10/03/2015 10:55

Teaching in the settlements

By Fr. John Glynn

Port Moresby

The Out Of School Children (OOSC) approach is what I call the Top Down approach to the problem. It requires a lot of preliminary work to be done before direct action can be taken to deal with the problem.

It calls for a lot of planning, forums, workshops, brain storming, report writing, development of strategies, etc., etc., before approvals can be sought, funding secured, and implementation begun. In the meantime a lot of children continue out of school.

The Bottom Up approach sees a child on the street, not in school, and acts to put the child into school at once. It is an organic approach - like planting a seed, watering it and watching to see what it will grow into.

The Bottom Up approach puts the needs of the child first. All the rest, planning, developing infrastructure, and so on is secondary. It is all important, of course, in fact it is essential, but it remains a subsidiary requirement.

The Top Down approach is systematic, definitely not organic, and results in a carefully designed system that will undoubtedly produce a good result that will answer the problem in a satisfactory way. However, it creates the danger that the requirements of the system will take precedence over the needs of the child.

The Bottom Up approach places the needs of the child before the requirements of the system. What this means is that whatever resources are available will be used in order to meet the needs of the child. And these resources may well be totally unacceptable in the well designed, formal and systematic structure produced by the Top Down approach.

An example of what I mean can be seen in how the ‘back yard’ Early Learning Centres that are currently spreading through the settlements and suburbs of our cities and towns right now. This informal answer to the problem of educating children for whom no school places are available has been developed by worried parents, and good hearted citizens. What happens is that a woman or a married couple takes on the responsibility for caring for a small number of young children who are running around unsupervised on the street. Using whatever materials are available the carer provides lessons for the children. Young women - and the occasional young man - volunteer to help. And then they look for support.

The Foundation for Women and Children at Risk (WeCARe!) is currently supporting six (6) Early Learning Centres in settlements around Port Moresby, with a total enrolment of some 500 children. The volunteer teachers in these schools have no more than a Grade 8 or Grade 10 education. They attend a part time teacher training programme for a year. This training course is run by Church based organisation Ginigoada. It is funded by the Digicel Foundation with other support from the City Government and others. (The Digicel Foundation supports Early Learning Centres that cater for around 3,000 children in all). The trainers are qualified teachers. The trainees learn the phonics method for teaching literacy. They become very proficient at it. By the time the children are ready to enter Primary School they can read, write and handle numbers to a degree that puts them a year or more ahead of their classmates.

WeCARe! assists these Early Learning Centres that are registered with us by paying for teacher training, providing teaching materials, providing materials for the construction of classrooms, for building desks. We provide the materials for installing VIP toilets (Ventilated Improved Pit toilets). We provide rain water tanks where needed. We provide children’s books, toys, school uniforms … WeCARe! has other programmes that provide assistance for very poor families and single mothers, and for disabled children.

There must be thousands of children in Early Learning Centres around the country. Those schools of the ‘back yard’ variety are not recognised by the Education Department. Their teachers are not registered and the schools are not included in statistics collected in the recent national census of schools. They do not qualify for public funding of any kind. The fact that they are educating so many of our young citizens is irrelevant. They may be meeting the needs of the children, but they simply do not meet the requirements of the system, and so they are ignored and the children who are being educated are counted as being Out Of School!