When the pupil becomes the teacher
By Michèle Akan Badarou, Communication Specialist
GUINEA - There’s a new school in Pamelap, two and half miles along a dusty and rutted road from the capital Conakry. The students in the classrooms are benefiting from a project “Learning Along the Borders”. The second year are taking part in the “morning interview”, a daily exercise for a group of volunteer students who take turns to tell each other what they did and saw from the moment they left school the day before until they return the next morning. The aim of this exercise is to allow the children to express themselves freely, to develop their ideas and overcome the difficulties associated with learning a foreign language, in this instance, French.
As soon as one crosses the threshold of the classroom, one is struck by the position of the desks. They are not facing the teacher, as they might be traditionally, but set up in a square, allowing the children to face each other in a group of eight.
This use of space promotes the pooling of ideas, exchange and reflection between the students and encourages each student to participate. Eight learning areas are the subject of study over the course of the year, namely: language and communication, mathematics, sport and physical education, I.T., civics, history and geography, artistic and cultural education, and science and technology. All the learning is done in groups with the exception of the morning interview. Each group is led by a tutor who is chosen from within the group. The choice is based on the student who has assimilated the most about the subject and who is able to transmit it to his neighbours. “Children learn more easily with one of their own than with an adult”, Madame Camara Touré, the teacher in charge of the second year, points out. She adds: “this method of learning has turned out to be more effective than asking students to come up to the board”. Asked about the impact of active learning on her own way of teaching, Madame Camara says she is enjoying her new role as a facilitator, stimulating the children, being a good listener, and enabling them to express the knowledge that they have acquired within their community and through their culture. “
One of the students, seven year old Mama Aissata Touré, plays with a pearl necklace around her neck, as she expresses her joy at being at school because, as she says, “I learn” easily.
UNICEF is pursuing working to improve access to school and the quality of education in classrooms. The project entitled “Learning Along the Borders” was developed with the government thanks to funding from the Netherlands. It is directed primarily at communities which have suffered in the past from conflicts and where there may still be tensions.
Following the start of the “Learning Along the Borders” project, and its “Friends of Children, Friends of Girls” schools two years ago, almost 8,000 children have experienced active learning in the six schools which have been finished out of the eight planned constructions for the project. There will be a boost to finish the two other schools by the end of 2011.
A lot of hope has been placed on this project which will provide the schools with equipment such as furniture, school supplies and textbooks, and training and re-training for the teachers. The education secretary of the prefecture of Forécariah, Monsieur Souleymane Kaba, says “This project has come just at the right time in order to integrate and keep each child, including refugee and displaced children, within a diversified and adapted education system.” He adds: “The project can be a solution to the question of quality to which Guinea’s schools are confronted. Their concept is based on the promotion of the values of peace, modernism, openness to other cultures on both sides of the borders, and our communities, both local and refugee, take part in the life and management of the school. This is as much a vision as that which today’s politicians have for the development of the country.”