The teachers were very quiet and shy but listened and participated with what appeared to be great interest. Topics covered were: introduction to themes, classroom arrangement, teaching aids/charts, theme planning including understanding how to develop objectives for the lessons, an introduction to what is taught in grade 1 including how young children learn, welfare, administration books and record keeping, health concerns, games/rhymes. On Monday evening after the workshop officially ended for the day, the teachers who were spending the night made their own charts based on what they had learned during the day. I walked by the room they were working in on my way back from the church’s office at 10:00 at night and they were still up working!
The workshop didn’t begin to touch on what the teachers need to know. They are not trained and don’t have materials at their schools. It seems teachers everywhere are expected to provide materials for the students. However, in this case, they are given nothing and make one-tenth of what a primary school teacher earns per month. The teachers don’t have much of their own, and are already giving all they can. Teachers were even asked to help provide soap, clothing and other items for the orphans in their school that are in need. The crusader in me wanted to jump up and down screaming that it just isn’t fair. But, the calmer side of me reminded myself that I can’t take on the injustices of the world and I am here to listen, learn, understand, find donors to help and work with the teachers to find solutions to some of their issues. I’m not here to take on the Swaziland government, the Methodist church, or the attitude of the world at-large towards teachers!
Some of the things I did observe are:
1. Much prayer and thought is required to understand the situation and possible solutions.
2. The teachers need much more training in all areas of dealing with preschoolers ranging from subjects such as how young children learn to dealing with health and poverty issues of the students.
3. I certainly need to understand the structure and strategy of the Methodist preschools and preschools in general in Swaziland. If the children don’t have the required skills some schools won’t allow the child to attend grade one. In other cases, they are allowed to attend but don’t pass grade one. Although there are private, upscale preschools catering for the working or middle and upper class families, the Methodist preschools are for those who have nothing or next to nothing.
4. Basic materials need to be supplied to the preschools. This ranges from chairs, desks, cupboards or shelves to store materials to toys, books, food, soap, water, etc.
5. There needs to be a strategy or funding arrangements made so that the OVC’s and children living in poverty can attend the preschools.
6. The schools need health care.
7. Next to prayer, this is the most important thing I realized I need to remember. It’s something I’ve been asked and reminded of many times since being here: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Good visual.
One of my goals, with the help of Manyano and donations is to hold another workshop in January during the school holiday. The school year in Swaziland begins in January, not August/September. If we could hold a more in-depth workshop and have materials ready to be distributed to the schools by the start of the new term, it would be awesome. In the interim, I plan on visiting the preschools once or twice a month to get to understand the needs better and build relationships with the teachers. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to also provide them with some sort of tangible assistance that will be useful to them and especially the children.