September 2007

Technology in BRAC’s Teacher-Training Programme

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Ensuring universal primary education is one of the most urgent needs in developing countries, including Bangladesh. According to a study completed by the Government of Bangladesh in 2003, the literacy rate was 62.66%. In significant part, even this is due to the efforts of an NGO – BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, http://www.brac.net/), which is dedicated to providing Non Formal Primary Education (NFPE) to children who are among the poorest of the poor, including drop outs from government schools. The instructional workforce in this effort is made up of para-professionals, who receive rigorous pre-service and in-service training programmes. This research article explores the possibilities of integrating different technologies to enhance the quality of these in-service initiatives. We begin with an overview of the BRAC system before examining technology options for training. All the information and calculations here are mainly based on data acquired in 2005/2006 period. 

BRAC's Primary Education Programme

The BRAC Education Programme (BEP) runs the largest non formal education system in Bangladesh and arguably in the world. It has mainly two different types of schools for its non formal primary education programme: BPS (BRAC Primary School) for children who are between 8-10 years of age and BAPS (BRAC Adolescent Primary School) for children who are between 11-14 years of age. There is also an initiative for impoverished indigenous children.

BEP's management structure

BEP operates its countrywide education programme through 44 administrative Regional Offices (RO), under which there are 570 Area Offices (AO). Each AO averages 50 to 60 BPS and BAPS. The top management is based in Dhaka's Head Office. Pre-service training is overseen by the Capacity Development Unit and the BRAC Training Division.  Regarding any kind of in-service teacher training, BRAC usually depends on different field level trainers, like Quality Assurance Specialists (QAS), Programme Organisers (PO), Master Trainers (MT), Batch Trainers (BT) and Core MTs. All the BEP teachers are locally selected and 98% of this workforce comprises of village women. 

BEP's Teacher and Staff Training System

BRAC offers both pre-service and in-service training for its entire staff in the education programme. Pre-Service trainings are all residential and given in BRAC's “Training and Resource Centers” (TARC). BRAC has 14 TARCs all over Bangladesh and each of these facilities is equipped with global-standard training, communication and residential facilities. The location for any in-service training depends on the workforce being trained and usually takes place in ROs and AOs.

Advantages of the present ISTT

Regular participation in ISTT programmes enables the trainees with little formal academic knowledge to become effective teacher. All of these programmes operate using face-to-face instruction supported by printed materials but without any technology or enhancements. Most materials are developed by the existing staff so that BRAC does not have to provide any significant additional investment for their development.

Disadvantages of “Print” based ISTT

Despite its success, the present ISTT programme has shortcomings. The author observed these programmes and interviewed participants and managers, and noted the following issues:

  • Lack of standardisation: This is evident in both staff and teacher refresher trainings. It causes qualitative differences in AO and RO based refreshers.
  • Poor interactivity:  Sometimes, due to time and other constraints, MTs, POs and AMs do not adequately prepare training modules for the refreshers and were unable to fully interact with the trainees.

Experienced trainer scarcity: The limited number of subject specialist MTs forces relatively inexperienced POs to conduct ISTT. At times, MTs remain absent during the refreshers, which forces the use of makeshift trainers. These trainers often lack formal knowledge and necessary pedagogical skill and at times results in diminished in-service training.

Pre-service teacher training (PSTT)

Pre-service training for teachers consists of 12-day residential training in any of the TARCs. The trainer-teacher ratio is on average 1: 25. Topics like pedagogy, use of books and teaching aids, methods for developing lesson plans, etc. are covered during this PSTT.

In-service teachers training (ISTT)
During the 5 academic years of a school, the teachers receive regular monthly trainings and year-opening orientations.

Monthly refreshers

During the refreshers, MTs, POs and BTs usually go through monthly syllabus of all the subjects being taught by the teachers in that particular grade, point out the strategy of teaching new chapters, practice and solve the problems, give solutions to the problems from previous chapters, etc.

Year-opening orientations

At the start of each academic year, a four or five day long year-opening orientation takes place in every AO. Selection of technologies for teacher training A variety of technologies have seen use in educational delivery for Primary/Secondary or Tertiary Education, Teacher Training, Health Care, Community Awareness around the developing world. Selecting technologies which might augment and strengthen BRAC's in-service training requires a consideration of the specific needs of the BEP system, the regulatory environment, cost related constraints and available infrastructure in Bangladesh.

Infrastructure assessment

The infrastructure of communication technologies in Bangladesh does not provide an encouraging picture. The teledensity is 12% (among which PSTN connections have a stake of only 1% and the rest is covered by mobile phone companies). Only about 1 million people out of the 143 million population use PCs (as per Sayeed Rahman in Internet in Bangladesh, 2004) and among them, only around 243,000 (according to CIA 2005) are Internet users. There are 26 radio broadcast stations (Rahman, 2004) in the country with 6.15 million radios (CIA 2005). The number of TV broadcast stations is 15 and there are 770,000 TVs nationwide. There are several Satellite TV channels, one terrestrial TV channel and two FM radio channels in the private sector. The rest are controlled by the government.

Due to the need for flexibility, lack of access infrastructure, the difficulties of maintenance in rural locations including both personnel and cost, two-way options like audio-conferencing, live interactive TV, video-conferencing or real time Internet based options were deemed appropriate for longer-term implementation. The four short-term options chosen for further analysis are: Interactive Radio, Interactive Audio Cassettes, Satellite TV and Video Cassettes. As the main goal is to enhance the quality of the present print based ISTT, not to replace it with other options, any kind of technology based option is assumed to operate alongside the traditional  print media.

Assumptions for technology-based curriculum

While planning a technology enhanced ISTT programme, the focus was mainly upon some specific ISTT needs that call for immediate attention. The main driver is to aid trainers and trainees in Mathematics and English based problems as these are the subjects that need more attention, according to the policy makers and field officials of BEP.

The policy of Government in not giving away terrestrial TV licenses to any private entity, the absence of policy to provide satellite TV spectrum to education providers at a lower rate and above all, the smaller number of satellite TV connections in the rural areas in comparison with that of radio penetration are instrumental in putting radio ahead of any audio-visual broadcasting options.

The author here proposes to supplement traditional BRAC in-service training with an hour of pre-recorded session (30 minute English + 30 minute Mathematics) broadcast (either by radio or by satellite TV) or cassettes (Audio/ Video) during each session of any ISTT cycle. These media interventions are meant to assist instead of replacing the present print based training system, to improve their efficiency. In addition to the assumptions made for the cost estimations of present ISTT, it is also assumed that the transmission time for 1 ISTT Year will be 20 hours (2 transmission per month for Math and English each over 1 ISTT academic year, 30 minutes each).

Cost comparison of different options For the cost calculation, the following assumptions were made: The total cost has been calculated for one academic year of ISTT.  Total number of ISTT working days over 5 academic years = 122  Annual working days (rounded) = 25  The total number of contact hours per daily ISTT= 7 hours= 420 minutes Total academic hours for 1 ISTT year = 175 Hours 1 USD= Tk. 65 (Tk is the Bangladeshi Currency)

For variable cost calculation, the cost of equipments, related materials and O&M costs have been included, notable cost data for four different hypothetical training programmes with 10,000 trainees or BRAC School teachers has been provided. For Radio and Satellite TV based options, both single and dual transmission (the number of times any particular lesson being broadcasted daily) costs have been initially considered.

The variable cost of Print based ISTT in a single cycle remains the same, irrespective of the number of paraprofessionals receiving it. But the variable cost of reproduction and material distribution of the options with technological interventions are different and vary with the number of trainees each program includes. The variable cost of present ISTT does not change with number of trainees. But for Radio based option, the author calculates a variable cost range of USD 55

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