On a rainy morning in southern Malawi, Rhoda Gawani entered the Litchenza Teacher Development Center, greeted some friends, and found a seat among 20,000 or so of her colleagues. It was the annual Tikwere Day, on which every lower primary teacher in the country was invited to participate in a peer-to-peer training exercise.
Over the last two years, grade 1, 2, and 3 teachers across the country have attended the event at one of about 450 locations. Even more notable than Tikwere Day’s massive scale, however, is an innovative delivery system that combines a national radio broadcast with face-to-face local expertise to provide high quality professional development. Rhoda and her colleagues came away more prepared to use Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) in support of Malawi’s recently adopted Primary Curriculum and Assessment Reform (PCAR).
“The peer-to-peer training model was designed to revolve around the radio so we could avoid diminishing the quality of the training message, a common shortfall of the cascade model,” explained Dr. Simon Richmond, Chief of Party for EDC’s Malawi Interactive Radio Instruction program. “However, we also rely on a number of veteran teachers not only to run the radio training sessions, but to facilitate discussions and oversee assigned activities.” Thus, says Richmond, the training is able to address the specific questions and concerns raised by each small group of teachers. “We send a uniform national message, customized to local needs.”
Tikwere Day is only the beginning of the support the program offers to teachers of grades one through three. Known locally as Tikwere! (Let’s Succeed!), the Malawi Interactive Radio Instruction program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by EDC. Tikwere! is helping teachers effectively implement PCAR, leading to higher student achievement among early primary school students. For example, first graders have demonstrated gains of 8 to 15 percent in math, reading and English language achievement when compared with students not using Tikwere!
Tikwere supports teachers through its daily Interactive Radio Instruction lessons, 30-minute programs developed by Malawian scriptwriters and actors. The lessons guide teachers through songs, games, group work, and other activities that typify the student-centered teaching approach embedded in the new curriculum. Though teachers have been trained in the use of PCAR, the radio programs offer the kind of daily school-based support that research shows is essential to improving instruction. The program is now broadcast to all first- through third-grade classrooms in Malawi, reaching an audience of about 20,000 teachers and two million students.
Before they tune in to Tikwere! in the classroom, however, teachers attend Tikwere Day for an orientation. Program monitoring results, such as an attendance rate of over 90 percent, indicate that the event has been highly successful. At the Litchenza TDC, Rhoda Gawani called the training “a great eye opener” even after 18 years of teaching primary school, adding that “the standard three learners are very responsive” to the radio program and new teaching techniques. In Mulanje District, among others, several teachers from private schools paid their own way in order to attend Tikwere Day. In Blantyre Rural District, teachers clearly absorbed the day’s message of lesson planning (or “scheming” as it is known in Malawi) in concert with the Tikwere! broadcast and new curriculum: all 14 participants “resolved to dismantle their schemes and re-build fresh ones that incorporate Tikwere!,” according to one of EDC’s event monitors, Dezie Trigu.
Based on the evidence of students’ increased achievement and the enthusiastic participation in Tikwere Day, it is clear that teachers embrace the program and are responding to its call: “Tikwere! Let’s succeed!”
Originally published on March 22, 2010