The present socio-political context in South Asia poses challenging questions for equipping those who educate teachers to design and facilitate collaborative teacher professional development opportunities. The Multimodal Approach for Teacher Professional Development (MATPD) project supported by the Global Partnership for Education Knowledge and Innovation Exchange, a joint endeavor with Canada’s International Development Research Centre, has been implemented in three South Asian countries – Maldives, Nepal and Afghanistan. It aims to influence policy, practice, and further research in distance teacher professional development through action research and professional learning communities. The landscape mapping study by the MATPD consortium highlights that teachers in these countries, as well as those who educate them (“teacher educators”), are in dire need of professional development opportunities to address the challenges faced in low-resource contexts. An important part of the project is the South Asia Teacher Educators (SATE) Fellowship, wherein 15 Research Fellows have been selected from each country, representing diverse genders, backgrounds, and professions (teachers, principals, teacher educators from urban and rural areas) to engage in collaborative action research with teachers following capacity strengthening activities.
For this project, knowledge mobilization efforts fall under two main categories: mobilization with project participants, and mobilization with key stakeholders outside of the project like government functionaries. These efforts build on each other and, together, position the project’s emerging findings for policy uptake.
Connecting project participants to mobilize knowledge
Knowledge mobilization for project participants helps to build three types of professional learning communities of educators using the Telegram app: one type of community focuses on specific action research themes, such as mathematics, language, science, Open Educational Resources (OER), peace education and inclusion; another type brings participants together by country; and the third type facilitates inter-country learning exchange. Participants in these communities are SATE Research Fellows, core members of the MATPD consortium, academic and field mentors, and the teachers who are participating in collaborative action research projects with Research Fellows. These communities provide a space for participants to share challenges and insights arising from their work, including learnings from capacity strengthening sessions on action research, using information and communications technologies (ICT) and mentoring. Together, they learn about the challenges selected for action research and share knowledge on potential solutions to address them in under-resourced contexts. Besides these, there are communities of academic mentors and field mentors with project members who support the fellows in designing, conducting, and reflecting on their action research. Fellows have also created their own groups in the platform of their choice with their mentors and teachers as mentees.
Though these types of groups provide space for asynchronous communication and are available to people with low access to devices and internet, we also learned that there is a need for real-time sessions. Some fellows had difficulty articulating their ideas in writing, but real-time interactions with fellow participants drew those ideas out and helped strengthen relationships. Therefore, in addition to the Telegram groups, we have held weekly online meetings to support Fellows in learning from each other to advance their collaborative action research. Sessions are recorded so people who could not attend were still able to access the shared learnings. These weekly meetings have also helped in identifying common resource challenges across all three countries, such as connectivity issues for teachers in remote or rural locations. These are being addressed in multiple ways, including through phone calls, asynchronous messages, and online meetings. Building on these learning exchange opportunities, the project team has co-created outputs with the fellows such as collaborative newspaper articles and social media snippets about the fellows’ action research ideas and field work.
Engaging with key stakeholders to position evidence for use
Knowledge mobilization activities with key stakeholders and government functionaries have been facilitated through round table discussions and planned meetings. For example, in Maldives, meetings and round tables have been conducted with key functionaries responsible for designing teacher professional development at the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Education. They have also been invited to key events such as the project launch and the dissemination of research report outputs. In Nepal, meetings have been organized with the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development (CEHRD), which functions under the Department of Education. In initial meetings, functionaries learned about the purpose of the project and its design. In subsequent meetings, fellows shared their work with CEHRD members. When CEHRD members shared their plans to develop a standard operating procedure and module on mentoring processes to be implemented across Nepal, the MATPD team used this ‘window of opportunity’ to have an extensive discussion and share their findings on the issue of “mentoring”. The CEHRD members found the discussion useful in understanding the kinds of inputs needed for quality mentoring experiences and how the role of academic mentors and field mentors helped the Fellows in conducting high-quality action research.
Fellows have also taken up responsibility for knowledge mobilization adopting a bottom-up approach. There have been several instances when schools, professional organizations, and local or provincial governments in Nepal and Maldives have invited Fellows to conduct workshops with groups of teachers beyond their research. This indicates that key stakeholders recognize the promising nature of the Fellows’ innovations for strengthening the capacities of teachers and teacher educators.
Lessons learned and looking forward
Thus, one can say that knowledge mobilization may not always have to start in a top-down manner through exclusive engagement with decision-makers and government functionaries. Researchers can create the conditions to position evidence for use at local and provincial levels as well, by showcasing and creating a demand for alternative education policies and practices. This bottom-up approach creates opportunities for community members to share their ideas and promotes discussions on alternatives. All of this can help cultivate communities of educators and key stakeholders who recognize the importance of the innovations for supporting distance teacher professional development and create a general atmosphere for shaping a more inclusive policy.
Knowledge mobilization efforts at two levels – with project participants and with key stakeholders – can build on each other synergistically. For this, project participants must be supported in articulating emerging evidence, engaging with key stakeholders within and across countries, showcasing education policy and practice alternatives to local stakeholders, including the public. This project has shown that engagement at both of these levels can result in meaningful windows of opportunity to support governments’ efforts to strengthen teacher professional development.