Practical Education Network
Practical Education Network equips West African STEM teachers to employ inquiry-based pedagogies in their classrooms, utilizing locally-available materials.
In Ghana, we listen to students describe their schooling as “chew and pour (i.e. vomit), pass and forget”. Rote memorization dominates teachers’ pedagogies, resulting in students memorizing facts, regurgitating them on the exams, and moving promptly on. This is most pronounced in STEM subjects. 70% of the 500+ STEM teachers we surveyed cite their main challenge as lack of affordable materials. Less than 10% of the 7,000 junior high schools (JHS) contain any laboratory equipment. Furthermore, relevant in-service training is rare: <3% of them had attended any training on practical pedagogies in the last year. The next Einstein could be one of the 70 million students in West Africa, but her STEM teachers lack the materials and techniques to unlock her potential. PEN is committed to training and supporting West African STEM teachers to provide interactive and meaningful learning experiences for their students.
Our solution is to equip STEM teachers to deploy hands-on activities, which are made from locally-available materials and aligned to the national curriculum. PEN has developed manuals of hundreds of activities, which utilize low-cost materials such as balloons, flowers, and water bottles. All activities are aligned to the national curriculum, providing practical methods for teaching every single topic in the syllabi. PEN trains trainers to deploy a series of workshops that enable teachers to learn, use, and design these activities within the standardized curriculum. By empowering teachers, rather than bypassing them, we apply a sustainable and human capital building approach to improving education.
"I’m now teaching science with confidence...In fact my students have started calling me a champion- madam can you imagine? This is because my lessons are now practical [rather] than theoretical." – Selase Dorledzi, Kpone-Katamanso District
PEN works with the Ghana Association of Science Teachers (GAST) and Ghana Education Service (GES)’s science officers to announce and run the training program in the various Districts. To date, PEN has equipped 100 local trainers, trained nearly 3,000 STEM teachers, and thereby reached half of a million students in Ghana. To scale to new regions, PEN’s trainings are broadcast via a live, two-way satellite broadcast operated by the Varkey Foundation's office in Accra. This approach can reach hundreds of teachers across multiple districts at once. To sustain the program, schools of top-performing teachers are invited to enroll as micro-franchisees. Franchisees receive materials and training on a set of activities, and they earn revenue as their STEM teacher operates as a trainer, stepping down PEN’s hands-on content to others in their community. Our model first exposes teachers at large to hands-on activities and then incentivizes a group to sustain its delivery.
If STEM teachers transform their classrooms into environments of experiential learning, they will foster their students’ problem-solving skills, activating them to tackle challenges in their communities and drive economic growth.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Accra, Ghana
The dimensions of the Challenge our solution addresses:
What makes our solution innovative:
Our approach is innovative in three ways:
1) Relevant and low-cost curricula: Leveraging the team’s STEM background, we’ve designed hundreds of hands-on activities contextualized to the entirety of the Ghanaian science curriculum, and made from locally-available materials.
2) Scalable model: Leveraging our partner’s live, two-way satellite broadcast technology, we reach hundreds of geographically-spread teachers at once.
3) Sustainable model: Our micro-franchise offering incentivizes local trainers to facilitate regular, peer-level interactions with PEN’s content.
How technology is integral to our solution:
There are three ways in which technology drives our solution. First, our approach equips teachers to bring technology (albeit low-tech) into their lessons. Secondly, satellite broadcasting is used to scale our training. Finally, a mobile app is being developed to maintain follow-up engagement with teachers who came through the training program. Our research on teacher motivations and aspirations has informed the design of incentives PEN is offering teachers who perform well with the training content. These are being rolled out through an Android app, which also contributes to building community across the network.
Our solution goals over the next 12 months:
Over the next 12 months, we are focused on boosting teacher uptake of our content. This involves rolling out social incentives for teachers who implement these hands-on activities. We look to train an additional 2,000 teachers and open 10 new micro-franchises.
Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our solution to affect the lives of more people:
In the next 3-5 years, we aim to see practical teaching of science as the new normal in a broad swath of West African classrooms.
In this time, we will replicate our model in other West African countries, starting with Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Given the similarity in curriculum across these countries, we anticipate the impact being feasibly extended another two orders of magnitude as these new geographies are reached.
Our promotional video:
The key characteristics of the populations who will benefit from our solution in the next 12 months:
The regions where we will be operating in the next 12 months:
How we will reach and retain our customers or beneficiaries:
By partnering with the Ghana Education Service and the Ghana Association of Science Teachers, we send announcements of the program to schools. The headteachers inform their STEM teacher to attend. Through strong relationships built with these organizations over the last 3 years, PEN has continued to provide programming through this channel on a regular basis.
After our initial workshop, teachers are brought through stages of trainings that help them build their pedagogical toolbox. Communication is maintained with teachers through our mobile app, and relationships with the headteachers are maintained so as to aid the registration of teachers for follow-on interactions.
How many people we are currently serving with our solution:
"This is an eye opener and must not end here, but must always be done for us teachers." – Eric Asante, Ga-West District
More than 2,600 West African STEM teachers have received PEN's hands-on training. Their 500,000+ students have thereby been impacted.
A more than 400% increase in frequency of use of practical activities in classrooms of PEN teachers has been measured. 61% of teachers have gained increased confidence to conduct practical activities in their classrooms.
A 2.5-month control trial showed a 22% increase in student enjoyment of STEM and up to 18% increase in national exam scores after PEN’s intervention.
How many people we will be serving with our solution in the 12 months and the next 3 years:
In 12 months time, we expect to be serving 4,000 STEM teachers across 3 Regions in Ghana, and they will in turn reach their 780,000 students. In 3 years time, we expect to operate in all 10 Regions of Ghana and 3 Counties in Liberia, serving 15,000 STEM teachers and their 3 million students.
How our solution team is organized:Non-Profit
How many people work on our solution team:8
How many years we have been working on our solution:3-4 years
The skills our solution team has that will enable us to attract the different resources needed to succeed and make an impact:
PEN staff all have a STEM background, enabling everyone to understand and act on feedback we receive as our program progresses. Our Master Trainers have decades of experience teaching STEM in Ghana, and are well-connected within the education ecosystem. Our founder has extensive experience conducting user research and co-creation in the field, having mentored dozens of students to do so via the MIT D-Lab: Education class.
Our staff are data-driven, viewing all tests, pilots, and programs with an eye for collecting and analyzing information.
Our revenue model:
Schools pay for their teachers to attend PEN's programming. The headteacher provides payment for their teacher to use for the gate fee. We have successfully signed up thousands of schools and teachers with this method.
To reach long-term sustainability, we are now upgrading our customers into becoming micro-franchisees. Schools pay a license fee to run PEN's hands-on science programming in their community. Once PEN reaches the point of operating 15 new micro-franchises per year, we will break even.
Why we are applying to Solve:
We are applying to SOLVE in order to make our work known to other organizations interested in improving teacher capacity. We seek a platform to share our experience and locate partners who can help us accelerate towards our vision of experiential learning happening on a wide-scale in African STEM classrooms.
The key barriers for our solution:
One barrier we face is the challenge of behavior change. We are developing incentives tailored to the Ghanaian STEM teacher, and we would be happy to engage the SOLVE community to help us test and iterate on these. Also, we would like to engage with SOLVE community members who can help us accelerate the development of our gamified mobile app that integrates these incentives.
Another barrier is the challenge of sharing information of our programming and progress to a wide range of stakeholders in the field. The SOLVE community could help us strategize locally-relevant and efficient communication strategies.
The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Solvers:
Heather Beem CEO & Founder, Practical Education Network