Despite the significant investments made by Eastern and Southern African (ESA) governments, supported by development partners, into improving the performance of teachers, evidence that these investments have been successful is sparse. Indeed, the evidence points in the opposite direction and suggests that there is a crisis in both teaching and learning across ESA countries. Teacher absenteeism is high – a third to a half are absent at any one time – and teacher quality is low: many do not possess the basic literacy and numeracy skills they are attempting to impart to their pupils,3 let alone possess the pedagogical skills to do so. Neither is there a great deal of unequivocal evidence of what works to improve ‘teacher performance’. Clearly the strategies that ‘we’ (governments, development partners, stakeholders and ‘experts’) have collectively been applying have not worked. At worst we have been doing the wrong things; at best we have not been doing the right things. The author has more than 30 years of experience of working across ESA on more than 50 education programmes, and is as guilty as everyone else in this respect but has hopefully learnt some lessons that will be useful to others. Building on those experiences, mistakes made and lessons learnt as well as research, grey literature and practitioner accounts, this paper looks at the reasons why we have got this so wrong and makes some suggestions as to what we could change in the future.
UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office