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REAL: OER4Schools

African students using laptopsOER4Schools: An open professional learning programme to support interactive teaching with and without digital technology

The 'OER4Schools' programme has developed and trialled an open, multimedia professional learning resource for pre-service and in-service teachers. The resource supports interactive teaching and inquiry-based, collaborative learning of primary school mathematics and science – generally, and through using mobile technologies, digital open educational resources (OER) and Open Source software. The programme uniquely combines stakeholders from various sectors (including higher education and educational research, ICT for development [NGOs], government, and the technology service sector) as a basis for developing methodologies that promise lasting transformation in primary education in sub-Saharan Africa.

OER4Schools was funded by the Commonwealth Education Trust between 2009-14 and was originally based in the Centre for Commonwealth Education at the University of Cambridge. Ongoing activities are conducted within the Centre for Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL). The project is carried out in a North-South partnership between University of Cambridge and institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. It uniquely combines stakeholders from various sectors (including higher education and educational research, ICT for development [NGOs], government, and the technology service sector) as a basis for developing methodologies that promise lasting transformation in primary education in sub-Saharan Africa.

Research team: Sara Hennessy (Faculty of Education) and Björn Hassler (Open Development and Education Ltd.)

Funder: Commonwealth Education Trust 

Duration: Funded from 2009-14 

Partners: iSchool Zambia; University of Johannesburg; University of South Africa (Unisa); Rwanda Education Board and One-Laptop-Per-Child; Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (CEMESTEA), Kenya; University of Zambia, Chalimbana University; VVOB Zambia; OER Africa; Zambia Ministry of Education; University of Sierra Leone.

Phases 1-2

Team photoThroughout the initial pilot phase (Jan. - June 2010), we assessed the feasibility of providing Open Educational Resources (OER) to ICT- and Internet-equipped primary schools in Zambia, and of supporting interactive forms of subject pedagogy with the new resources. The work identified the needs of school-based professional development sensitively adapted to the local context. It was initiated in response to a project led by an NGO partner,, who were integrating technology into Zambian schools with limited pedagogical support at the time. We worked with teachers in 3 schools, developing, supporting and trialling uses of OER combined with new pedagogical approaches for teaching mathematics and science. There were opportunities for peer observation and reflective practice. The research element recorded classroom practice and assessed participants' reactions and learning, eliciting messages for embedding basic ICT and OER use in teacher education. A small amount of hardware was provided by the DfID-funded ANTSIT project. Key outputs included a model for OER-Pedagogy-ICT adoption in poorly resourced educational systems, and guidance on implementing better learning environments.

Young people with laptopsIn the second phase (Oct. 2010 - Oct. 2011) we worked with four teachers from two of the original schools. We developed the comprehensive OER4Schools professional learning resource for teachers and student teachers, focusing on interactive teaching and learning – for contexts with and without technology. A key element of this resource is the use of unique video clips illustrating interactive practice (produced in Zambian and South African primary classroom contexts) as a stimulus for discussion. The 6 units (25 two-hour sessions) cover interactive teaching principles, group work, questioning, dialogue, Assessment for Learning, inquiry-based learning, and communication with other stakeholders.

The resource is freely available for re-use under a Creative Commons license. It supports different modes of learning, including collaborative and individual use, as well as blended learning as part of a course. It is available in a number of formats, appropriate to the varied African environments in which teachers find themselves. It is being embedded in various teacher education and professional development courses administered by teacher colleges and universities in Zambia and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

Phases 3-4

Primary school students readingPhase 3 (school year 2012) involved trialling the resource with all (12) teachers in Grades 4 to 6 at Chalimbana Basic School. A Zambian teacher facilitated regular workshops with his colleagues. The school is a poorly resourced Government school that serves a predominantly disadvantaged, rural community. Teachers engaged with the programme on a near-weekly basis, while collaborative resource development continued in parallel. The research examined the impact on teachers' thinking and classroom practices. Research data comprised lesson observations, lesson and workshop recordings, teacher interviews, portfolios and audio diaries. Through the teacher-led workshop approach and trialling new pedagogical strategies, teachers raised their expectations of pupils, adapted to learners’ knowledge levels, used more practical and group work, and integrated technology use. Pupils built deeper understanding of subject matter, were actively engaged, worked collaboratively, and used digital technologies for problem solving. Supporting and constraining factors emerging were characterised at three levels: teacher, school, and the wider community and policy context.

In Phase 4 (2013-2014), the programme spontaneously broadened to all grades at the school, involving all 35 teachers and all pupils (around 1,000). Workshops were mainly being facilitated by teachers who participated in earlier phases. Follow-up interviews after 18 months of the programme being self-sustaining without our involvement indicated that similar pedagogic changes continue to take place. Analyses of teachers’ and our own experiences to date also yielded a number of lessons learned and reflections upon the degree of teacher ownership and motivation to participate, plus guidelines for implementing and timetabling school-based professional development (see Publications).

Current activities

Our programme in Zambia has generated wider interest from Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda. The programme was tailored to those settings and some small-scale exploratory activities have taken place. Likewise collaboration with University of Johannesburg and Unisa in South Africa has taken place.

The most significant uses of the programme are as follows. The £17 million DfID-funded T-TEL programme of reform for teacher education in Ghana draws explicitly on the approach in their professional development programme for college tutors, with regular professional development sessions across the 40 national colleges of education, involving some 1,800 college tutors ( The programme structure has been adopted by the Roger Federer Foundation in their development of the iACT programme, reaching teachers in several hundred community schools in Zambia. In Zimbabwe, the programme is being adapted for secondary schools through a collaboration with FHNW ( Following trials at Mpumelelo High School the programme is being broadened (2019) to additional schools in the Nkayi area.

Professional Development Resource and Videos

Click here to access the OER4schools professional learning resource.
A collection of video clips can be accessed here. These depict classroom practice in Zambia and form the basis of a professional learning resource for teachers and teacher educators across sub-Saharan Africa.

The collection also includes conference presentations of our work. A clip of one primary teacher, Agness, co-presenting with us at the e-Learning Africa conference in Lusaka is May 2010 is accessible here.

A collection of our Phase 2 lesson clips and sequences is also viewable here.


Poster for project

A video describing 21st century learning in Zambia, drawing on the OER4Schools and iSchool approaches and part funded by ARM, is also available here.

Published work includes:

Haßler, B., Hennessy, S., & Hofmann, R., (2018). Sustaining and scaling pedagogic innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Grounded insights for teacher professional development. Journal of Learning for Development - JL4D, 5(1)

Hennessy, S., Haßler, B. & Hofmann, R. (2015). Challenges and opportunities for teacher professional development in interactive use of technology in African schools. In J. Tondeur & J. Voogt (eds.), Technology, Pedagogy and Education: Special Issue on "Capacity Building for 21st Century Learning in Africa: A Focus on ICT Integration in Education" 24(5), 1-28.

Hennessy, S., Haßler, B., & Hofmann, R. (2015). Pedagogic change by Zambian primary school teachers participating in the OERS4Schools professional development programme for one year. Research Papers in Education.

Haßler, B., Hennessy, S., Cross, A. with Chileshe, E. and Machiko, B. (2014). School-based professional development in a developing context: Lessons learnt from a case study in Zambia. Professional Development in Education, 41 (5), 806-825. doi:

Lawrie, J., Hennessy. S. & Haßler, B. (2014) Technology and teacher professional development. (Chapter 7). In Burns, M. & Lawrie, J. (Eds.), Teacher professional development in fragile contexts: A guide for policymakers and practitioners. New York, NY: Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies.

Hennessy, S., Haßler, B., & Mwewa, G. (2012). Using digital technology and school-based professional development to leverage interactive classroom teaching in Zambia. In J. MacBeath & M. Younger (Eds.), Millennium Goals Revisited: A Common Wealth of Learning. London: Routledge. Available online.

Haßler, Hennessy and Lubasi (2011), Changing Classroom Practice using a School-Based Professional Development Approach to Introducing Digital Resources in Zambia, Itupale Online Journal of African Studies, Volume 111.

Hennessy, S., Onguko, B., Ang’ondi, E. K., Harrison, D., Namalefe, S., Naseem, A., & Wamakote, L. (2010). Developing use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning in East African schools: a review of the literature (No. 1). Cambridge, UK and Dar es Salaam, TZ: Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development - Eastern Africa.

Hennessy, S., Harrison, D. & Wamakote, L. (2010). Teacher factors influencing classroom use of ICT in sub-Saharan Africa. Itupale Online Journal of African Studies, 2 (“Education in Africa: Developments for the 21st Century”), 39-54. Available at:


More recent presentations are available in Prezi format at

e-Learning Africa: 9th International Conference for ICT for Development, Education and Training. Kampala, Uganda, May 2014. Hennessy and Haßler. A year-long trial of a multimedia professional development programme for interactive teaching with technology in Zambia.

5th ICT in Higher Education Summit, Johannesburg. Hennessy, Paulsen, Dreyer, Haßler, Loubser, Beardon, Mays (2014).Professional learning with ICT in the southern African context: The UNISA-Cambridge collaboration on Advanced Diplomas in Education.

Africa Colloquium, Cambridge. Hennessy & Hassler (2014). School-based professional development for interactive teaching with mobile technology and OER in Zambia. A video is available of our 10-min. presentation and of 5 other presentations by CCE colleagues.

UNESCO Mobile Learning Conference. Paris, France, February 2014. Hennessy and Haßler. Lessons learned from trialling an open multimedia professional development programme to support interactive teaching using mobile technology in sub-Saharan Africa.

e-Learning Africa: 8th International Conference for ICT for Development, Education and Training. Windhoek, Namibia, May 2013. Haßler, Makonga, Hennessy, Paulsen. Trialling an open multimedia professional development programme to support interactive teaching using ICT in a Zambian primary school.

e-Learning Africa 2012, Benin: Hennessy, Haßler and Zulu (2012). A multimedia professional development resource to support interactive teaching using ICT in Zambia.

BERA 2012, Manchester: Hennessy, Haßler and Marsden (2012). OER4Schools: Supporting interactive teaching – with and without ICT – in Zambian primary schools through school-based professional development.

Keynote at Higher Education and ICT Forum, Johannesburg: Hennessy (2012). Can teacher education focused on interactive teaching with digital resources leverage change in African schooling?

UKFIET: Hennessy, Haßler, Mays and Cross (2011) OER4Schools: Introducing digital resources into Zambian primary schools through school-based professional development. Click here to view presentation.

e-Learning Africa 2011: Hennessy, Haßler, Cross, Lord and Jackson (2011) Creating interactive pedagogical spaces using portable technologies in the Zambian classroom. Click here to view presentation.

Our presentation at the Humanitarian Centre's ICT4D event in Cambridge (November 2010): Introducing digital OER into Zambian schools. Click here to view video.

Briefing document

The project team produced an informative, colour illustrated OER4Schools briefing document (download as a pdf) summarising the key ideas of the project, the findings of our early trials and plans for carrying the work forward. We also made a full size poster summarising the first two years of the work. Click on the poster image (right) to download the full size pdf. (Further work has been carried out since these were produced but they may nevertheless be of interest.)


To view the OER4Schools resource, please visit Further learning resources from other Faculty of Education projects (including ASKAIDS, and others) are available at All resources are published as Open Educational Resources (OER), which means that we invite you to use, share, re-use, and adapt them.


If you think the resource could be of interest to you or your organisation, and you would like to find out more, please email us at

Click here to visit the related ANTSIT project page: the DfID-funded ANTSIT project provided some basic equipment to the Zambian schools in our trials.

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