Education Advisor - Baraka Zambia
News of the imminent lockdown came on Wednesday 18th March for UK schools. Surprisingly, it came a day earlier in Zambia, which, at the time, had no confirmed cases of Covid-19.
British and Zambian schools closed their doors on Friday 20th March and so did the Baraka Learning Centre in Kapiri Mposhi. We all looked ahead with uncertainty.
Since opening, the Centre has become a unique hub of huge importance and significance to the local community it serves.
Its success is down to the dedication of a hard-working team which includes Mike Phiri. I met Mike seven years ago when he joined Baraka’s sponsored student programme. Since then I have watched him work hard to complete his teacher training and grow into a resourceful young man with enthusiasm for his chosen career, and an unfailing loyalty to Baraka.
Mike’s talents were recognised, and he was the natural choice when appointing an Education Manager at the Learning Centre. With a sense of purpose, I travelled to Zambia last September to share, trial and test ideas with him for the educational programme Baraka was to deliver to the people of Kapiri Mposhi.
We had a successful – albeit crazy – few weeks! We made an inventory of books and resources, stored them systematically, discussed how to use them and tried our ideas on local children. Every day brought a different group from a different school. The children listened to stories, researched information, read, wrote, drew, coloured, sang, played card and board games and enjoyed the outside area with our games equipment. Some groups were punctual, some were two hours late; some didn’t turn up, some came uninvited; some came with their teachers, some unsupervised; some groups numbered 70 when we had planned for 30; some ranged vastly in age when we were expecting only ten year olds. So we thought on our feet managing the frustrations and surprises and, in every case, without exception, none of our visitors wanted to leave! All activities were logged, and we developed a method of planning, recording and evaluating lessons to inform us ahead and build on successes.
And so, six months on, as the pandemic took a grip around the globe and we found our lives in a whirlwind, we had a chance to pause and reflect. It was a time to be imaginative and seek ways to be productive.
Via computer screens linked to each-others’ distant countries, we reunited and continued the work we had begun last year, starting with a review of what had been achieved since Mike started trialling the programme after we said goodbye in October.
Our remit during lockdown was to work on his professional development arming him with further knowledge, skills and a diversity of teaching methods.
On entering the site, visitors are met with a welcome sign declaring the centre a place “where education is inspirational and fun”. This pledge dominates our thoughts as we work in a community where schools are run by inexperienced (often unqualified) teachers who have had little guidance in how to engage and enliven children in the learning process.
In Zambia children learn passively, often by rote, so at the Learning Centre we have focused on adding multi-sensory and cross curricular elements to our teaching and learning. We aim to throw out sparks that ignite enthusiasm and embolden children to take responsibility for their learning and mature into confident and competent adults.
During lockdown Mike and I have “met” frequently. I have bombarded him with talk of teaching methods and teaching aids and clogged up his inbox with emails full of instructions and electronic resources. Hungry for ideas, he has joined my Skype lessons with my young nieces and nephews. We have worked together on tuition packs for our sponsored students during school closures and looked ahead at the residential study weeks we plan to run for our sponsored students when circumstances allow. We have discussed how best to support local teachers and help them improve organisation and management, as well as teaching, in their own schools; and about the development and progress of the centre’s own two assistant teachers. During this period we have established a fruitful liaison with our long-term donor and supporter, Catherine Cox from the Victoria Shardlow Children's Trust, who has decades of experience teaching in British schools. Her input has been invaluable and Mike looks forward to her continued support, knowing that her childhood in Zambia and experience teacher training in China, as well as the UK, make her perceptive to the challenges he faces.
Alongside all this, Mike has led the team in delivering regular consultations and advice to the local community about Covid-19 and coped with a bout of malaria from which, fortunately, he made a quick recovery.
He and friend Francis share a passion for art, and together have planned and designed a “Gruffalo Trail” for the Secret Garden. Bewitched by Julia Donaldson’s books and their teaching potential, the artists have designed and begun to construct models and signs to take Zambian children on the Gruffalo’s journey through an English forest. We await its completion with excitement!
Work continues in all areas at the Learning Centre during this difficult time and much has been achieved. As the team considers the logistics of a safe reopening in June, we congratulate them all on their work and commitment during this unsettled period.