Peer mentors create fun filled learning moments for Grade One Students
Young Virna has been trained to use songs, dance, poetry, and games to help grade one students’ learning of basic numeracy and literacy skills and competencies
Dili, 14th July 2023 – Taur Matan Ruak Primary School is nested on top of one of the hilly slops overlooking the Lahane community, which is home to most of the students attending this school. Many families in Lahane live below the poverty line and do not have easy access to pre-schools for their children. It is only when children enter grade one at Taur Matan Ruak Primary School, that they get their first experience of formal learning.
It is at this school where a young Virna Doutel Maria Ximenes had her first experience of learning. Memories of those early moments in a grade one class are now very dim, save for her recollection of trying to fully grasp the alphabet which her teacher had written on the board.
Today, as a grade six student, Virna is happy to be back in a grade one classroom, this time as a peer mentor. In this new role, Virna has dedicated to spending her Saturday mornings giving grade one students a positive, fun-filled and rewarding learning experience.
“I enjoy the time I spend with them, and I am happy that they are learning a lot from the time we spend together. We meet with the grade one students on Saturday, that way we get to work on our studies during the week, and then use the weekend to help the little ones with their schoolwork,” says Virna, as she explains the admirable role she is playing to give a fair chance to children who have had a late start to learning.
While pre-school learning will give a child the best possible start in life, many children in Timor-Leste are sadly missing out on this opportunity and are often ill prepared for Grade One and subsequent grades. More than 90 per cent of the 70 students attending Grade One at Taur Matan Ruak Primary School never attended pre-school.
According to the Education Management Information System, (EMIS) data of 2021, access to preschool education is low across Timor-Leste, with only 27 per cent of children aged 3-5 years, getting this all-important early learning experience. A high repetition rate of 15 per cent and a Grade One dropout rate of 4.35 percent, are indicative of the poor levels of school readiness.
It is these startling statistics, which the Peer Mentors programme at Taur Matan Ruak Primary School is addressing under the School Readiness Programme. This remedial learning programme was started by the Ministry of Education in 2019 and is designed to give the young learners an opportunity to catch up with learning, and therefore lessen the chances of repeating. Play-based learning and peer mentoring are two of the main approaches being used to stimulate learning and make the learning process fun and captivating.
The peer mentors are trained on how to use a variety of songs, dance, poetry, and games to guide the grade one students’ learning of basic numeracy and literacy skills and competencies. The peer mentors are also groomed to be role models to their younger peers.
“We use different games to teach them to count and to remember the alphabet. I never learnt numbers and alphabet this way when I was in Grade One, but I see this as a fun and easy way to remember numbers and the alphabet,” says Virna, as she gives a rundown of the various learning activities that she leads during these memorable Saturday mornings.
Through funding from UNICEF’s National Committees in Korea and Australia, and the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), 557 peer mentors from 71 schools are now part of the school readiness programme. Through the selfless dedication of their peers, 3, 237 grade one students are now showing a lot of progress in their appreciation of foundational literacy and numeracy.
Schools under the School Readiness Programme have also been supplied with story books, play materials and learning materials, which are being used in these interactive sessions.
“The School Readiness Programme has not only helped the school to reduce repetition rates for grade ones but has also helped the peer mentors to develop good communication skills and to be confident while speaking in public. These are critical life skills which will help them to achieve a lot in life,” says Mr. Alvaro de Deus, the school co-ordinator, who is happy that the School Readiness programme is giving students an important chance to learn, love school and acquire lifelong leadership skills.
The School Readiness Programme is already bearing positive fruits at Taur Matan Ruak Primary School, all the grade one students graduated to the second grade during the last academic. This is a remarkable shift from previous years, where up to five students would be recommended to repeat.