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Unearthing and researching African and global thought leadership in the African 21st century with Maggie MacDonnell and Mayank Dhingra: uplifting educators is key to advancing transformation in the education sector

It is acknowledged that educational inequalities persist in South Africa 25 years after the advent of democracy in 1994, but the debate about the causes and solutions to poor education performance continues. Could the education system be fundamentally improved and mitigate somewhat the socio-economic inequalities from one generation to another?” – Francine de Clercq.

In the below republished joint article, ‘Thought Leadership: Uplifting educators is key to advancing transformation in education sector’, by Maggie MacDonnell—acclaimed educator and Global Teacher Prize Winner 2017—and Mayank Dhingra—HP’s Senior Education Business Leader—they excavated and researched the necessity of putting more of a spotlight on teachers and what support they require in order to advance the transformation of Africa’s education sector.

If for a moment we think back to their earliest influences on how they chose their career path, you’ll often find an educator’s name hailed as a guiding light and grand master in our communities, hence the say when the students are ready, the grand master will appear and share the knowledge.

Whether it’s early on in our schooling years or later as a tertiary student, teachers have the distinctive ability to recognise potential in their students/learners, encourage them to work hard and thrive in their talents, and, importantly, act as a source of inspiration and motivation.

Every student has the potential to reach their true academic potential and rise above the socio-economic conditions they live through—however, this can only be attained through targeted support. Therefore it’s critical to continue empowering not only our students, but also the teachers on the frontlines of education.

According to UNESCO data, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion in the world, with over one-fifth of children between the ages of six and eleven out of school, and girls particularly disadvantaged. Moreover, we know that teaching has its own bevy of challenges across the continent.

Findings from HP’s recent education-focused survey in Africa sheds light on the education landscape in the region.

How teachers’ skillsets can be improved so that students’ learning experiences enhance and how we can overcome challenges faced by educators that can negatively affect teaching outcomes. These include a lack of basic materials, adequate technological resources, having too many learners in their classrooms, and insufficient time to assist individual students.

Despite these challenges, at least 95% of teachers surveyed in South Africa and Nigeria are optimistic about their jobs and their roles in shaping and inspiring the future leaders of tomorrow.

Maggie MacDonnell, a Canadian educator based in Tanzania working on teacher training, recalls her earliest and biggest influence in teaching: “There were key moments where I saw my work as a teacher really pivoted in the right direction. I was teaching in an isolated context, an Inuit village in the Canadian Arctic that could only be reached by plane. My school board at that time, did so much heavy lifting, to provide us with some specific and high-quality professional development training that just hit home, it spoke to our reality.”

She continued: “We had one trainer help us understand intergenerational trauma—and how this affected our students—from a neuroscience perspective to their wellness. By understanding them better, I was able to figure out how I could be a better teacher to them. To meet them where they were at.”

After the weekend workshop, MacDonnell said she stepped back into the classroom with new ideas, outlooks, and tools.

“I could better connect with my students and was no longer failing them. When you uplift and support a teacher with quality training, you uplift the hundreds of kids they will work with through their lifetime. It is such a strategic investment.”

That early inspiration has come full circle today, as she too works to encourage and advocate for learners and educators. Hopefully, it will inspire them to believe in themselves, too.

MacDonnell has had a long-held passion for teaching in marginalized communities. Presently she is in Tanzania, East Africa with her partner and children, working on teacher training programmes.

MacDonnell added that she was excited to know HP was leading custom trainings for the teachers across Africa. “Teachers on this continent face incredible challenges, and by working with them to provide trainings, you are releasing bottlenecks in these systems that can affect a whole generation.”

By joining forces as educators, institutions, NGOs, government, and the private sector, we can turn the face of education around for the African children.

It is heartening to see companies such as HP champion this ideal by not only supporting students but educators, too—and that can only lead to wider progress for the sector.

The HP Innovation and Digital Education Academy (HP IDEA) offers educators in Africa—and many other parts of the world—the opportunity to create digital capabilities based on educational frameworks from leading global universities. The programme is part of HP’s commitment to enabling better learning outcomes for 100 million people globally by 2025 and has thus far been launched in 19 countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

Our next frontier in education is bridging the digital technology divide across the continent, for both educators and students. Providing increased access to quality education in Africa is the key to not only alleviating poverty for millions of young people, but it also can inspire hope and enable change for generations to come. 

Maggie MacDonnell is an acclaimed educator and Global Teacher Prize Winner 2017, and Mayank Dhingra is HP’s Senior Education Business Leader.

By Editor