Colleges of Education Weekly Journal

MR. ROBIN TODD, T – TEL TEAM LEAD

COE~WJ: Good morning and welcome to the Colleges of Education Weekly Journal. Kindly give us a brief description of yourself and your family. 

MR. TODD: Good morning and thank you for the opportunity. My name is Robin Todd, I am 42 years and I am originally from Chester, near Liverpool in England. I do not support Liverpool FC though, I am a fan of Everton who are not quite as successful at the moment. My mother was a primary school teacher and my father was in the Royal Air Force and then worked as an Electronics Engineer. I have a younger sister who is a psychologist and lives in Australia. My wife is a Ghanaian. I came to Ghana on the 2nd of February 2000 when I was 22 years old. After completing secondary school I trained as an EFL teacher and taught English in Romania for a year before going to University to study English Language and Literature. As part of my course I studied postcolonial literature, where I first knew the likes of Chinua Achebe and other African Literature classics which opened my eyes to a new world. Back in the late 1990s, President J.J. Rawlings had extended secondary education to the rural areas of Ghana and so there was a shortage of secondary school teachers. After University I volunteered with VSO to work as an English teacher.  The options were Africa or Asia and I chose Africa. I was then selected to be sent to Ghana and was posted to a Senior Secondary School in Wulugu. I actually met my wife in the Village that I was sent to, she was a hairdresser then but works as a nurse now. I married her in 2003 and we have 3 daughters. They are currently living in the UK. After we married we moved around a lot with my work which was problematic for the children’s education. So in 2013 we decided to settle down in the UK and allow the kids to finish their education. My wife is so jealous of me living in Ghana that she can’t wait for the kids to finish school so she can come back to Ghana to be with me. 

COE~WJ: Tell us about your dreams and aspirations growing up as little Robin. 

MR. TODD: I didn’t really know what I wanted to be as a child. I had a very happy childhood but I didn’t really think about what I wanted to become. It was not until I came to Ghana that I realized that teaching was what I was good at and something that I wanted to continue as a career.  But if there was anything I could have thought of as a child, it would have been to become a musician or a drummer. I learned how to play the drums and spent most of my time at university playing with a rock band. 

COE~WJ: How was the experience when you came to Ghana for the first time?

MR. TODD: Coming to Ghana changed my life. I left the UK without really knowing much about myself or what I wanted to become. But I ended up leaving Ghana after two and a half years with a really clear sense of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to become. That is to help governments deliver education in the best way possible. When I arrived in Ghana, I was sent to Wulugu Secondary School in the West Mamprusi District. We set off from Accra at 4am. On our way the head teacher kept stopping to buy oranges, plantain, pineapples, etc. I kept wondering why he was buying all those things. When we got to our destination, I realized why he was buying almost everything that he saw, it was because the things he was buying were not common in the North. When I finally got to school the next day and spoke English for the first time, I realized the students did not understand a single word of what I said because of my accent. I said to myself, this is going to be one of the most difficult experiences ever.  I had to quickly adapt using the skills that I learned in the UK on how to teach. I coached the boys and girls football team, I raised funds for a school library, etc. These were some of the best moments of my life. A journey to the market which could take 5 minutes, always ended up being 20 minutes because you had to stop and greet basically everyone on the way. I really enjoyed every single moment. Before I arrived in 1999, in English the school had a record of only two passes at WASSCE and a huge number of failures. In 2002, we had a record 22 passes which was a huge accomplishment. When pursuing my second Masters’ degree in 2009, I went back to Wulugu to track 74 students that I taught earlier to see how they were faring. I managed to interview 72 of them. One of them had died and then I could not interview the last person because her husband would not allow her to see me. It was great to see how getting good results at WASSCE had really helped some of those students to progress. In a nutshell, those two and a half years in Ghana changed my life. I met my wife and discovered my purpose in life and got the understanding of what it meant to be a classroom teacher, particularly in Ghana. 

COE~WJ: What was the reaction of your parents to your decision to come to Ghana? 

MR. TODD: I have always been fairly strong-willed and my parents knew this so they encouraged me even though I think they would rather I stayed in the UK. They actually came to visit me during Christmas in the year 2000. That was their first trip to Africa and Ghana. They had the opportunity to meet my girlfriend (now my wife)  and her family in order to understand her and their way of life. My parents have always been very supportive of our relationship even though I think some of their parents’ generation may have disapproved.

COE~WJ:  Give us a recap of your educational journey so far. 

MR. TODD: I attended my primary school in Chester.  I always considered myself lucky because I always passed without having to work too hard as learning came naturally to me.  I had 9 A’s in my GCSE and 4 A’s at A-Level. I went to the University of York. I had the chance to go to the university of Oxford or Cambridge but I wanted to go to a smaller and less elite university. I studied English language and literature for three years at York University. After I left Ghana, I went to do my Masters degree in Project Planning and Development at the University of Bradford because I wanted to work in government systems improving education and you need a level of qualification and understanding of policy and planning to do that. I have a second Masters in Public Policy and Management from the University of London. I’d like to do a PhD one day  hopefully if I have the time.  

COE~WJ: How has your career life been so far? 

MR. TODD: My first job after the University was teaching at Wulugu Secondary School. After my MSc I got a job with the University of Bradford as a research assistant where I worked for six months. I later got a job in Nigeria with an NGO, I stayed in Nigeria for two and a half years. To add to that, I had my first daughter around that time. Around the same time, I applied to work for the British government and I got the job. Initially, I considered working with DFID but I actually joined the Department of Education where I specialized in vocational training policy. In 2007, I was called to the office of the Minister for Skills and Higher Education in the UK and was asked if I would want to be the Minister’s Private Secretary and I accepted the offer.  I spent a year working for him. That was probably the most interesting and insightful job I had ever done. From there I worked on Apprenticeships policy and ended up in the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. You really get to see the details of things and understand how government works. The Labour Party lost the election in 2010 and, as a civil servant, I was not political but I found it hard to work for the other party because I did not agree with their approach and did not think they valued investment in public services so I resigned and moved to Malawi for two and a half years to run an NGO similar to the one I ran back in Nigeria. Then in 2013 I moved back to the UK to work for Cambridge Education. From 2013 to 2017, I spent about half my time in the UK and the rest in Africa. I worked with the Ministry of Education in Tanzania to set up a Delivery Unit to help improve Teaching and Learning outcomes across the country. I worked in Sierra Leone doing similar work focused on secondary education. I also worked on a World Bank sponsored program in Uganda developing a strategy to ensure that Ugandans had the skills and opportunities to benefit from their new Oil & Gas industry. Basically, I was moving around the world doing work like that until this job in Ghana came up in October 2017.  I did not know much about T-TEL at the time, it was run by Cambridge Education which is the company I work for and there were a few issues which needed someone to help sort them out. I got the job, came to Ghana and I have been here ever since and I don’t think I am going to leave!

COE~WJ:  How has the journey been so far with T – TEL? 

MR. TODD: It has been fantastic. I have done a lot of things in my life but this is the one that I am most proud of because it really feels as if we are making a big difference in teacher education. This job and programme has helped to give talented Ghanaians the opportunity to do what they think is right for Ghana and its educational system. Before I came, the relationship between UCC and T-TEL was quite problematic. UCC is one of the oldest and best universities in the country and we cannot have an effective teacher education reform without their involvement. I am really pleased that, with hard work on both sides, the relationship has been strengthened and things are now moving forward smoothly. In the process I have really made some good friends and I count Professor Davis as one of my best friends.  

COE~WJ: What have been your challenges ever since you started working with T-TEL? 

MR. TODD: I think T-TEL has helped the universities and Colleges of Education to really unleash a lot of positive energy in the teacher education system and bring about some significant improvements in learning.  But we need to be honest and acknowledge that we have some significant challenges in our basic education system and I don’t think we are going to get to where we want to be unless these challenges are addressed. As an example, our annual survey shows that there are some partner school mentors who are not working effectively with their student teachers and they don’t play their mentor roles well because they feel they are not paid to do that. I think the government is on the right path regarding policies such as promotion based on performance and recognition of effective classroom teaching but the challenge, of course, is making sure that these are implemented as planned so that teachers feel recognised and respected, and respect means more than just remuneration. 

COE~WJ: What would you consider to be your greatest achievement working at T-TEL? 

MR. TODD: That would be on 8th October, 2019, when the new B.Ed curriculum started with all 46 Colleges of Education affiliated to 5 universities. This is because, back in 2017 and early 2018 a lot of people did not believe that it was possible to implement the curriculum and witness that level of change. This change was possible because of institutions like NCTE, NAB, the Colleges and others. I have visited all 46 public Colleges of Education and have been really impressed by the level of dedication, commitment and talent of tutors and non-teaching staff. It is these people who have helped to show that we can achieve higher feats with the right motivation. 

COE~WJ: What is the future of T-TEL? 

MR. TODD: The short answer is T-TEL is ending this year. The extended answer is the Minister and others in Government have been very supportive and introduced us to an international donor.  They have expressed interest in establishing T-TEL as a Ghanaian owned and registered non-profit entity. So for the moment, T-TEL is due to come to an end this year but I hope I’ll be able to announce to you by the middle of the year that T-TEL is continuing its work in Ghana.

COE~WJ: You have been in and out of Ghana for more than two decades now, how would you describe our educational system, generally? 

MR. TODD: We have got a good system.  The teacher education system we have now for instance is the best I have seen in Sub-Saharan Africa and the changes we have made, if implemented properly over the coming years will make it the very best. I want us to reach the stage where, instead of wanting to go outside to see successful systems, we have people coming to Ghana to learn from what we have done in teacher education.  We do need to improve the performance culture across our basic schools and I feel we need to all look and see how we can support the Ghana Education Service to do this. My vision, as a Ghanaian taxpayer and an adopted Ghanaian, is that we have a society where everyone can be confident and comfortable sending our children to public schools rather than feeling we have to pay for private education on top of our taxes. 

COE~WJ: What is your favorite food? 

MR. TODD: Kenkey. Not the fante kenkey but the proper soft, hot Gã kenkey with pepper and shito and ‘one man thousand’. 

COE~WJ: Among all the 46 Colleges of Education that you have visited and worked with, which is your favourite?

MR. TODD: Gambaga College of Education. This is because whenever I am there, it means I am home as it is the only College of Education in Mamprugu. I know lots of people there. Also it has minimal levels of infrastructure and facilities but I am always impressed that the tutors there are extremely hungry to do extra work to help the College progress. It shows that you do not need lots of facilities or a long history to be an effective College of Education. 

COE~WJ: What do you do in your leisure time? 

MR. TODD: I run. About five years ago I was unhealthy and decided to start running for recreational purposes. But I am a competitive person hence, I started running 5, 10, 21 and 42 kilometer races. I currently run about 70 kilometers each week and I am still getting faster so I am not planning to stop running just yet. I have run marathons in Chicago, London, Boston and New York and this year I will be running in Berlin. To add to that I’m a big Everton fan, ever since my uncle took me to my first game in 1986. Everton was a great team then and we won the League in 1987 but have never won it since!  When I lived in Ghana in the early 2000s I used to be a fan of Real Tamale United (RTU) but I’m not sure what has happened to them recently.  

COE~WJ: What’s your greatest memory in Ghana so far 

MR. TODD:  Winning the inter-zonal sports tournament with the girl’s football back in Wulugu in 2002. We beat Nalerigu in the final and they were the strong favourites. The opposing team made a complaint that my school had gone for a foreign coach so my headteacher had to go and produce my GES registration papers to prove I was an official teacher at the school. 

COE~WJ: Who is your role model? 

MR. TODD:  That would be Tony Foot.  He was my Manager at the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. Quite a young guy but I just thought he was brilliant by the way he handled duties. He was the kindest and most compassionate man I have ever met. He will publicly protect you and accept mistakes on your behalf and then quietly make sure you do the right thing behind the scenes. 

COE~WJ: Where do you see yourself in the next decade? 

MR. TODD: Hopefully, still in Ghana, to see T-TEL evolve into bigger and better things supporting our education system. My passion in life is helping governments to improve education services and I would rather do that in Ghana than anywhere else. My dream was to move to Tamale and open a small educational consultancy firm  but if the ‘new T-TEL’ continues to grow and evolve I would be happy to do that instead. 

COE~WJ: What’s your passion in life? 

MR. TODD: My family and my three daughters in particular, I would do anything for them.  Aside from that it is my work to help improve our public services. I feel fortunate every day to do the job I do, I cannot imagine anything better.  

COE~WJ: what is your final word to our readers? 

MR. TODD: I think we should all be proud of ourselves for what we have done to improve teacher education and quality and generally raise the standard of Education in Ghana. Despite the numerous challenges, we should always look out for the good we can get from each situation. When you are a classroom teacher, without resources, focus on what you can do and control once you enter the classroom to help your children rather than focusing on those things you don’t have. If we all decide to do what we know is right with those things that are within our control then in our own way together we can make Ghana a better place. 

COE~WJ: Thank you for your time Mr. Todd. 

MR. TODD:  It has been a pleasure, thank you for the opportunity as well. I am an ardent reader of the Journal and I must say you guys are just excellent. You’re so professional with your work. Keep it up.  

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