25 May 2017

Promoting active teaching and learning

How smart design increases the quality of learning

students in Uganda sitting around a table working as a group to solve a problem.

A substantial investment needs to be made in infrastructural support, because a conducive learning environment is key for optimal learning.

While access to education has substantially increased over the years, the declining quality of education is a growing concern for many in Uganda. A large number of schools are afflicted by a lack of teachers, limited equipment and inadequate infrastructure to meet the needs of the growing classroom population.

The Teacher Training Education (TTE) project set up by the Belgian development agency and the Ugandan government seeks to address this problem. The project aims at improving the quality of secondary teacher education in National Teachers’ Colleges by strengthening the professional competencies of future teachers and enhancing infrastructure.


Students in National Teachers College of Muni (Uganda) using the open spaces to their advantage.
(c) Sam Deckers


Away from teacher-centered education


Teachers often rely on the traditional teacher-centered education styles where they are viewed as the information provider while students simply listen, memorise and take notes. This approach has proven to limit the skills and knowledge development of students. However, accompanied by the fact that teachers are facing large numbers of students in a single classroom, limited teaching resources and poor infrastructure, the quality of education has been severely watered down.

One of the main objectives of the TTE project is to improve the quality of teacher training by introducing a learner-centered approach to teaching known as Active Teaching and Learning (ATL). With ATL, learning systems shift focus from the teacher to the student and foster independent reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking. Students become more likely to retain a higher percentage of knowledge and skills because they engage with different types of study materials, participate in and out of the classroom and exchange information with their peers.

boy and a girl are working together in the open green space of Kaliro National Teachers College in Uganda.


Teacher = facilitator


ATL is improving learning in a way that benefits both the teacher and the student. Phionah Namutosi, a student from National Teachers’ College Mubende shared the following experience:

“During my time as a student, teachers were focused on exams and I found myself not understanding a lot of the subjects in the classroom. Right now, with the Active Teaching and Learning approach, lessons are more interesting and I retain so much more than before.”

“This way of learning is more realistic than theoretical,” explains Sarah Nawuma, a mentor teacher at National Teachers’ College Kaliro. The students enjoy learning more when they are involved and in control of it. As a teacher, I have changed practice. I used to lecture my students but now my role is to facilitate learning.”


student-teachers preparing arts classes in groups.
(c) Sam Deckers


Smart design

Ultimately, providing better teaching methods is one way to improve the quality of education. In order to take a further step, a substantial investment also has to be made in infrastructural support. A conducive learning environment is key for optimal learning.

Through the infrastructural component of the TTE project, a lot of emphasis has been put on creating a healthy functional learning environment that enhances Active Teaching and Learning. The architectural designs and infrastructural set-up take into account several factors that focus on innovation, sustainability, energy efficiency and the natural environment. Students benefit from sufficient natural daylight and a pleasant temperature in classrooms, thanks to a well-designed cross-ventilation system adjusted to higher tropical temperatures without any artificial intervention.

The learning environment has been enhanced through the creation of spacious and flexible classrooms. These classrooms have electricity sockets installed in the centre to ease projector and computer use and writing boards and furniture that can easily be repositioned. This makes it easier for teachers to step away from the teacher-centered approach and use ICT as an extra learning tool.

While classroom areas have received most attention, libraries have not been forgotten. Libraries are the centre of learning, so it is essential to create an engaging learning environment. Innovations such as small working rooms for groups, wireless internet and availability of computers have transformed libraries in the National Teachers’ Colleges into a hub of knowledge with user-friendly facilities.

Safe learning environments


Sarah Nawuma, a mentor teacher in NTC Kaliro, shared her views on the new infrastructural developments:

“The classrooms are accommodative now and this is helpful in creating learning centres and using ATL techniques. Most of our students live in rural areas where they cannot access this kind of facilities. In the college they get the opportunity to learn more skills, carry out research and improve their learning process.”

Apart from renovating and building education blocks the architectural developments also included the redesigning of sports facilities and the renovation and construction of accommodation facilities. With this the TTE project aims at creating safe learning environments based on the different needs of college staff and students.

Infrastructure has played a big role in stimulating learning especially in the National Teachers’ Colleges (NTCs) where the project is reaching over 7,235 students. The second phase of the project is focusing on pedagogy for NTC Kabale and Mubende, while NTC Muni and Kaliro pays special attention to accommodation for students and teachers.

Construction design is underway in order to start construction by the end of 2018. The works should be completed by early 2020. Finally, the project is also setting up an infrastructural maintenance programme for all NTCs including NTC Unyama which got infrastructure support from other donors.


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