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The Organization of Teacher Training at a Distance with Particular Reference to Kenya

Peter E. Kinyanjui

Many countries have used distance education for teacher training. This article focuses on such programs in Kenya. Please note that the full text of this book is available to those with adequate computer capacity at the following URL:

Kinyanjui, Peter E. "The Organization of Teacher Training at a Distance with Particular Reference to Kenya." In Paud Murphy and Abdelwahed Zhiri, eds., Distance Education in Anglophone Africa: Experience with Secondary Education and Teacher Training. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, pp. 117–22.

Programs for distance training of teachers in Kenya go back some twenty years. The first post-independence Kenya Education Commission, under the chairmanship of Professor Simeon Ominde, was set up to look into the whole of Kenya's educational system, and has influenced and guided national policy for education since independence. It was the Ominde Commission that first proposed the establishment of radio/correspondence education by the Ministry of Education. The commission urged consideration of a combination of lessons by radio with an approved correspondence course (Government of Kenya 1964). Thus, the Correspondence Course Unit was set up in 1967 at the University College Nairobi (now the University of Nairobi), with initial financial assistance from the United States Agency for International Development.

Since that time, considerable development has taken place and the whole concept and practice of correspondence education in Kenya has expanded to include tutoring at a distance, which is linked to other forms of supportive and integral media. Hence the use of a more comprehensive term—distance education—and the renaming of the Correspondence Course Unit to the Department of Distance Studies, which is part of the College of Education and External Studies of the University of Nairobi.

In-Service Courses for Primary Teachers

The Ministry of Education first launched in-service courses for untrained primary teachers through distance teaching in 1969. The program continued until 1977, was suspended, and was then revived in 1982. To date, approximately 20,000 primary teachers have received in-service training under this program, which is likely to continue for some time to come if all the untrained teachers, who account for about 30 percent of the total force of about 143,000 primary teachers, are to be professionally trained (table 9.1).

Table 9.1 shows that the total number of untrained teachers has continued to rise in the face of increases in the number of schools and pupils. In other words, the proportion of untrained teachers has remained constant at around 30 percent of the total teaching force. With the introduction of the eight-four-four system (eight years of primary education, four years of secondary, and four years of tertiary) of education in 1985 when the duration of primary education was extended from seven to eight years, an additional 13,500 untrained teachers were recruited into the service with the intention that they would undergo in-service training through distance education.

Table 9.1 Primary Education: Growth of Schools, Pupils, and Teachers, Selected Years

Year Number of schools Number of pupils Number of trained teachers Number of untrained teachers Total number of teachers Percentage of trained teachers

1963 6,058 891,553 17,682 5,045 22,727 77.8
1968 6,135 1,209,680 27,485 10,438 37,923 72.5
1973 6,932 1,816,017 43,990 12,553 56,543 77.8
1978 9,243 2,994,892 63,912 28,134 92,046 69.4
1983 11,856 4,323,921 84,036 35,673 119,709 70.2
1988 13,403 4,986,121 100,319 42,789 143,108 70.1

Source: Ministry of Education.

Organization of Distance Education Programs

The in-service courses are organized on a three-year cycle, that is, each cohort of about 3,000 teachers is enrolled in the distance education program and takes three years to complete the course before another group is admitted. The learners are required to take a total of fourteen subjects in specified clusters as shown in table 9.2.

Table 9.2 Distance Education for Teachers: Required Subjects

First year Second year Third year

Professional studies Professional studies Professional studies
English English Business education
Mathematics Mathematics Home science
Science Science Social education and ethics
Riswahili Kiswahili Physical education
Music Arts & crafts Religious education
Geography, history,
and civics
Geography, history,
and civics

The learning media package used in the in-service program consists of a correspondence component, which comprises about 75 percent of the course content. This is supported and supplemented by radio lessons broadcast over the Voice of Kenya. In addition, the students participate in face-to-face tuition for a total of seven weeks a year spread over the school holidays at residential primary teachers colleges. The residential component comprises 25 percent of the course content. Every learner is assessed on a continuous basis throughout the three-year period with grades awarded for performance on the correspondence written assignments, the practical teaching, and the annual examinations.

Correspondence Component

Correspondence study materials constitute the main medium of instruction. They are prepared by the Department of Distance Studies of the University of Nairobi following the teacher education curriculum approved by the Kenya Institute of Education. These study materials are developed in instructional units that are, to a large extent, self-contained and written in a manner that makes them highly interactive. It is assumed that the primary teachers have little or no access to textbooks or reference materials, and the study units therefore include all the basic information needed to understand the subject matter.

To involve the learners in active participation, activities and exercises are built into the text at appropriate intervals. The correspondence course writers adopt, as far as possible, the problem-solving approach in presenting the study materials so as to provide teachers with opportunities to apply what they have learnt.

The actual course content in the in-service program has two main objectives. First, it helps to update the teachers' academic knowledge of the fourteen subjects taught in primary schools. Second, it helps them acquire the skills and techniques needed to teach the various subjects.

Continuous assessment is an important part of the in-service program. The teachers are required to submit their written assignments at set intervals for marketing and grading. The task of marking and grading the assignments is carried out by qualified tutors from teachers colleges and secondary schools who are paid on a piecework basis. All these tutors are required to undergo regular training in the methodology of tutoring at a distance. A substantial number of these tutors are recruited from primary teachers colleges to ensure the maintenance of standards prevailing at the pre-service teachers colleges. The Department of Distance Studies is responsible for maintaining all the records of the enrolled teachers and of their performance in the various subjects.

The delivery of study materials and basic textbooks is done through the District Education Offices or, when convenient, during the residential sessions held at the fifteen primary teachers colleges. This helps to minimize the losses and delays experienced when using the postal service.

Radio Component

Radio lessons are designed to support and reinforce the correspondence component. They highlight some of the pertinent points or issues contained in the study units without necessarily repeating or summarizing them. Radio is thus used primarily to motivate the teachers and to pace them as they work through the study materials.

The preparation, scripting, and recording of the radio programs is done jointly by the Department of Distance Studies and the Educational Media Service of the Kenya Institute of Education. The radio lessons are then broadcast over the Voice of Kenya at regular times with repeat broadcasts throughout the year. Each enrolled teacher receives a broadcast schedule together with any supplementary learning materials.

Over the years it has become evident that most teachers do listen to the radio lessons regularly and have found them useful as supplements to the correspondence study materials. It is also evident from discussions with the teachers and from their written assignments that the radio lessons have had a considerable impact on their learning. They often refer to "what the radio tutor said the other day," or "according to the radio message broadcast last week," and so on. The radio tutor seems to carry considerable authority, and the apparent immediacy of the messages conveyed through the radio is one of the main benefits listeners often quote. The listeners from the more remote parts of the country depend largely on radio for information about arrangements for residential sessions, examinations dates, and any unforeseen delays in the dispatch of study materials.

An audience survey conducted by the Voice of Kenya in 1985 revealed that some 750,000 people throughout the country had their radios on at the times when the teachers' programs were being broadcast. The "eavesdroppers" included other teachers who were not enrolled, but who found the radio lessons worth listening to.

It has also been established that some of the enrolled teachers have made arrangements to record the radio lessons and have shared them with their colleagues in group learning situations. One conclusion drawn from this modified use of radio programs is that the teachers value the audio component of the learning package, but the inflexibility of the radio schedules was a disadvantage to some of the teachers. The use of audio cassettes introduced the flexibility they needed.

Face-to-Face Component

The face-to-face meetings take four different formats. First are the direct teaching sessions in a classroom situation. The teachers receive instruction on and detailed explanations of some of the difficult concepts they may have encountered in their studies. Second, group discussions are organized to provide an opportunity for the teachers to exchange views and experiences, and to consult with their supervisors and program administrators. Third, group meetings are held to provide teaching practice under supervision, and to conduct assessment in practical teaching as part of the final evaluation of the teachers. Fourth, written examinations are conducted at designated centers around the country, usually in teachers colleges or secondary schools.

All the residential sessions are held during the school holidays and involve a wide range of professional people. These include representatives from the Ministry's Inspectorate and the In-Service Course Unit, the Kenya Institute of Education, the Department of Distance Studies, the District and Divisional Education Offices, and the Kenya National Examinations Council.

From the institutional standpoint, the face-to-face component of the program has proved to be the most difficult to organize and execute, and certainly the most demanding in terms of staff time than the correspondence or radio components. It is also the one component that has invariably suffered from budget cuts, and the consequent understaffing and curtailed support services. It has also drawn the largest number of criticisms from the enrolled teachers. Apparently policymakers have yet to be convinced that distance education, despite its name, does require systematic support services if the learners are to reap the maximum benefit.

Some Lessons Learnt

During its existence, the Kenyan program of teacher training through distance education has learnt a number of lessons that can be summarized in the following eight points.

1. Teacher effectiveness. An effective teacher training program should include a fair amount of teaching of the subject matter that the teacher is supposed to teach, as well as an appropriate repertoire of pedagogical skills in the particular subject. The ideal balance between the academic and the pedagogical content has been a matter of persistent discussion and contention, but the general consensus is that both are important ingredients for teacher effectiveness.

2. Motivation. Although the teachers in the Kenyan program are generally highly motivated by the monetary benefits that follow their enhanced qualifications and status, their motivation needs to be sustained. In this respect strengthened supervision and professional support should be extended to the teachers to sustain their motivation and increase their professional commitment

3. Cost-effectiveness. Distance education methods are not necessarily cheaper than conventional methods of teacher training, but for the specific needs of unqualified or underqualified teachers, particularly those in rural areas, distance education is the most cost-effective method available. It may also have other broad social and economic benefits for the country or region, for example, retaining dedicated but underqualified teachers in the profession or supporting qualified teachers by giving them extra work as tutors. One thing, however, is clear: the opportunity cost of distance education is significantly lower than for the more conventional teacher training programs.

4. Economies of scale. Economies of scale can be realized in distance education if the numbers are sufficiently large for one particular program, or if several programs can share administration, production, delivery, and regional support services. In Kenya, for example, the experiences gained in the use of distance education methods for training primary teachers have been used to train adult literacy teachers (at certificate level) and secondary teachers (at degree level).

5. Cooperation. Close consultation and cooperation among the various departments, organizations, and institutions involved in teacher education programs and clear definition of each entity's responsibilities are very important. However, this takes a great deal of time and effort, and often results in long delays in reaching final decisions. For example, in Kenya the issue regarding teachers certification and awards took more than two years to resolve. The final decision was that the Kenya Institute of Education would develop and review the teacher training curriculum, the Department of Distance Studies would conduct the distance teaching component, the Educational Media Service would prepare the radio programs, the Voice of Kenya would broadcast them, the Ministry's Inspectorate and Field Staff would supervise teaching practice, the Kenya National Examinations Council would conduct the final examinations and award certificates, while the Teachers Service Commission would recognize the certificates f or purposes of employment and promotion.

6. Training the distance educators. Distance education requires teams of people performing different tasks and working at different levels to accomplish a common institutional goal. They all require orientation and training to equip them with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and approaches that are appropriate to distance education.

7. Resources. The central distance education institution must be adequately provided with the necessary physical, fiscal, and human resources to enable it operate efficiently.

8. Political support. The whole program must have strong political support and commitment.

Looking Ahead

As developing countries continue to grapple with the problems of quantitative expansion of education for all people, the qualitative improvement of education at all levels, and the contingent issue of the cost of education, they must seriously consider alternative delivery systems. In this quest, distance education should play new and expanded roles. A distance education system that may have started as a stop-gap measure and then developed as an alternative system may become an integral part of the mainstream education delivery system. It may just be a matter of time.


Government of Kenya. 1964. The Report of the Kenya Education Commission. Nairobi: Government Printer.

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