How a Finnish-Kenyan collaboration is transforming Kenya’s teacher training and education practice

Together with Kenyan and Finnish partners, the University of Helsinki is working to boost the skills of Kenyan teacher trainers and teachers, to support the implementation of a competency-based curriculum in Kenyan schools.

In 2017, the Kenya Ministry of Education introduced a competency-based curriculum (CBC) into all schools in Kenya. Unlike more “traditional” curricula, which are typically academic and examination-oriented, a competency-based curriculum emphasises how students can acquire and apply knowledge, skills and attitudes to situations they will encounter in everyday life.

CBC was introduced to respond to the learning and teaching crisis in Kenya, and to develop students’ learning to correspond to current educational and societal needs. It was hoped that by 2027, the first children whose whole education at school had been following CBC, would complete their compulsory education and start enrolling into university.

However, despite the ambitious plans, in-service teachers and teacher trainers in Kenya do not have experience or training in how to deliver and implement CBC effectively in their classrooms. In addition, Kenyan universities and colleges that educate and train new teachers have still not aligned the curricular of their degree programmes to prepare pre-service teachers for delivering and implementing CBC in classrooms.

Localising Finland’s education expertise with Kenyan partners

Launched in 2020 in partnership with the University of Helsinki, Laurea University of Applied Sciences, University of Nairobi, Strathmore University and Pwani University, the Training Trainers for Teacher Education and Management in Kenya (TOTEMK) Project is at the forefront of transforming and strengthening teacher training in Kenya.

Supported by all the major education partners in Kenya, including the Kenyan government, the TOTEMK project is being funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs from 2020-2024.

“We are helping our Kenyan partners to develop a scalable educational model that fits the local context and responds to local needs. We provide examples of best practice and approaches that have worked well, helping our local partners to build a suitable training programme” says Seija Karppinen, the TOTEMK project lead at the University of Helsinki.

Inspired by some of the most renowned Finnish educational methods and tools, but localised in cooperation with Kenyan partners, the project will equip Kenyan teacher trainers and teachers with the skills required to deliver CBC in their classrooms, through the creation of a series of in-person training modules and a massive open online course (MOOC).

 “The best thing about the Finnish teacher education system compared to the Kenyan is that it’s very thorough: teachers study for up to 5 years before they become qualified practitioners. The teachers gain in-depth pedagogical knowledge, communication skills, research skills, IT skills and skills for effective collaboration with other professionals. Every teacher needs to be an accomplished researcher who can develop solutions for different educational challenges and situations” says training participant Dr Robert Machyo, a Professor of Ethics who coordinates the project in Garissa University, Kenya.

The skills acquired by the Kenyan teacher trainers and teachers during the project will not only contribute to the modernisation of Kenya’s higher education institutions through high quality teacher education, but will also aim to improve learning outcomes for students at all levels of education, helping Kenya to move closer to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 for Quality Education.

In-person training modules reaching twenty local universities

“The training aims to have a longer-term impact: each training module offers three training days, which are followed by 10-12 weeks of intensive period during which participants share and apply their learnings within their own institutions. This period consists of completing training-related tasks and engaging with tailored coaching sessions,”, Karppinen explains.

Through four comprehensive core training modules, delivered to the teacher trainers from twenty universities, the programme is currently on track for reaching 15% of all teacher trainers in Kenya.  The three-day intensive training courses are delivered on site in Nairobi. The project group also offers follow-up seminars and workshops to participants of the training modules, supporting their learning and applying their new theoretical knowledge into practice.

Between 2021 and 2022 the project has successfully delivered core training packages on topics such as 21st century learning and skills, technology-enhanced learning, pedagogical leadership and management, and social cultural issues and empowering teachers.

“As well as with the three official partner institutions, we are currently collaborating with 17 universities in Kenya, ensuring a wide geographical reach of teacher trainers across the country. On average three participants of each university have attended our training sessions and they are now equipped to share their knowledge with colleagues and students alike in their own institutions”, Karppinen says.

”The topics covered in the four core modules are new to us but extremely relevant for the new Kenyan model of education and it’s been particularly useful to explore new technologies and online tools to support training”, says Dr Magdalene Dimba, Dean in School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Strathmore University, Kenya.

Dr Robert Machyo has only positive feedback from his training experience.

”One of the many highlights of this training for me was the first module called The 21st Century Learning and Teaching Skills, which taught us about ”4Cs” coordination, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking”, says Machyo.

As another participant reflected; the training modules tailored for local needs and their delivery has been successful and had a positive impact on the learning environment for participants.

“My fellow colleagues and participants, you created an enabling environment and unforgettable unique experiences and interactions. Our embedded social and cultural differences were not seen at all. We all blended and interacted as one.”

Digital resources for long-term learning

The project’s second method of training is its nationwide Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Consisting of 4 units based on the in-person training modules and one dedicated unit focused on competency-based curriculum and competence-based assessment, the MOOC will be open to all teacher trainers and teachers in Kenya.

“The content accessible through MOOC has the potential to reach a much wider section of teachers, including both teacher trainers as well as teachers on both primary and secondary schools”, Karppinen explains.

The MOOC will therefore complement the training modules by offering nationwide access to a range of online courses and tools relevant for teacher trainers and teachers to use for years to come. The University of Helsinki and its project partners are currently developing the MOOC with an aim to launch it in 2023.

There are plans to double the impact of the project after 2024

Whilst the TOTEMK project will have a significant impact in Kenya, there will still be many teacher trainers and teachers in Kenya who need to be trained to deliver CBC after the TOTEMK project ends in 2024. As a result, the University of Helsinki has developed an ambitious vision to double the impact of the project from 2025-2030 through the creation of a virtual TOTEMK Training and Research Centre.

The Centre will aim to continue and expand the training programmes and MOOCs developed during the first five-year period, to conduct educational research and promote Kenyan-Finnish pedagogical collaboration. Building on the success of the current funding period, TOTEMK 2025-30’s MOOCs alone have the potential to train 30% of teacher trainers and 150,000 pre- and in-service teachers, impacting over 90 Kenyan HEIs and 40% of all schools in Kenya.

“The timing of the project has been successful, given that we are still a few years from 2027 when the new curriculum is fully implemented, and it is important the project continues to build on its success beyond 2024 to maximise the impact of training before the new system is full adopted”, Karppinen says.

However, the University of Helsinki cannot achieve this vision alone. As a result, the university is now looking for partners who are interested in learning more about the project and the opportunity to support it. Interested organisations can contact University of Helsinki Liaison Manager Adam Pratchett.

TOTEMK is currently funded from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' budget for development cooperation and it is administered by the Finnish National Agency for Education.

TOTEMK project leader at the University of Helsinki
The REFORD project aims to design curriculum to improve the quality delivery of teacher preparation programmes

Another new and interesting collaborative project that relates to Kenya’s educational reforms is The REFORD Project, which stands for “research-based and future-oriented curriculum review and development for teacher education” at the University of Nairobi and Strathmore University. Funded over two years by the Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning (GINTL) and led by University of Helsinki, Faculty of Educational Sciences, it aims to support redesigning of curriculum to improve the quality of delivery of teacher preparation programmes. The project activities will align with the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) in Kenya and will support the roll out of CBC in higher education institutions and teacher education.

GINTL Network


TOTEMK impact in numbers

The TOTEMK Project is being funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs from 2020-2024 and is supported by all the major education partners in Kenya including, the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Kenya Teacher Service Commission, and Kenya Commission of University Education.

Following the completion of the initial 4-year term, the project aims to have a wide-reaching and transformational impact on Kenya’s teacher education and education system. The full projected impact of the project from 2020-2024 is as follows:

Impact of TOTEMK in-person training programmes: 

  • Over 5000 teacher trainers trained
  • Over 250,000 student teachers impacted
  • 20 Kenyan higher education institutions engaged in training


  • 15% of all of Kenya’s teacher trainers trained
  • 75,000 pre- and in-service teachers trained
  • More than 60 higher education institutions impacted
  • Up to 9000 Kenyan schools impacted

In addition to the impact of the project in Kenya, it is worth noting that similar developments around introducing competency-based curriculums are now happening in other East African countries. Based on its success in Kenya, the TOTEMK Project therefore has the potential to be used as a scalable and localisable model for utilising Finland’s teacher education expertise in other countries in East Africa.