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Ask an academic: Dr Jennie Golding

By Sian E Gardiner, on 28 January 2019

Dr Jennie Golding is a lecturer in Mathematics Education at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE). Her research focuses in particular on teacher development for policy change in both the UK and a variety of second and third world contexts.

Jennie regularly works with teachers, policy makers and teacher educators in developing countries to support the growth of evidence-based, effective maths education. We spoke to her to find out more about her recent work in East Africa, supported by a UCL Global Engagement Fund (GEF) grant.

You started out as a mathematician and moved into teaching – what interested you in education?

I had enjoyed working with three-18 year olds on a voluntary basis – and I think enjoying being with young people is really important. Then I began to analyse the different functions my teachers at school and university had played, and to appreciate the difference a good teacher makes to clarity and enjoyment of the subject I love.

The rest is history – except that after a long career classroom-based, but working in teacher development alongside that, in this country and the developing world, I felt I wanted to capitalise on that by moving into HE.

You were among recent recipients of UCL’s Global Engagement Funds (GEF). What led you to apply for the funds?

I have a passionate belief in the power of education to transform individuals and society – and in equitable access to that. In particular, young people can’t access 21st century science and technology without knowing mathematics in a meaningful way – and yet, many developing countries have an education tradition that majors on rote learning, and teacher as authoritarian and source of all knowledge.

The initial GEF funding enabled me to engage with, and visit, a range of teachers in Tanzania so I better understood their context – but more importantly in the long term, to meet and begin to work with teacher educators and mathematics education researchers in the region.

In August 2018 I was able to build on that visit by working with researchers from across East Africa, who identified the development of teacher educators in the region, together with the policy-related local research capacity, as the most effort-effective focus.

You were recently in Uganda, following up on the project. How did the visit go?

I was running a course for primary mathematics teacher educators from across East Africa, alongside teachers from each of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda, focusing on developing active learning with meaning-making – in ways that can be enacted in low-resource classrooms with sometimes up to 180 learners.

That took quite a lot of preparation and background work, and needs to be refined further, but was exciting, stimulating – and as always, humbling. And Uganda is such a beautiful country!

How will you measure the project’s success?

We know from a multiplicity of sources that it’s important for embedding of course learning that teacher educators and teachers take this back to their local contexts, explore, adapt and experiment with it in manageable ways; are supported to reflect on what they’re finding at frequent intervals; and gradually commit to new ways of working in collaborative ways. So all the course participants now have three months’ supported distance learning, during which they have three assignments.

Already participants are talking of the course as ‘life-changing’ for both them and their learners, but of course, the proof of any success will lie on the ground in their home contexts. Importantly, I’m also following up these teacher educators’ experiences in a systematic way together with a Ugandan mathematics education researcher, to mutual benefit since I have more research expertise than she does, but she can access participants’ experiences through use of their home language.

Along with Tanzania and Uganda, you’ve worked in countries including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Armenia and Jordan. Why do you think it’s important to work on a global scale?

Essentially, I do believe we are global citizens − and in this country, we’re exceptionally privileged in the opportunities we’ve had available to us, especially in education. So I think there’s a moral imperative to share the fruit of those opportunities. But I also believe there is always so much to be learned from working in different contexts and cultures, so that although I’ve been lucky enough to have a variety of overseas opportunities, I’ve always returned having learned at least as much as I’ve given.

Professionally, working in low-resource contexts has helped me focus on what are the essentials, the core of my work as a teacher and mathematician, and that’s been really exciting.

What’s your best memory from these global experiences?

Where to start? I think the core satisfaction has been when the mathematics has begun to make sense to teachers and teacher educators in ways they’ve not expected or experienced before.

One teacher educator in Uganda said at the end of the face to face course, ‘I had no idea there was a mathematical world out there that’s just so beautiful – and such fun’ – and if teacher educators have ‘caught’ that, there’s hope then for it to spread to young people in classrooms. That’s immensely satisfying.

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