02 Jun 2009

Award for Africa's leading teacher education initiative

South African teacher Mavis Nkwenkwana

South African teacher Mavis Nkwenkwana

Africa’s largest teacher education project, TESSA (Teaching Education in Sub-Saharan Africa), has been awarded the Leadership Award by the e-Learning Africa Awards for Exemplary Open Educational Resource (OER) Practices at a ceremony in Dakar. Hosted by The Open University, TESSA is a programme working to improve the quality of teacher education across sub-Saharan Africa by using new technology, in particular the idea of ‘open content’ or Open Educational Resources.

The award recognises TESSA as a group ‘that has made significant advances in the understanding of the issues of innovation surrounding OER and the OER movement, applied to development issues.’ Innovation is at the heart of the TESSA project, as it is allowing teachers in remote areas that would otherwise have to travel to education centres far away to use high-quality materials from their own classroom.

The flexibility and open nature of the TESSA materials means that institutions and organisations can use the materials in a variety of ways. For some, TESSA materials form the core of a new course or award for teachers; whereas others revise existing programmes to include TESSA materials.

Empowering teachers to develop their skills in this way is proving a huge success. Freda Wolfenden from The Open University said: “We expect that up to 200,000 teachers will be using TESSA resources by the end of next year. TESSA is playing a major leadership role in exploiting new technology to support teachers, many of whom work with large classes in remote rural communities.”

TESSA works with a consortium of national institutions and international organisations in Africa and most recently has extended work into Malawi, implementing its materials and support as a core element in the new national teacher training programme. Currently TESSA has partners in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia.

About TESSA:
The TESSA consortium was established in 2005. The principal purpose of the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) research and development consortium is to improve the quality of, and extend access to, university-led primary school teacher education in Sub-Saharan Africa. The scale of need in the region is very great and it is estimated that across the region a third of existing primary teachers are unqualified or under qualified.
• More than 100 African academics have participated and are participating in the TESSA process including authoring the TESSA study units.
• A full first phase of resource development has been completed and more than 800 original study units, authored by African academics, are now available for use (see
• The TESSA text resources have all been adapted and versioned to the nine country contexts of participating universities. Resources are available in Arabic, English, French and Kiswahili.
• TESSA has commissioned a number of research activities, most notably a project looking at the lives of female teachers in rural communities in five of the participating institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan (Pride and Light’ 2009).
• TESSA funds have enabled the creation of three PhD studentships for students from participating TESSA countries.

TESSA Case Study: Mavis Nkwenkwana, a teacher in South Africa
“I am Mavis Nkwenkwana, a teacher at Isithsaba Junior Primary school in Mdantsane. Mdantsane is the largest township in East London, South Africa. I have taught here for thirty years. I teach a class of forty children. It is multi-grade and my learners range from nine to fifteen years. My classroom is arranged into groups of learners. They are grouped both by age and ability, firstly by age, but if a child is particularly bright or is struggling, I will move them to a different table where they will be able to work to their best.

“I was asked to trial some TESSA materials in October, 2007. I am studying for my National Diploma of Primary Education (NDPE) at the University of Fort Hare. My tutor asked me to trial the materials. I agreed because I thought it would be interesting to try new methods of teaching.

“I was given a module on Literacy. I read the whole module, but what interested me most were the activities and case studies about litter. We have a big problem with litter in our school, only last week our learners were in trouble for dropping litter. So I thought I would prepare a lesson on litter using the TESSA materials. I think the lesson was very successful, for example, I never realised the children worried about litter too. Some children volunteered to be bin monitors so they must care!

“The TESSA materials reflect and support the work I am doing for my NDPE, namely they make me realise that I need to learn every day if I am to be a good teacher. I cannot leave the learning up to the learners! Teaching in this way makes me feel like I have more energy in the classroom. I would definitely like to use more TESSA materials. The methods and activities they recommend give me the confidence and skills to finally be the teacher I have always wanted to be”.

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