Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 1992
Umlazi Teacher Training College


This profile was prepared when Cynthia Mpati was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Cynthia has designed a very practical three-year program to upgrade both subject knowledge and the teaching approach of rural teachers. She will initially target 4,000 uncertified teachers who have been teaching for at least 5 years (the majority have been teaching for 10 to 20 years) in Natal province. Since the teachers are spread out in townships and farm schools and are not able to leave their jobs and families for extended periods of time, the best way to reach them is by correspondence.
Cynthia has used her expertise in correspondence teaching to develop a program which is not only able to reach large numbers of teachers in isolated areas but also make up for correspondence teaching's greatest shortcoming: the isolation of the trainee.
"Interaction with teachers and among peers is an integral part of the learning process," says Cynthia. And that's why the program starts with a four-week intensive face-to-face course (Bridging Module) followed by meetings twice a year.
In the Bridging Module, student-teachers learn how to study by correspondence and concentrate in improving English fluency and understanding of the Western thinking/learning process, often foreign to them. They also choose a mentor teacher, a volunteer coach, on the basis of his/her outstanding teaching skills. The mentor-teacher becomes a concrete link to the system when the student-teachers return to rural areas.
The other six modules cover different subjects such as mathematics, geography, history, health, psychology, and pedagogy. In pedagogy, teachers learn lesson planning and self-evaluation of results, and practice new ways of teaching. In this program, the watchword is practice: actual application of new materials and approaches in the workshops and then in the teachers' own classrooms. In this way, understanding of theory emerges from successful practice.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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