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As part of its various charity initiatives, BlueSky has been supporting the work of Crane, a partner of the international Christian children's charity Viva, in Uganda, which works to improve the educational opportunities for young girls. Rachel Coulson, Head of ITT, at the Two Mile Ash ITT Partnership in Milton Keynes, was one of four teachers who were sponsored by BlueSky to visit Uganda this year and work with trainee teachers there – sharing knowledge and expertise. She tells us more below......
I had recently started a new role involving training teachers, when I saw the advert for this volunteering opportunity in Uganda and thought it would be a really useful experience to train teachers from another country – particularly in Africa, which I had always wanted to visit.
I arrived in Kampala with three other volunteer teachers from the UK last August. My focus was particularly on helping the Ugandan teachers with their SEN pupils, who varied in age from eight to 34 years old, though the majority were aged 14 to 18, but all working at a level equivalent to EYFS in the UK. The level of SEN in Uganda was far greater than anything else I had come across as a SENCo at home as it included those with severe brain damage, rather than the dyslexia and mild autism conditions more usually found in a UK mainstream school. The Ugandan teachers had pretty good English, but their pupils generally had none – restricting their communication with me to lots of smiles and mine with them to lots of thumbs ups, which they seemed to like and understand!
I also advised more generally on positive behaviour management strategies, ideas to make literacy and numeracy lessons more fun and of greater relevance to the pupils and their culture, and the development of social and communication skills.
The teachers had some great resources, but weren't using them because they didn't know how – even including games such as Scrabble and Hangman to develop literacy skills. We set the games up and showed them how to play them in a carousel style, after which we discussed how they could be used with pupils in the classroom, for example to help them use the present tense. We also used games like Silly Sentences and picture cards to help with sentence construction and the use of capital letters, connectives and punctuation. It was really fun and the teachers came up with some great ideas for how they would use the games in their lessons in the future.
The Ugandan teachers also asked for help on teaching child protection, particularly showing girls how to keep themselves safe. I made sure to pitch this at KS1 level, rather than using a Year 5 or 6 'Changes' topic plan. We talked about relationships and how to be kind to each other, introducing the concept of circle time – which was new to them and which they found particularly useful.
Generally speaking, a Ugandan teacher has never been trained to teach at all, much less enjoy three or four years' training in a subject, plus an intensive one-year teacher training programme, as a UK teacher will have done. The amount we learn in that time is phenomenal and the teachers in Uganda just don't have any of that as a foundation. Most are not even working at the level of a UK trainee teacher – which as I work in ITT was fascinating for me. A big part of my role at the Two Mile Ash ITT training partnership is observing trainee teachers, and I simply couldn't apply the same criteria in Uganda where a teacher generally doesn't have a learning objective, success criteria, planned questions, differentiated activities or challenging work for the higher ability children. This isn't because they are lazy or can't be bothered; it is because they have never been taught these elements of teaching within a lesson.
But they are still inspirational and no less committed to the children they are teaching. They have great understanding of the lives their pupils lead outside school which are also very different to the lives of a UK pupil – not least in that many of them undertake a 10-mile round trip, barefoot on dusty dangerous roads to attend school.
Overall the trip has had a huge impact on my work back in the UK. I think it has made me a better adult trainer by helping me to think a bit more 'outside the box' to adapt my training to the needs of who ever I am teaching.
In turn I hope that the Ugandan teachers have benefitted from seeing some different teaching strategies, as well as from networking and sharing their existing good practice, so that their pupils will receive a more varied education including more practical and creative lessons.
*Rachel kept a detailed diary of her stay in Uganda and you can read more about her experiences by clicking on this link: http://www.inspiringtomorrowsteachers.co.uk/volunteering-in-uganda/
If you are interested in volunteering yourself please contact Catherine Kneller at BlueSky on 01483 880004