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Evaluating the Impact of a Teacher Development Programme

Contributed by Eugenie Novellie, Pretoria National Botanical Garden, South Africa

Summary

The study was aimed at evaluating the impact of a series of environmental education workshops for teachers at schools in South Africa. At the workshops teachers had to identify environmental issues that were particularly important for learners from their schools. They then received guidance in planning learning programmes and actively involving learners with the issues they had identified. (This is referred to as the issues- based approach.)

To determine the impact of the workshops, the teachers and their principals were interviewed several months after teachers had completed the workshops. The aim of the interviews was to assess the impact on the teachers, the learners, the school and the community.

The interviews revealed that over the period following the workshops the teachers had maintained ongoing school activities centred on the environmental issues they had identified. Many had broadened the scope of their issue and engaged in new environmental activities. The issues teachers dealt with at school had a significant impact on the learners, the school and the community. The involvement of principals appeared to be a crucial element in establishing a successful environmental education programme at schools.

Background

With the aim of integrating environmental education within the school curriculum, the National Botanical Institute (NBI) developed a two-year capacity building programme for teachers from historically disadvantaged schools in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Our workshops, Teacher Capacity Building: Skills Development through Environmental Education, were conducted with primary school and high school teachers (Symonds 2000). Teachers were asked to identify environmental issues that were relevant to their learners’ daily lives or of particular importance to their schools.

Examples of the issues identified in the schools were: poor state of the schoolyard and garden; inability to establish a vegetable garden; littering; poor sanitation; water wastage; vandalism and drug abuse.
In the workshops the teachers participated in activities on how to expand research on the issues they had identified, on planning learning programmes and ways to involve learners actively in dealing with the issues. The teachers were encouraged to present the lessons to their classes, to create awareness, bring about change and ultimately, to sustain their involvement in addressing these issues at school.

The workshops were conducted within the framework of Outcomes-based Education (OBE) (Symonds 2000). OBE has been introduced in South Africa relatively recently and many of the teachers were not familiar with its principles. It was an additional challenge to familiarise teachers with OBE, by putting theory into practice.
The fundamental aim of the workshops was to empower teachers to initiate and maintain environmental education at their schools. It was critical firstly to establish the extent to which a lasting impact had been achieved, and secondly to identify the factors that influenced the outcome.

This study was designed to establish:

  • Whether the teachers succeeded in initiating and sustaining learning programmes on the issues identified at the workshops.
  • Which of the skills presented at the workshops were the most practical and useful to the teachers and their principals.
  • The extent to which the teachers, the learners, the school, and even their greater community benefited from the lessons learned at the workshops.

Method of Evaluation

Personal interviews were conducted with the teachers and their principals 10 to 18 months after the teachers had completed the workshops. Of the 121 teachers who completed the workshops, 42 from 20 different schools were interviewed. In addition, the principals of 18 of these schools were interviewed separately. The interviewers, staff from the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) and the (NBI), asked pre-set questions and recorded the answers directly onto questionnaire sheets.

Results of the Survey

Environmental activities in schools

  • We are now involved with the littering problem outside our school, previously we thought that was outside our jurisdiction (Mogale Primary School).
  • It made me aware of broader issues (Sandile Primary School).
  • I am now aware that our environment depends on us (Bajabulile Primary School).

These are some of the quotes teachers used to express the positive way in which the workshops changed their perception and attitude towards the environment.

With one exception, these teachers were all involved in environmental activities at their schools. They reported that they became more involved with environmental activities after the workshops and initiated new projects. This was particularly evident for two of the events on the environmental calendar: Arbour Day and Water Week. Only one out of 20 schools did not celebrate Arbour Day with tree planting ceremonies, school gardening and clean up campaigns. During Water Week, 13 of the 20 schools arranged talks, cleaning up of streams, and water monitoring projects in co-operation with various water conservation organisations. Other new initiatives were recycling and Aids awareness.

Maintaining the Issues at Schools

Teachers and principals were asked to comment on the sustainability of the projects introduced around the environmental issues. Of the 42 teachers, 36 claimed that they had managed to keep the projects going and most of them repeated their lessons the following year. However, only 12 of the 18 principals were able to verify that the teachers had in fact initiated and kept up the programmes. (This result suggests that some of the principals were unaware of the efforts of their teachers, or alternatively that some teachers made exaggerated claims – we were unable to determine which.)

The Impact of the Workshops on the School and Community

During the interviews the principals were asked to comment on the broader impact of the workshops. Table 1 summarises their comments.

The Impact on Teaching and Learning

The teachers were all confident that they acquired new skills at the workshops, although a number of principals could not detect any noticeable difference. Those principals (13/18) who felt that their staff had in fact acquired new skills, identified the following:

  • The ability to share their knowledge of Outcomes-based Education with other teachers and to facilitate lesson planning sessions.
  • The ability to bring about change and improve the conditions at school.
  • Effectively using group work with learners.
  • Increased teachers’ confidence.

The teachers listed the following skills acquired during the workshops as being the most practical and useful to them:

  • Competence to deal practically with environmental issues; to be able to identify key environmental issues and to drive change.
  • Understanding of Outcomes-based Education.
  • The ability to communicate, share and plan learning programmes with other teachers.
  • Effectively using group work with learners.

New teaching skills and educational activities pursued by the teachers after the workshop are listed in Table 2.


Table 1. Principals’ Comments on the Impact of the Workshops

Question Posed Comment from principal
(number of replies in brackets)
Response: (18 principals)
Have teachers shared their newly acquired skills with colleagues? Teachers shared OBE knowledge and theory (4)
Teachers shared lesson planning skills (3)
Teachers shared and received input from other staff relating to the Issue (2)
(Staff from two schools were invited to assist neighbouring schools with interpreting OBE and lesson planning )
11 Yes - at
formal
feed back
sessions
4 Not sure
3 No reply
Have learners benefited from their teachers’ attendance of the workshops? Learners gained knowledge, skills and values from their involvement with the issues (11)
Learners benefited from their teachers’ improved teaching methods (4)
15 Yes
2 Not sure
1 No reply
Has the school shared in the benefits of the Workshops? Cleaner school yards (5)
Water bills were reduced (2)
School obtained funds from selling vegetables (2)
Staff assisting other schools with OBE and lesson planning resulted in prestige for the school (2)
Vandalism reduced
The spin-off of positive publicity resulted in additional sponsorships
9 Yes
4 Indirectly
2 Not sure
3 No reply
Has the community shared in the benefits?Schools provide vegetables from their own garden to the community (2)
Schools are involved with community gardens (3) (One of the garden projects involves an old age home and home for the physically disabled)
Schools use unemployed parents to perform tasks (e.g. gardening, welding and preparing meals) (3)
Cleaning up campaigns outside schools provide a cleaner community (2)
Opportunities for squatter camp children to get to know how to use modern toilet facilities
School introduced a drugs policy and co-operated with the rehabilitation of 3 learners.
7 Yes, directly
5 Indirectly
2 Not sure
4 No reply


Table 2. Educational Activities in which Teachers were Involved at School

 

Educational Activity

Number of Teachers Involved
(total 42)

Formal planning with colleagues 37
Integrating their learning area with that of colleagues 34
Group work with learners 41
Using brain storming techniques with learners 39
Using picture studies with learners 41
Assessment techniques used:
Peer assessment 31
Self assessment by learners 23
Group assessment 32


Lessons learnt

Value to teachers and principals

Although teachers thought that the workshops had the most dramatic impact on their own environmental awareness and competence, they were appreciative of the added insight the course gave them with regard to OBE. Principals clearly placed a high priority on the pedagogic skills development in relation to the practical implementation of the new school curriculum. Principals noticed that teachers tried out their new teaching methods, that they were able to share OBE knowledge and had the confidence to facilitate lesson planning sessions with staff members. Teachers from two schools extended their assistance to help neighbouring schools with learning programme planning.

Growing environmental education at schools

It was evident that the workshops inspired teachers to pursue environmental education. Principals were able to identify committed teachers who were willing to drive new activities. In this way schools gained wider environmental awareness. This was particularly evident from the success of Arbour Day and Water Week activities.

Challenges and constraints

The crucial role of principals
From personal observations when visiting the schools and from the data collected, it is clear that the attitude, interest and involvement of the principal greatly influences the success and sustainability of environmental activities at a school. It is evident that a school is more likely to be successful if:

  • The principal is aware of the environmental issue identified at the school.
  • The principal can verify that staff presented their issue-based lessons.
  • The principal is able to identify new skills acquired by staff.
  • Structures, such as time for official report-backs at staff meetings, are put in place to facilitate the sharing of newly acquired expertise.
  • Activities around the issue continue after teachers have completed their course.
  • The principal is interested in and able to comment on the impact of the environmental activities on the school and community.

It is interesting to note that those schools that are most active in the environmental field were subsequently better placed to engage in partnerships with external sponsors. It would seem that once schools have proven their commitment and are able to deliver, it becomes easier to generate funding and support for additional projects.

School management

Problems with school management at one of the schools surveyed, prevented teachers from implementing their issue and from participating in any environmental activities.


Education for sustainability

Education can increase concern over unsustainable practices and increase our capacity to confront and master change…it is humanity’s best hope and most effective means in the quest to achieve sustainable development (UNESCO 2002).

Principals reported that the impact of the workshops was felt beyond the classroom and the school. The positive ripple effect stimulated parent and community interest in school projects and in some instances the community was actively drawn into projects.

The issues-based approach appeared to be particularly effective in empowering schools to take ownership of environmental problems and to bring about change.

References

Symonds, A. (2000). Teacher capacity building: skills development through environmental education. Roots 20: p.25-28.
UNESCO (2002). Education for sustainability. from Rio to Johannesburg: lessons learnt from a decade of commitment. UNESCO, Paris.

Acknowledgements

I thank Stellar Mabunda and Tiny Ndlovu of the Gauteng Department of Education, South Africa, Alexis Symonds and Suzelle van der Westhuizen who helped with the interviews and Dr. Jeff Wolfson, for his comment on the questionnaires. The project was funded by UNESCO and the NBI.

   

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