How to Scale OLPC Teacher Training to Reach 43,000 Rwandan School Teachers?


I'm not a big fan of Train the Trainer methodologies to scale teacher training. I agree with Juliano Bittencourt, Learning Development Coordinator for OLPC Rwanda when he says:

Even when we talk about developed countries, this model of training a small group of people that in their turn train another group of people and so on, has failed. Cascading trainings has proven to decrease quality along the chain. The first and second levels might be good, but by the seventh iteration most of the principles have got lost remaining only the skeleton of the original ideas.

Yet that poses a very serious problem for Juliano and the whole OLPC Rwanda team, as he discusses in The Challenges of OLPC Scale Implementation in Rwanda:

Rwanda has about 43.000 teachers in primary schools. If we decided to replicate this training with the remaining teachers of the country, also in batches of 300, it would took us a little bit more than 2.9 years without a single stop week.

This number really made me reflect regarding our strategy for making the laptop initiative a success. It is obvious that 1 week of training is by far insufficient to prepare a teacher to use the XO inside their classroom. In the Rwanda context, I may say that not even 6 months of continuous training would prepare most teachers. Most of them aren't professional teachers, usually only having completed the secondary school as a criteria to teach in primary. Therefore there isn't a formal understanding of pedagogy or learning. They just reproduce the way they were taught.

So, how to make the OLPC project successful in Rwanda with such a challenge in teachers capacity building?

The common sense answer would be to increase the number of parallel trainings. Although, there is always the constraints of financial resources and qualified people to run such workshops. This last one, the human resources, are a particular issue in Rwanda. There is no academic tradition in the country neither on progressive education nor on computers and learning. This force us, and NGOs with similar objectives, to work with people from scratch in all senses of their development.

What is OLPC Rwanda's answer to the question of scaling teacher training? Juliano says model OLPC schools:

A large part of our work is to create OLPC Model Schools, that will be centers were the laptops integration into the school can serve as reference for the society in general and other schools in particular. Teachers should be able to come to those places and witness with their own eyes what their peers are doing. This will help to make the society to understand that laptops aren't a tool to teaching computer skills, but are really an "object to think with", something that qualitatively changes the way we learn.

Yet model schools have similar issues to train the trainer - you still have to get 43,000 teachers to experience a model school to effect change in their professional mindset. Juliano believes that using local media and direct XO-to-XO idea transmission will expand best practices.

Personally, I'm hoping you'll have a better idea that both of us can agree on.


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Wayan asks:

"How to Scale OLPC Teacher Training to Reach 43,000 Rwandan School Teachers?"


Do you REALLY need to train 43.000 teachers?

What about abandoning all the empty pseudo-constructivist rethoric and focusing on providing third-world kids with the same "rote-memory" education that has produced virtually every great mind in the world?

Who says the world needs a One-Laptop-Per-Teacher Program? What about a One Computer Lab Per School Program? It would result in a much easier-to-manage problem of training only a fraction of the teacher workforce. This is the way it is done in every wealthy or "civilized" nation in the world. USA, France, Canada, Japan, Songapore, Spain, Israel, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, etc. They are all doing things the same way: one computer lab per school. Much cheaper, much more efficient and much more effective than all these absurd ideas of giving laptops away expecting a miracle.

Whatever is good for a kid in the best education systems in the world should be enough for a kid in a third-world country. Except in the land of Negrponte and his blind followers.

Hello all,

I just wanted to make clear that School Models isn't the only answer to this issues I raised. In Rwanda we have a multi layers stratgies that goes from teachers capacity building to model schools.

I do agree that model schools don't scale by themselves. Althgoug you can desive stretagies that really increase their impact. The point of model schools and massive media is that both are types of interventions designed to increase quality of the use of laptops in the classrooms and at home. Althought they aren't the only ones.

The whole idea of this interventions is to create a cultural change around learning and how society perceive children. In this sense instantiating some powerful uses of laptop is a necessary step to promote change.

It would be ideal to have radio programs aimed at teachers in each of their languages (USAID funded things like this years ago), combined with radio programs aimed at mothers and fathers and children, in each of their languages, which are regular shows on a weekly basis, with people coming in and talking about how they use or teach their laptops for living, and for thinking and collaborating creatively. Combine this with partnering with the Commonwealth Of Learning ( to create what they call Open and Distance Learning (ODL) modules in each local language, for teaching people how to use and maintain the laptops, and connect them with other resources, including tools (the inventor of the screen also invented a $2 microscope!) that extend its usefulness.
Also combine it with the empowering curricula that Edward Cherlin is coordinating development of; he is at .

The laptops will be used in English as a Second Language and Mathematics with focus on grades P4-P6. Schools currently have specialist teachers for these subjects. Assuming 350 schools in the deployment, this would require immediate training for about 1000 teachers.

Rwanda has a Teacher Service Organization with existing responsibility for teacher training.

Based on experience in Nepal, offsite training for a week supplemented by in-school training for three days with teachers of similar background to Rwanda has been effective.

It is always possible to define a problem as insoluble.


Tony, additionally I would argue that follow-up trainings in regular intervals (e.g. on a yearly basis during school holidays) is also an important component that generally hasn't received enough attention yet.

As in the article the difficulty with scaling training is to maintain quality with minimal access to skilled human resources.

Found three key things here in Afghanistan looking at this on a smaller scale:

1. For sessions trying to break it down and standardize it with a lesson plan that the trainer can go through. The trainer does not need to be a master of everything - the trainer more needs to have the soft skills than the know how. If one has something standardized broken down bit by bit with suggested activities and exercises then one can much more readily use staff who have less training.

2. We considered using an ink spot strategy - that's similar to model schools. The difference is that with the ink spot you make it so that the people around the first ink spot have to ask for / seek the answers that reside within the ink spot. A little bit of jealousy about and wanting that for your community could go a long way. Haven't had the chance to test this - but has worked in many rural development.

3. Creation of a small quick guide with the answers to the most commonly needed functions - "how do I change x?" - FAQ

4. Identify a percentage of those teachers who are more enthusiastic and maybe a bit more capable. Give them additional training and a title. Then they can be go to / semi-support people.

Also I would note that if you to get across the idea that the computers are to help with school generally, not just for learning computers, then you need to provide some examples and critically educational content / integration models that work with the reality of what teachers have available to them.

Generally expecting teachers with all the other loads that they have to magically figure it out after sometimes graduating from a rote system themselves is not the path to success.


"Generally expecting teachers with all the other loads that they have to magically figure it out after sometimes graduating from a rote system themselves is not the path to success."

Blasphemy, pure blasphemy I tell ya!! ;-)

"I'm not a big fan of Train the Trainer methodologies to scale teacher training."

Can you elaborate on the types of methodologies you do support?

In all these discussions, I cant see an understanding that teachers want to be good teachers and want to give children a good education. Often, the "system" prevents them from experimenting and trying new things. Fix this first.

So to train 43,000 teachers, you need to do two things. Firstly just give them just enough training to overcome their initial fear of using the XO. Then you need to encourage/support them to learn how to use it in the classroom. This is not a once off thing. It is continuous development Support this with networking with other teachers (and children and parents and the Internet). Recognize and reward good efforts

After all, that is the way we see children learning (with the XO) so we should employ the same principles for teachers. No "Talk and chalk" teaching, even to train the teachers.