs of this era.

“Children and young people of today are the future workforce of tomorrow.”

We need to equip teachers with the skills to realise the potential of every student in every village, in every city, in every country.

VSO volunteers are making sure no student is left behind.

From supporting education in every school in Rwanda, to giving teachers the technology to engage students in Malawi, you can read more about our groundbreaking work here: