We first introduced ourselves as mentors for the four participants´ mentoring group. And after a while the WhatsApp group rolled out photos of mentees and school contexts. Would it be so that when we the Finnish fellows are used to put forth ourselves via words and text Ugandan teacher mentees feel more comfortable to use photos and other visual materials to be in contact and interact? Is this the first question for running the mobile mentoring?
What is it about?
Mobile mentoring means that Finnish teachers help and support Ugandan teachers working in primary and secondary school contexts through online communication. The online support is connected with teacher training in Uganda organized by Finn Church Aid (FCA)/Teachers without borders (Twb). The latest mentoring phase took place in Fall 2019.
In the WhatsApp group, the mentees raise questions and problems that arise from their actual teaching experiences. Mentors introduce training program topics (pedagogy, inclusion, curricular planning, child protection and teachers´ well-being) to deepen together understanding of the training contents. Mentees and mentors are working together to solve problems and share resource materials.
Topics of discussion vary. For example, the attendants might ask questions like: “Some learners do well in class, but perform poorly in the term assessment. What would be the problem?” or mentors’ may give tasks such as: “I now ask you to do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of yourself as a teacher.”
To keep discussions cosy and easy to take part, every now and then, the participants chat about weather, food and funny events in their daily life etc.
How did it happen?
Discussion in a WhatsApp group is a key method of the mobile mentoring. “Would you tell …?”, “Can you explain …?”, “How did you solve …?”, “I need your help, please …?” etc. are sentences to describe how the discussion usually begins. In most cases, the mentor asks extra questions to find a solution or suggestion for the issue at hand. The mentor also encourages mentees to support their mates and to give peer comments to find realistic actions for the classroom context.
Besides discussion, mentoring is also working on tasks that the mentor provides, and going through learning materials which mentees can use in their teaching. The WhatsApp mentoring is also an online element of the teacher training program FCA organizes. The mentoring empowers and enriches learning contents included in the contact trainings arranged locally in Uganda. Offline and online activities constitute a blended learning implementation, which is a characteristic feature of FCA teacher training program executed in Uganda.
Mentors met once face to face before starting the mentoring. They also had their own WhatsApp group for peer support and solving practical questions in the mentoring process. This cooperation was important to keep mentoring “on the same track” and to share feelings while mentoring. For the future mobile mentoring, it would be useful for the mentors to know better circumstances and teacher resources in Ugandan primary and secondary education, and to receive more support on the facilitation of practicalities in mobile mentoring.
And did it really succeed?
A feedback given by mentees proposes that the mobile mentoring has been important for mentees and that the mobile mentoring has been a successful process. After learning to use the WhatsApp application in their smartphones, the mentees gradually received courage to ask questions, to tell about the challenges in their daily teaching and then discuss about them. Mentors felt very proud, when the mentees told that they had tried some mentors´ ideas in the classroom and also succeeded in using them. When mentees got used to the mentoring activity, and trusty relationships between mentor and mentee grew up, mentees started to interact with each other without mentor´s contribution. The things that were most rewarding for mentors, were the moments when the mentees actually shared their problems in the classroom, and other mentees answered them sending ideas of how to solve those problems.
Sometimes the circumstances in Uganda caused problems for the mentees. For example, some of the teacher spent school holidays in areas where there were no coverage for the phones. There were also challenges in merely using smartphones. Texting and sending photos or videos was something new and difficult for most of the mentees. These challenges caused some frustration in the mentees, and also in the mentors, but were mostly solved by mutual understanding and a great motivation to participate whenever it was possible.
The attendance of mentees to mobile mentoring was active and motivated. After practical problems in the beginning, the mentees responsibly made given exercises and took part in discussions.
Based on the mentoring, there are challenges in the Ugandan education sector. Teachers have to work with really big classes varying from around 100 pupils to even over 300 learners. This is of course a question of school and classroom facilities, but above all an issue of big group pedagogy. There are endeavors to form smaller groups and arrange learning in them. The dynamics of transitions from big group to small groups and back is a challenge, with which the mentee-teachers do their best weekly.
Another challenge is to keep all learners motivated to participate in the school education. This problem is related to parents’ and other community adults’ abilities to support school education. Also, pupils might have learning disabilities as well as obstacles and traumas in learners’ (refugee) background. Mentee teachers encounter this issue in a realistic way and understand their resources to handle motivation problems.
Mentee teachers in Uganda do awesome work in very demanding educational environment. They are committed to their challenging teaching profession. The mobile mentoring comprised many cases and dialogues, in which we mentors learned equally with mentees, sometimes maybe even more than mentees. We feel that we have received new friends in Uganda and hope to meet them in person in real life some day.
The last question: do Ugandan teachers be more visual than Finnish colleagues as we assumed in the beginning of this post? The mobile mentoring has demonstrated that it was only the first image, but not the true one. Ugandan and Finnish teachers use rather similar way photos, videos and written text in their mutual communication.