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The Faces of Hunger

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The child, the focus of education

© UNICEF/Gua2006/ElenaPrieto
Álvaro keeps himself busy with construction.

By Maite Garmendia

A special and friendly environment is perceived as one enters one of twenty nursery schools located in different villages of the Ixil area in Quiché. The classroom in Salquil Grande, Nebaj, decorated with bright colours and plenty of toys, drawings and bilingual posters in Ixil and Spanish, is welcoming. And most importantly, the children are smiling, smiling a lot.

Juan, María Esther, Andrés, Álvaro or Feliciana are part of approximately 70 children – 3 to 6 years old– who come to this nursery school every morning at around 8.30.  The Association of Maya Ixil and Apedibimi Bilingual Intercultural Education is responsible for coordinating school activities.

“They are the focus of education. Here, children are not merely the recipients of education, as is traditionally the case”, indicates Magdalena Pérez, Apedibimi’s educator. Therefore, when children come to the centre, each chooses one of three “corners” identified in the classroom: language and communication, logical thinking or artistic expression.

After spending some time in these “corners”, they gather around a “dialogue in chorus” –not in rows- and this gives them the opportunity to look at each other and openly express themselves. For instance, Juan tells about the things he had done the previous afternoon while a spontaneous Álvaro decides to share a brief tale with his classmates, in Ixil.

Learning through games

“It is time for learning”, calls out the teacher. The boys form two groups – 3-4 year olds on one side and 5-6 year olds on the other.

The “kids”, accompanied by one nursery school teacher, can tell the difference between right and left, as they kick the ball outside the classroom while the “older”, under a teacher’s guidance, learn to separate their names in syllables. And so, a boy or a girl takes as many jumps as there are syllables in his/her name. For instance, “Ál-va-ro” will jump three times.

© UNICEF/Gua2006/ElenaPrieto
Through games, in this case with a ball, children learn to distinguish between right and left.

Magdalena, Apedibimi’s educator, and Catarina Bernal, Alvaro’s mother, explain the reason un-derlying the smooth development of activities and the children’s willingness to attend. It is all part of a process, they say: the teachers are selected from among the community, the education is bilingual to mitigate the children’s shock of having to learn only in Spanish, and the parents are directly involved in the educational process.

“At home, we go over what the children have learned in the classroom and also collaborate as parents, making toys or preparing school snacks”, indicates Catarina.
Furthermore, the education and the methodology promoted by the Apedibimi do not start when 3- year olds – some 1,360 in total– attend anyone of the 20 nursery schools coordinated by this association in 14 communities of the Ixil area.

In 15 communities, the mothers of 0-3 year old children are trained on the importance of educa-tion, early stimulation or health control with the assistance of 19 promoters.

In the end, the idea is to optimise early education through the joint efforts of various actors: Apedibimi –as the entity responsible for coordinating activities, negotiating support, and the educational aspect; the Ministry of Education –covering the teachers’ salaries; the community –accompanying children’s education and maintaining the nursery schools, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) –implementing workshops to keep teachers updated, training women in early education or delivering didactic materials, among other things.

It is a real success. Children enjoy learning and do not perceive school “responsibilities” as such. And so, when it is time for them to brush their teeth before they go home, boys and girls run to their teacher to ask for toothpaste. They are aware of the importance of oral hygiene.

The day ends with this activity and then the kids leave the classroom.  The next school day will begin in just the same way: smiling children arriving at school looking forward to learning new things through games.



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