Supporting young teachers through teamwork: lessons from an Ethiopian refugee camp

Ruth Naylor

This weekend, we celebrated World Teachers Day with its focus this year on young teachers - but how can we ensure that those entering the profession are well supported? And how can we ensure that the profession is accessible to all?

The Education Commission’s report on transforming the education workforce  promotes a teamwork model in which education workforce members with different skills sets collaborate in teams to ensure that their expertise and time is used effectively, and that less experienced teachers are able to develop by working directly with more experienced ones. The model can also give learners access to a greater diversity of adults in the classroom, with a wider range of skills and experiences, but only if the workforce itself is inclusive.

Having a fully qualified teacher workforce is the goal of many education systems. But if the routes to teaching qualifications are not designed with accessibility in mind, they can unintentionally exclude those most needed to make the workforce diverse: women from rural communities, people with disabilities, minority language speakers, those that cannot afford to pay the fees or meet the opportunity costs, refugees and other migrants. Yet these are the very individuals who are often best placed to support the learning needs of marginalised learners: migrants and minority language speakers need access to instructors who speak their own language, marginalised girls, children with disabilities and other minorities need role models within the workforce who share their experiences of disadvantage.

The schools in some Ethiopian refugee camps provide an interesting mixed staffing model which could inform strategies for diversification of the education workforce in other situations. Schools are staffed by a mixture of well qualified, experienced national teachers and refugee teachers with a mixture of training and qualifications, but with relatively little teaching experience and with very few meeting Ethiopian teacher qualification requirements. However, they do speak the language of the refugees that they teach, a skill that many of the national teacher’s lack.

Research conducted by Education Development Trust, in partnership with IIEP UNESCO on the management of teachers of refugees in Ethiopia found that some schools were able to leverage this mixture of skills: refugees taught the lower classes so that they could teach in mother tongue, and the qualified Ethiopian teachers provided them with pedagogical guidance. Can other systems, where refugees and other disadvantaged groups are effectively locked out of the teaching profession, come up with alternative classroom workforce roles and new routes into teaching to make their education workforces more representative of their student populations?

Sadly, we only saw this positive teamwork in a minority of camp schools – in many cases the refugee teachers had relatively few opportunities to interact professionally with the qualified Ethiopian staff. In one extreme case the refugee teachers were not even allowed to enter the staff room. Diversifying the workforce is not enough - it needs good school management to promote a teamwork approach.

Education systems seeking to provide inclusive education need to ensure that their workforces are also inclusive. But this means ensuring that routes into teaching are accessible to all. Those entering the workforce, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, should be supported by working as members of teams, learning from and with more experienced staff in their schools.