Using action research to build teachers’ inclusive education capacity in Zanzibar
Said Juma and Ingrid Lewis
Most projects that receive donor funding carry out evaluations in the middle and at the end of the funding period. Sometimes evaluations are just seen as a bureaucratic necessity. However, NFU Norway was keen to ensure that the final evaluation of an inclusive education project it was funding in Zanzibar was more useful. The evaluation was therefore carried out in 2013, a year before the end of the funding, allowing time for adjustments so the project could achieve its objectives and become more sustainable. The evaluator recommended introducing action research into schools, to build teachers’ confidence and skills for inclusion, supplementing what they gained from short formal training courses. Here we describe the start of this action research process, and reflect on the longer-term benefits for inclusive education in Zanzibar.
Why focus on action research?
The evaluation highlighted a lot of good work in training teachers about inclusive education, although the training tended to be more theoretical than practical. Also, the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training lacked the capacity to roll out this training to all teachers and provide them with ongoing practice-based support. Action research was recommended to build teachers’ confidence and problem-solving capacity in relation to inclusive education. It would also help teachers, parents and children to work as a team on inclusive school improvements, and share experiences and ideas, reducing (though not removing entirely) the need for external training and advice from the Ministry. Scarce funds could then be used for more targeted training and support.
How did the action research start?
NFU hired EENET to provide initial training on action research for the Inclusive Education and Life-Skills Unit within the Ministry; for newly recruited inclusive education advisers and resource teachers, based in cluster school resource centres; and for some representatives from teacher training colleges. The Unit decided to pilot action research in Kisiwandui primary school in Unguja and Michakaini ‘A’ primary school in Pemba.
A four-day workshop was facilitated by an international and a local consultant. The participatory activities were designed to both explain the theory and demonstrate the types of tools that can be used during action research, such as photo elicitation, mind-mapping and other diagram-based tools, group discussions, etc. The workshop included a visit to Kisiwandui school, during which participants practised key skills like observation, focus group facilitation and interviewing. The focus for the visit was “are all children participating in the learning process?” Workshop participants broke into eight small groups, each assigned a specific task (e.g. ‘observe a class, paying attention to teaching methodology’; ‘interview the head teacher’; and ‘run a focus group with teachers/children/parents’).
After the visit, the groups produced posters which summarised (using words, diagrams, and drawings) what they had learned in relation to whether all children were included and participating in learning. Groups were then paired and compared their findings, looking for similarities and contradictions, and working out what other information they still needed to collect. They discovered some interesting differences, for instance between the teaching practices reported by teachers during the focus group and those observed happening in the classes. Pulling together all eight groups’ findings revealed a wide range of issues which could become topics for action research. Participants were also able to highlight the need to consult a wider range of stakeholders in order to understand everyone’s perspectives, before defining a problem and seeking solutions.
Implementing action research
In many training situations, the story would end there – participants would take away some limited theoretical knowledge and basic practical experience of action research, and the school visit would be seen as little more than a hypothetical example. However, in this instance the plan deliberately included activities to ensure that participants practise and implement action research, and that the visited school also benefits.
As a basic next step, all participants developed action research plans to help them take forward an issue they are dealing with in their own organisation/work. EENET and the local facilitator will be available to give advice and support for these action research projects. One group consisted of Zanzibari teacher trainers and an inclusive education project representative from another NFU-funded project in Malawi. They created a joint action research plan, to look at the issue of why children with disabilities drop out of school. This should provide some exciting inter-country learning which we hope to feature in a future edition of Enabling Education Review!
In addition, the deputy head teacher from Kisiwandui attended the workshop and facilitated the logistics for the school visit. Her school will now pilot action research more intensively, building on the initial insights gathered by the workshop participants, and with support from the cluster resource centre inclusive education adviser who also attended the training.
However, it was not realistic to expect the deputy head and the inclusive education adviser to ‘cascade’ the workshop learning to teachers in the school, when they were themselves still inexperienced with action research. So the local consultant held another workshop with 10 teachers in the school. The deputy head and the inclusive education adviser attended. They contributed to the learning process for the teachers, while also revising and expanding what they had learned the previous week. By the end of this school workshop, the teachers had identified a topic to investigate (‘the use of teaching and learning materials for inclusion’), worked out which stakeholders they needed to engage with, and planned activities for taking forward the action research. The local consultant will maintain contact and help with queries or problems.
The same process was then repeated with inclusive education advisers, resource teachers and the pilot school in Pemba, to ensure that key personnel on both of Zanzibar’s islands were involved. After creating an action research team, the pilot school in Pemba agreed to do their first action research project on ‘the problem of truancy at the school’.
An experience-sharing workshop for both pilot schools is planned for later in the year, where they can swap accounts of their action research approach, discuss case studies and solutions and give each other advice.
Developing action research as a teacher education tool
Action research in schools cannot replace the need for teachers to receive high quality training, but it can help pre-service teachers become more confident problem-solvers and team-workers from the start of their teaching career. For this reason, the process of introducing action research into teacher training colleges and universities in Zanzibar is now being discussed.
To ensure that action research activities are sustained, the Unit selected a staff member to be the action research focal person. There were also discussions with the department of teacher education regarding how the department can engage in the implementation of action research. The department’s director and one of its officers who attended the workshop expressed commitment to implementing action research in inclusive education.
Group work during an action research workshop
Head – Department of Educational Foundation, Instruction and Leadership
State University of Zanzibar
P.O. Box 146 Zanzibar
Managing Director EENET CIC
37 Market Street, Hollingworth, Cheshire
SK14 8NE, UK
Tel/SMS:+44 (0)7929 326 564
Fax: +44 (0)1457 763 356
Group work during an action research workshop © EENET