“The more I come to Togo, the more I begin to understand the enormous difficulties facing teachers. In a CP1 class in Bedjeme, for example, the two teachers’ indigenous language is Ewe while all their students only speak Kabye.[i] A comparison would be as if I were asked to teach all school subjects in French to Chinese students who did not speak a single word of English or French. Many might consider such a difference in language insurmountable.”
Simon Carette, SET Director after his 2021 trip to SET schools in southern Togo
Living as we do on a planet with increasing problems, often perceived as insurmountable, we might consider how the Togolese refuse to quit, faced as they are with innumerable challenges. When it comes to education for the average child those challenges of poverty, illiteracy, and language converge. Nevertheless, Togolese teachers continue to dedicate themselves to changing the lives of their students and in turn, the direction of their country.
To support education in Togo, SET made the leap from building schools to assist some of these dedicated teachers in building up their pedagogical skills. To do so, the SET Board chose six CP1 (grade one) classes in different SET schools. In 2019 the teachers of those classes including the intern teachers and the school principals attended a three-day workshop on literacy teaching. To reinforce teacher learning, this group received additional support through regular interaction with Jean-Paul Mlope, a professor of literacy at the Togo Teachers’ College, working half-time for SET.
A year after implementing and practising the new literacy methodology the pilot project teachers’ were astounded.
In a video interview, long-time CP1 teacher, Essohana Mizou remarked on the large evolution of skills within the classroom. “At the end of this year the students could recognize simple words whereas in the past CP1 kids couldn’t read anything. The new technique of teaching really improves the time the children spend in school.”
Clement Komi Adon has worked for four years as an intern teacher in a CP1 class and says, “I want to express deep thanks to SET and their supporters for the invaluable help they have given us. The much improved reading results don’t just come from what I learned in the workshop but also from the help Jean-Paul has given me through his observation and suggestions.”
Such spoken assessments are one way of measuring success. However, the SET Board wanted data showing whether CP1 children in the pilot project learned better. A baseline of student skills was established at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. At the end of the year the same students would be evaluated for changes in literacy skills.
Then, the seemingly insurmountable struck. Covid-19 closed schools throughout the world including in rural Togo. Did this mean scrapping the pilot project, losing the momentum that teachers had built in their classrooms? The answer came out of the Togolese understanding of adversity. Jean-Paul Mlope, who coached the pilot project teachers as they taught, thoughtfully recommended that even with erratic school openings, the program should continue. Evaluation could be done, not at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, but in the summer of 2021 after all possible learning had taken place.
In mid-July 2021 Angèle Aklah-Egle, SET volunteer teaching consultant, and Simon Carette arrived in Lomé, Togo to assist Jean-Paul Mlope with the post-project evaluations. For the testing, the pilot project teachers chose two of their students from three groups: the challenged, average, and strong learners.
“Results of the testing are very encouraging,” Simon says. “Of course, there are some schools that stood out over others, but in the case of the lower-rating schools some obvious reasons stand out. For example, in the Anfoin school, what can teachers possibly do in classes of 80 and 86 students?”
With the success of the SET pilot project, despite unexpected and possibly-insurmountable challenges, the way is SET for the future. Not only will the project continue in the new 2021-2022 CP1 classes but CP2 teachers will be trained in the pedagogy to build on what the pilot project kids have learned. In the summer of 2022 a major evaluation will be undertaken of all students in the program.
SET directors have realistic expectations for learning changes. Slowly, steadily, without fanfare change in education is happening. As Mahatma Gandhi says, “in a gentle way [it] can shake the world.”
[i] Officially Togo’s official national language is French, but those without schooling speak their indigenous language. The largest ethnic group, the Kabiye speak Kabye while Ewe is spoken by Togo’s second largest ethnic group. In 1975 both languages were designated as national languages, but schools and government operate in French.