I recently left Tanzania after volunteering at AMAP for seven weeks. I saw such incredibly positive change over my time at the school. When I arrived, I sensed that the three local teachers (for Swahili, math, and English) lacked energy, that they were bored with their routine, and that the children were not learning nearly as much as they could.
Often children would be left sitting while a teacher searched for the correct exercise books in the overcrowded and unorganized cabinet. Students would have to wait to start their work because none of the pencils would be sharp. The kids still loved coming to school and were still getting invaluable instruction, but clearly there was room for improvement.
The school felt like a different place by the time I left. I think the teachers just needed an infusion of new energy and ideas, and to be reminded to expect more from themselves. After weeks of sharpening pencils myself every day during break and encouraging the teachers to sharpen with me, I was ecstatic upon arriving at school my last week to see the teachers sitting outside, sharpening away. I said, “Wow! You’re sharpening today!” Husseini, the math teacher, smiled and responded, “Not today, Madam, every day!”
After Saidi, the director of AMAP, had a great new cabinet built, the teachers reorganized all the supplies and materials. They decided to designate a shelf to each class, and each teacher organized his or her materials the way he or she wanted.
It was wonderful seeing the teachers wrap up their first period class exactly on time, grab flashcards and chalkboards from the cabinet, and dive into their next class. The best part is that the teachers themselves realized how much better the school is and how much easier their jobs are when they keep their supplies organized, plan ahead, and engage the students.
The children are excited when the teachers are, and the teachers are engaged when the students are – a wonderful cycle!
It’s amazing how much a classroom can change with the addition of a few flashcards! For the past month or so, other volunteers and I have been working with the local teachers on bringing more variety and stimulation into classes at AMAP. We have made new teaching tools, influenced by the Montessori method, including individual chalkboards and alphabet and number flashcards. As a part of this effort, we also made a new daily timetable.
The old schedule had only two very long classes each day (Swahili, English, math, or art), with a break in between for porridge. The new timetable has three half-hour classes each day, which is so much better, particularly for the younger students.Thirty minutes is enough for the kids to settle and the teachers to engage them, but not so long that they get bored and antsy.
The old classes were often very dry for the students, with them having to sit at their desks and watch the teacher write on the board. Now there is so much more life in the school! A few days ago, I was watching the oldest students race to write the answer of addition problems on their little chalk boards. As soon as they had their answer, they would hold their board over their head, eager for their response to be checked.
From the neighboring classroom I heard the little kids yelling, “ROARRRR.” Confused, I looked over and saw a student holding up a flashcard with the letter L. How much better are the kids learning that “L is for lion” when they get to lead each other and roar than when they just repeat after the teacher? I see such a difference with the students when they are handed flashcards. Instead of zoning out or fidgeting, they excitedly wait their turn to go to the front of the class and lead. They look around at other kids’ cards to see who has the next letter or number.
They are given responsibility to lead each other, holding a card and yelling the Swahili syllable “ka!” for the others to repeat, and they couldn’t be happier!
So much work is being done at AMAP! I arrived a few weeks ago here in Bagamoyo, Tanzania to volunteer with the nursery school this April and May. The three local teachers (Swahili, English, and math) were immediately welcoming and open to new ideas. My first day at the school, I walked into a classroom and a loud chorus of “Hello madam! How are you?” greeted my ears. The kids are always enthusiastic and excited for new counting games or alphabet songs.
Earlier volunteers started working with the teachers on new classroom techniques, particularly influenced by the Montessori method – breaking up class to smaller numbers with more hands-on, experiential learning. We are in the process of making teaching tools, such as alphabet and number flashcards and more visual aids of the sorts. Small chalkboards have already been completed and are in use, children use those to draw and write as their own personal workbook. It is such a joy seeing a child learning to write his numbers, concentrating over his/her little personal chalkboard and always so focused and careful with his chalk!
I have spent my time at the school teaching art class a few days a week, and I love seeing the children’s creativity flourish at the class. We have been working on new ideas to encourage creativity and observation – experimenting with color, or drawing objects or even one other. Their faces light up when they proudly show me their finished picture. I am so excited to spend the next month with the children of AMAP!
AMAP is serving the community of Bagamoyo on a widespread level. There are 80 nursery students attending the morning nursery school sessions and 54 students enrolled and supported at local primary schools by AMAP. The primary students also come to AMAP after school for English instruction by a local professional English teacher. The students all come from circumstances which make it impossible for their families to pay for education. Two compelling examples include Neema and Omari.
Neema was a toddler who was left to fend for herself during the day, as her mother sought whatever work she could find outside the home. The director of AMAP would see her wandering the streets alone in the mornings. She would pass by people taking their tea and snacks and sometimes get a few handouts. Neema is now a student at AMAP nursery school, and attends lessons daily. She is among the many bright eyed students who eagerly soak up lessons, learning remarkably fast.
Omari was abandoned by his father and when his mother remarried he was left with his grandmother. His grandmother is 85 years old and in very poor health. Because she had no capacity to earn money and needed help at home, Omari was never sent to school. At age ten a neighbor connected him to a teacher who sent him to AMAP. He attended nursery school at AMAP for 6 months to prepare him for primary school, where now, at age 11 he is enrolled by AMAP in both Standard 1 and Standard 3. If he can pass the Standard 3 exams at the end of the year, he will progress to Standard 4. When I met Omari, he strode confidently to me in his uniform, hand outstretched, a wide smile on his face, “Good morning madam, how are you?”
As it is evident by these examples, AMAP is meeting the critical education needs of underprivileged children in the Bagamoyo community.
Project “Faces” is a teaching tool to combine children’s imagination with a reflection to their character through their art piece. More often than normal we see teaching visuals through pictures of animals, objects, plants, and nature but seldom a reflection of another character even if this character is simply a drawn cartoon or a sketch. It is almost like seeing yourself through a piece of drawing and through the eyes of your printed self.
Composition does not necessarily need to be in individual format but can come in duos or trios then melts into the group within the classroom. The project’s objective is to enhance children’s art senses and abilities to visualize portraits and proportion drawing as well as sketching with abnormal proportions and yet accept those as beauty (abnormally large or non symmetrical features at times)
This unique approach of teaching does not come easy and needs lots of preparation and higher than normal cost is involved in the process. Every child is assigned one portrait sketch who would be “them” or they become him or her for a day. What if I was him or her what would I do? Western volunteers working at the school help with the project and get the classroom composed with themes which can vary from a song, a poem or a story. It is learn via visuals.
Children have exhibited much more tendency to interact using such socially oriented techniques than the regular classroom format. Coupled with performing composition it becomes one of the better ways to express themselves in classroom. One step further would be to ask them to draw their own character and live it for one day.
Some of the items are sketching paper, colored paper, scissors, glue, color water and oil as well as glitter not to mention a wild fertile imagination. With your help and support we can make this project continue with the small group of talented children enrolled.
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