Written by Dianne our volunteer programme advisor ( and retired teacher ).
Are you a primary school or pre-school teacher, or classroom assistant? Maybe you help in a local primary school or pre school group.
If so, and if you are considering doing some volunteering during 2016, please read on to find out more about this project.
During September I went to volunteer with our project in Swaziland, to work with our local partners at the six Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs) they support. NCPs are run by a number of organisations in Swaziland – they provide a caring environment, including food, for children orphaned or made vulnerable by the HIV/AIDs epidemic, and essential support for their families. Educationally the aim is to give these children the right grounding to enable them to start formal schooling successfully at age 7 – although Swaziland is working towards free primary education for all there is still an expectation that children should be able to recite the alphabet and do simple writing and adding up before they are allowed to start school.
The NCPs are very basic structures – just simple structures providing some indoor space for teaching, a covered cooking area, a basic outdoor play area and simple sanitation requirements. The ladies who work there, both as teachers and as cooking ladies, come from their local community and are committed to helping to improve the lives of the children who attend. Most of the teachers have had little or no training and they receive no salary; they do eat dinner with the children and are given the odd celebratory meal, but I felt this was a real mark of their commitment to their work – I cannot think of a single teacher here in the UK who would do their job for no payment other than free school dinners and the Christmas party! They were desperate for any suggestions I could give for different ways of teaching the children – although formal work at the NCPs is only in the mornings, they were begging me to stay after school to run workshops and willingly travelled into town from their isolated rural communities so we could all meet together.
At the NCPs there are very few resources other than those brought by previous volunteers and the teachers have little idea of how to use these effectively. The classroom walls have been painted by young volunteer groups with educational materials such as numbers, the alphabet and the days of the week, and teaching up to now has involved little more than teaching the children to chant the information from the walls. Children are provided with quite a lot of time for free play, but there are few toys and no concept of guided play.
Although the teachers are very aware that they should be giving the children opportunity to do creative and imaginative work they have little experience of how to do this. They are desperate for ideas!
My role was to help to structure the curriculum for them. Our local partners have committed to producing a termly workbook for each child and a teachers’ workbook containing suggested activities, and my role was to work with the teachers and our local partners to produce these resources. This I did – the workbooks are currently being checked by the local team to make sure all the activities in them are culturally appropriate and they will be printed and ready for the start of the new school year in January. The curriculum is structured around a theme a week, and the teachers’ booklet contains a suggested activity for each day of the school year, covering different learning areas such as art, PE, role-play, stories, discovering the world and simple maths.
A couple of weeks of the new curriculum have been trialled with the teachers, once while I was there so I could see how it worked and take account of their suggestions for improvement, and once since I came home. There is no doubt they are very enthusiastic and keen to get their hands on the new teaching materials in January. However not surprisingly there is also a certain amount of trepidation and lack of confidence!
It would be fantastic if we could find some volunteers who could work alongside them as they start to implement this new curriculum. Is this somewhere you could volunteer yourself or do you know of someone who could?
There is a lot of scope for primary/nursery teachers to adapt or add new ideas to the work I have done. Alternatively, the structure of activities is provided in the booklets if you don’t want to be creative but could work alongside the teachers and help them to develop the confidence to try out this new approach.
Please get in contact if you think this is the project for you! They would be so grateful for your help.