We have to tell you about an extraordinary education session in our kindergarten in Jahaly. We look after 300 children between the ages of four and six in this academic year. Our goal is early childhood education at the highest level, which prepares the children as best as possible for their future school career. And all happens in a village in the countryside, in a very remote area of The Gambia, 270 kilometers away from the coast. We work with skilled and unskilled teachers, who themselves have not received an educational training comparable to Germany. Add to this the complete seclusion of the village, cultural constraints and a changing society after 22 years of dictatorship. One has to imagine: about a year ago, the power grid arrived in the village for the first time in history, this month finally on our project site. By the way: In the village, only very few can afford a connection to the new power grid. Despite all this, the teachers try to do their best. We are not talking about education in a Western style or African style, not Christian style or Muslim style. It is all about the children. It is all about their future.
“The only hope is education,” says Patricia Ceesay. She owns and runs a private Montessori Pre-School and Primary School in Brufut in the coastal region. At least once a year she travels to Jahaly and does training and workshops with our teachers. Our volunteers Lena and Marieke, who are currently doing an internship at the Jahaly-Madina kindergarten, report about the three day’s workshop from the 20th to the 22nd of February 2019.
“On Wednesday Patricia Cessay arrives in Jahaly. Since she has arrived very early in the morning, she looks directly at the “morning classes”. The first workshop takes place during the first break. All teachers gather in a classroom. First, Patricia praises the teachers and says what she has noticed when watching the class at work: compared to last year, the children are more involved in the classroom activities. Later she adivises the teachers team, that it is important to have the children at the playground under observation always so that accidents can be avoided. In addition, the classrooms should be kept clean and tidy to create a better learning environment. Then it’s about spelling mistakes on the posters in the classrooms. The teachers are role models for the children, says Patricia, and should avoid spelling errors.
Next topic: Children learn and understand each other at different speeds. That’s why children should not go to the next level until they are ready. At the end of the workshop, it’s about teamwork: constructive criticism should be accepted, and teachers should help each other.
In the afternoon, Patricia looks at the “afternoon classes”.
Back in the guest house, we (Lena and Marieke) then start directly to produce new materials for the classroom. One method that Patricia also applies in her school is short sentences with two to six words written on different colored paper. These can then be picked out by the children in the classroom for them to read and write off. We create an example Patricia will give to the teachers the next day so they can make something like that for each of their classes.
On Thursday, in the workshop Patricia Ceesay discusses the importance of the English language in class. English is the basis for further education of the children. Patrica talks about the importance of learning to write. Many children learn Arabic on the weekend. In Arabic, however, one writes from right to left and not, as in English, from left to right. This is confusing for many children and must therefore be practiced.
Patricia motivates the teachers by telling them what role they play in children’s lives and in their education. The teachers should therefore be proud of their profession.
The children should be taught that no garbage is thrown on the floor, but in the existing trash cans. Next topic: the class rules. Class rules should be posted in every classroom and should be repeated every morning. Patricia makes it clear once again that in the classroom the focus should be on the child. This means that teachers should not go to their cell phones during the lesson or deal with other things. Part of the workshop is also that Patricia writes different words with two vowels on the blackboard. She explains and practices the pronunciation with all the teachers. Finally, the procurement of school and learning material will be discussed. A list of missing materials should be created and forwarded to the project office. Patricia spends the afternoon watching the afternoon classes. On the positive side, she notices that children learn with different learning methods. During an lesson on vegetables, the teacher went to the kitchen garden with the children to look at the vegetables there.
On Friday, Patricia gives a final workshop. Here she first goes into the way of teaching. Teachers should teach in a calm posture and with a lowered voice. In addition, the huge size of the classrooms should be used in a better way. In order for the children to have more space to study and to be able to concentrate better, the tables should be pulled apart. To make sure that the children drink enough, Patricia suggests short breaks in which the children can drink water. The children should be taught in class, for example, how to brush teeth or to go to bed early. The children take home what they have learned and can then apply it at home. It is then addressed that the teachers should involve the parents of the children. Parenting sessions could also be used to claim the fee for school lunches or to tell parents how to get their children ready for school. This includes braiding the hair of the girls, shaving off the hair of the boys – and washing the school uniform regularly.
At the end of the workshop Patricia thanks all attendees and expresses, how happy she is about the nice cooperation. She also warmly invites all teachers to visit her school in Brufut: the “Trankil Academy – Montessori Education Centre”.
The teachers appreciate her support and advice and look forward to a next time.”
The pedagogical findings from her workshop were summarized by Patricia Ceesay in this report:
“Over the course of my three day visit, I was able to observe all the classes during the morning and afternoon shifts, both at work and play.
I was pleased to note that the classes were more interactive and orderly. Teachers had prepared an abundance of teaching/learning apparatus and were using them on a daily basis. As had been discussed at the last meeting, teachers had found that the classes were more orderly when children were actively engaged in their own learning. The teachers admitted that this also made them feel less tired and they enjoyed their classes more.
On all three days, we were able to hold a training session. During these sessions, I was able to share my observations with the staff, discuss their concerns and constraints, and suggest concrete ways in which they could improve their work within the school, their relationship to the parents, outreach to the community, and follow¬up with the basic cycle school to which most of the children proceeded.
lt is pleasing to note the teachers’ willingness to implement suggestions to improve themselves both personally and professionally.
With each successive visit, I can clearly see improvement in teachers’ confidence, understanding of children, execution of lessons, and management of classes. I have no doubt they will continue to do well.”
(Patricia A. Ceesay/Education Adviser)
Pictures: ©2019 Projekthilfe Gambia e.V. / Lena Engel, Marieke Osewold