Sometimes a quote defines a context perfectly and this one fits that bill for us when we think about the impact that we are making:
"Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family."
Over the years that we’ve been working with the Preschools and the Health Team in Gunjur, we’ve seen a great deal of progress. Of course, progress itself often doesn’t progress at the speed we’d all like, but we’re realistic enough to understand that if we want improvements to be relevant, easily adopted and sustainable then at times going a little slower than we’d prefer is actually best.
We’ve come a long way since the first Preschool was no more than 4 wooden poles on a mud floor with a material roof to protect the children from the sun. Now, with 6 Preschools fully resourced and a new Preschool under construction, a curriculum written by the Gambian Teachers in use every day and used by the Gambia College as a model of good practice for their courses, 700+ children attending Preschool on a regular basis, including many with additional needs and nearly 30 Teachers in employment, the Preschools are thriving and meeting the aim - to offer quality early years learning experiences to the children in Gunjur.
Making learning environments 'enabling'
Where you learn is just as important as how. Many of the Preschools that we work with have distinct challenges in terms of their space and buildings. Coping with 40 degree heat, the rainey season and sand storms, means that buildings need constant repair and upkeep.
How a classroom is arranged makes a tremendous difference in terms of children’s learning. This photo is a great example of working with Teachers to make the most of their space by creating developmentally appropriate classrooms for 3 and 4 year olds.
Providing educational resources
A curriculum needs resources to bring it to life. Appropriate toys, books, art and craft items, paint, scissors, materials and so on provide learning prompts that make sense to young children. When the Teachers wrote their curriculum, we worked hard to resource it with all the equipment that they would need to ensure that their teaching tuned into the children, particularly at this young impressionable age. We try to access as many resources as we can locally in The Gambia and supplement it from other sources and kind donations!
Helping learning become more 'age-appropriate'
Formal learning has its place, but when you are 3 years old it’s hard to sit still unless you are totally captivated. We’ve been working hard to help the Preschools think carefully about the complexity of play and how it’s such a powerful vehicle for learning, especially for the under 5’s.
Great story telling, role play, creative activities and music all feature strongly now and are acknowledged as crucial learning experiences.
Respecting cultural traditions
Making sure that cultural traditions are celebrated and respected can never happen too early. Through the curriculum topics, we’ve worked with the Teachers to ensure that wherever possible diversity is woven through and inclusive. All of the Preschools for example, have child sized versions of all of the tribal wedding outfits and use them within role play regularly.
Clean drinking water
You need to be healthy to learn. Helping to ensure that there is clean drinking water available to the children in each of the classes has been an important challenge to achieve. Not easy in a village where mains water is only now becoming available but remains financially out of most people's reach.
We use water carefully and respectfully, acknowledging that it is a precious resource.
Training Early Years Teachers
Quality early years education needs quality early years Teachers. Every year we invest our time and skills in Teacher training events in Gunjur which everyone attends. These complement the training that many of our Teachers are attending at the Gambia College to achieve their qualifications and focus on curriculum areas that have been identified as ready for development such as literacy, creativity, Gambian culture, physical development and role play.
Some of the Preschools have feeding programmes in place funded from other sources, which means that they are able to offer the children a meal during their day. The meals are prepared and cooked by local Mothers and what they produce with very little equipment is nothing short of amazing; we’ve seen 100 meals cooked in two small borrowed pans on a fire. Through kind hearted people doing wonderful sponsored events for us, we’ve been able to use funds to improve the physical conditions such as adding a kitchen.
Taking learning out of Preschool
Learning as we all know, doesn’t just happen in a classroom; far from it! To experience a broader citizenship based curriculum, Project Gambia has funded a range of trips for the children. They head off to Gunjur fishing village, the health centre, the market and the Women’s Gardens amongst other locations.
Experiencing daily life beyond Preschool is important in order to appreciate your world.