Leading Change from Within

May 14, 2014Emily Akers

This post is authored by Emily Akers, the Uganda Country Director at STIR Education. In this blog series, she takes a look at how a new movement for change is emerging in the Ugandan education sector, fundamentally re-imagining the role of teachers in improving the quality of education. Introducing the series, this first post focuses on the role of innovation in leading change.

On the 28th April, for the first time in their professional career, fifty teachers and Head teachers from across Uganda stood in front of an audience of one hundred policy makers and education specialists, and shared their ideas. Not new methodologies or pedagogies from external successful systems, but their own ideas and solutions to improve the quality of learning students in their classrooms are engaged in.

We need these teachers to lead improvement in the education system and need to give them the opportunity to do so. We have a global learning crises on our hands and Uganda is no exception - without teachers being fully committed to improving learning there are very few policies or projects that will enjoy success.

Despite huge gains in access to education, quality has not kept pace (only one in ten Ugandan Primary 3 children are able to comprehend a Primary 2 level story – UWEZO:2012). The biggest determinant of a child’s success in school is the quality and commitment of their teacher. Given only 2 in every 3 Ugandan teachers are present on any given day; and that 84% of these would quit teaching if they could, it’s not surprising that the quality of learning outcomes for children in Uganda simply isn’t improving.

In the face of this, STIR Education still fundamentally believes that teachers can be empowered to re-imagine their role in the classroom or school, and – through recognition, positive peer pressure, certification and offline networking and partnerships – is working to bring about a teacher-led movement for change within the existing system.

STIR’s inaugural Changemaker Summit on the 28th April – bringing together the fifty teachers and Head teachers identified through STIR’s partners as ‘bright spots’ within the system (teachers with an initial spark of motivation and commitment) – adds weight to the argument of teacher-led change. Each of these teachers had been identified as innovators, teachers and Head teachers with enough motivation to have faced a challenge in their classroom – a barrier to learning – and pro-actively sought out a small-scale practice or solution to overcome it.


STIR Head teachers; beginning their journey to change their behavior and mindsets as Changemakers from within the system

Student absenteeism is rife across Uganda, and often school leaders have struggled to engage the parents and local community to support their efforts in ensuring every child is learning. Yet, instead of waiting for a policy to land on her lap, Jolly, from Ikoba Girls Primary School in Masindi, innovated her own solution, a small-scale, zero cost idea that has fundamentally improved the local communities engagement with her school. Now, each term, parents are invited to an open morning at Jolly’s school, to meet and observe their child’s teacher teaching in class; giving them time to ask the teacher questions about the school day; and enabling parents to see first-hand the benefits of sending their child to school. 

Jolly is not alone in her innovative and pro-active approach. STIR has worked through partner organizations in Uganda to engage over 1,000 teachers and Head teachers; and identify the most committed professionals, who have each innovated their own solutions to improving teaching & learning; parental and community engagement; the assessment and tracking of students learning; and the development and accountability of teachers themselves.

Finalist STIR Innovator Changemakers – teachers and Head teachers with their certificates at the Changemaker Summit, 28 April 2014

Co-hosted by CEI, one of STIR’s many partners committed to growing this movement across Uganda, the Summit provided the opportunity for teachers to be recognized and rewarded for their innovative work in the face of very real challenges, receiving finalist certificates endorsed by the Ministry of Education and Sports.

Yet these teachers and Heads, and their role in modeling the power of innovation from within the system, is just the beginning. In the words of Jolly, in her call to action to her peers across the profession, “it is up to us, as teachers, to raise our voice on what can be done to improve the system. It is up to us, as those at the forefront of education in Uganda, to stand up and lead change”. 

Learn more about STIR Education, its micro-innovations, and its growing partnership with CEI on our STIR Education Forum

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