Apologies for not updating my blog as regularly as I could have, no excuse just good old fashioned laziness really! Since my last post I have been slowly getting to know the way things work over here. I have managed to attend some workshops for teachers. The Jolly Phonics training was organised by GATE (Gambian Association of Teachers of English). They are currently working in 5 out of the 8 clusters in my region. I finally met some teachers there and talked to them and found out about how they work and find teaching. The workshop was ok, but the vast majority of the day was spent by the teachers making resources for their classroom, with no apparent instructions from the trainers as to how to effectively use them. However, to be fair I only attended 1 day out of 5 so I may have missed that one.
The other 3 clusters in the region are being supported by a Swedish NGO called Future in our Hands (FIOH). They have adapted a phonic scheme especially for The Gambia called SEGRA (Serholt Early Grade Reading Ability). The various pictures and words they use to introduce sounds and rhymes are very familiar to Gambia children and have a relevance to them. I have attended a couple of workshops run by them and they are very good, a much better scheme than the Jolly Phonics one. The trainers are Gambians and also much better and more effective in their training methods. The two regional trainers for my region, Kebba and Cherno, come up every few weeks to run workshops and go out on observations, giving feedback to teachers then heading back down to the Kombos to report and to prepare for the next round of training. They invited me along on one of their trek’s, so I finally managed to see some teaching and to monitor some lessons. It was great to finally see some teaching but at the same time overwhelming to realise the amount of support these teachers actually need in terms of training. It is very chalk and talk, although FIOH are making in-roads to get the teachers to be more active with the children. The teachers can have up to 45 in their classes and have limited resources with which to work. The workshop I attended at the weekend was specifically for making resources for the teachers to use when introducing sounds with their class. The teachers had to bring their own cartons with them to facilitate in production of them, it was a sea of cardboard by the end! The teachers are also paid to attend training, to pay for transport and lunch. It was about D250 which is only about £5 but that would last a few days here.
As Sarah is predominantly working with the South Bank, I am going to be working with the North Bank so when I finally got my motorbike I went on my first trek with one of the cluster monitors for the Wuli West are in Region 6, Malick. I had to cross the River Gambia for the first time. No nice comfy ferry for me to cross on......instead I had to ride my bike down to the river bank, then get off and hop onto what can only be described as a metal tub while the men hauled my bike onto the back where it perched precariously over the side while another man rowed us across. I am glad to say my bike made it without getting wet! I finally met Malick who took me on a whirlwind visit round 9 out the 11 schools in his cluster, through the bush and past many tiny little villages that I have no hope of ever finding my way back to my own! I took my GPS watch with me in the vain hope I could use it to find my way back to some of them. Sadly all it recorded was a red loop as there are no towns or streets in this part of the world to use as landmarks! Anyway, it was really nice to visit so many schools, even though I barely spent any kind of time in any of them. I have at least introduced myself to a few headteachers and I hope to go back this week to some of the easier ones to find and see some teaching in them. The one thing common throughout the schools is the poor wall displays and ineffective use of the teaching aids they have, so this may be something that I can help with. There was one school where the HT wants a library to be set up in his school. He advised that he did have one but that all their books went to another school which was to be set up as a library centre for the cluster. Well, the library in this supposed ‘centre’, was thick with dust, books in no order and some not even age appropriate for the children in the school. Very depressing. There was one school in the cluster that has a fabulous library, although there is Peace Corps based there who set it all up and ensures it is well maintained. The HT was bemoaning the fact that she was leaving in June as her time will be up and they won’t get another one to replace her. He was worried about what would happen to it when she leaves and that there will be no-one to take care of it. I tried to tell him that each teacher could be responsible for it, but not sure he really took it on board.
Last week I also visited a local school to conduct some monitoring in an ECD class. Oh my goodness, what an immense job nursery teachers have here! Both classes I saw had over 50 children in them, with only 1 teacher, no other adult in the class. I was monitoring a listening walk for Sarah. She has written a manual for the ECD classes and had worked with the school to try and implement it. The children were to go on a walk round the school grounds and listen for different sounds. The children were all over the place, in one class the boys were running around and play fighting, whilst the teacher struggled to control them and get them to listen. There was no structure to these classes. I am still trying to get my head round what they actually do with them. I don’t think that they even know themselves and actually try and teach them the sounds that are taught in Grade 1.
Anyway, think I have bored you enough. This week I hope to find my way back to some of the schools in Wuli West, so this may be my last post if I don’t find my way home from the bush!