Last month Asia Programmes Coordinator Sally Hewlett was in a village school in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka observing a teacher taking a class.
“About 10 minutes into the lesson the teacher Mrs Swendra, though well intentioned and trying her best, lost control of the class,” said Sally. “She is really the reason we were in her classroom as she approached ChildFund for assistance for her school. It took real courage to put herself out there like that.”
Sally along with representatives of Sri Lanka’s education authority and the International Reading Association (IRA) including Global Director Sakil Malik visited five schools in Batticaloa on the eastern shores of the island nation.
The purpose of the visit was to understand the context and challenges of education in a community that has been ravaged by conflict and natural disaster. Then apply this understanding to successfully adapt ChildFund’s Active Teaching and Learning Approach in Schools (ATLAS) model.
The ATLAS pilot programme in which Mrs Swendra will be taking part along with 17 other teachers in schools from the area will develop teachers’ skills and help improve children’s participation in their education.
Huge challenges exist for the many families who were resettled in Batticaloa in 2009 when the 25-year conflict ended and the internal refugee camps emptied says Sally.
“Parents who have received little or no education don’t see the point in educating their own children. The schools that do exist are in poor condition and almost a third of teachers are voluntary and unpaid.”
To tackle the challenges the programme will focus on three main activities:
- - Rehabilitating schools and setting up Parent Teacher Associations with advisors from the local education ministry;
- - Providing children with supplementary classes in maths, science and English to help them pass all-important exams; and
- - Training teachers in child-centred learning techniques in which New Zealand is a global leader.
Sally was instrumental in establishing the ATLAS programme in Zambia with support from generous New Zealanders. Working with educational specialists from the International Reading Association and local education authorities, Sally’s team developed training modules for Zambian teachers that have been now widely adopted in the African nation.
“If the Sri Lankan experience is anything like Zambia, schools will see a huge reduction in absenteeism and dropouts, an improvement in grade passes and more actively involved parents. ATLAS has the potential to change the culture and improve children’s lives and futures. “
Within Batticaloa two teachers from nine selected primary schools will attend three specialised training sessions in 2013. Between training modules these core teachers will train fellow teachers in their own schools. In September an evaluation by ChildFund and IRA education specialists will take place to assess how well the training has gone and its impact on students.
The Sri Lankan Government is keeping a close eye on ChildFund’s pilot programme. If successful, the government may replicate the ATLAS programme in schools in other regions.
For school teacher Mrs Swendra taking part in the programme will mean better tools and techniques to teach effectively.
“I love teaching,” said Mrs Swendra. “But I find it exhausting. A key feature of ATLAS is classroom management, and how to focus the energy and knowledge of students into their learning and helping others learning too. That will help immensely.”
A note: Batticaloa is also known to New Zealand child sponsors as the Singing Fish Project because of a mysterious fish that used to inhabit the large lagoons that surround it.