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Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session (English)
Mali, as many other sub-Saharan countries, has been struggling with improving an education system plagued by many challenges. Some challenges are due to political instability, but the lack of fully qualified teachers, lack of resources, overcrowded classrooms, and multiple strike actions from the teaching staff have seriously affected the 82% enrollment. The government of Mali has also pledged to focus on reducing gender disparities, establishing disaster mitigation measures, and improving reading and writing in the early grades. With funding from USAID and in collaboration with the MoE, EDC has implemented the Selected Integrated Reading Activity (SIRA) with the mandate to improve reading in the early grades.
In Honduras and much of the LAC region, education has historically been a process where rote learning, memorization, and discipline were more common than student-centered learning. Public education was teacher-centered in order to educate large classrooms with little attention or support for creating a nurturing and safe environment for every child to succeed. The school-community relationship and the different structures of the education system both replicate this dynamic. Schools and teachers often did not welcome parental involvement, and within the education system itself, there was a strong focus on hierarchy and reporting up and, in teacher supervision, a focus on compliance and discipline, not on teachers as professionals or pedagogical support and development.
This is now changing throughout the region, but there are still obstacles to this change, both in terms of changing attitudes and practices and external factors such as violence, instability, and food insecurity. These make creating nurturing environments necessary, yet challenging.
The panel examines the relationship between education delivered in a nurturing classroom, cultural habits and the potential impact on humans and the environment. Challenges are numerous and hide under several faces. Deep-anchored beliefs have prevented children from becoming “good global citizens”. For example, corporal punishment, other punishments, humiliations and bad marks are perceived as incentives for learning and emotional growth. Animal abuse is common. People are oblivious to the generalized pollution of the environment (air, water, plastics, etc.) and its impact. Adults and teachers included, are also shaped by this cultural environment. In these circumstances how can we change education and help children to become aware of their environment, to take the initiatives necessary for change and to grow up to their full potential as global citizens?
All of this starts early in the education system. The emphasis is on competition and on individual achievement rather than collaboration. The skillsets that children will need in the next decades, such as the ability to work collaboratively, to assess the impact of their actions on their fellow classmates and on the environment, to analyze and problem solve, to critically evaluate the wealth of information coming from social media and technology are not addressed in the current curriculum. Children are not learning to read or write or to work independently, or in collaboration with others. These consequences are serious obstacles to personal growth, economy and environmental awareness.
One obvious answer is to start with a more efficient, more dynamic and more effective pedagogy. In Mali, an adapted version of balanced literacy implemented by the SIRA project, and in Honduras, a similar evidence-based method for reading instruction have shown very promising results. However, early on, it was recognized that this pedagogy had to be accompanied by strategies to create a positive classroom environment where children were valued and encouraged rather than threatened and punished, where activities encourage collaboration and problem solving, as well as analysis of situations. Thus training teachers in the creation of a nurturing classroom became an essential corollary to literacy instruction.
Changing a cultural way of life doesn’t happen overnight, yet children’s learning and indeed our safeguarding the planet, require the definition of common values and the ability to collaborate rather than compete. SIRA found that a single word resonated with everyone and could serve as the foot in the door towards a more robust socio-emotional learning. This word is respect.
By training teachers, school directors and children to use respect in the classroom and in all aspects of life, (respect of self, respect of others, respect of girls, respect of the environment, respect of authority, respect of material, respect of opinions, etc.) There was also a strong emphasis on positive discipline where rather teachers moved away from punishing students to alternative ways to shaping behaviors such as dialog, praises, or valuing talents and opinions. SIRA has succeeded in shifting classroom culture and beyond to the community.
Similarly, in Honduras two projects working together to improve children’s literacy outcomes have focused strongly on work with teachers and school directors to bring about these changes. This work includes teacher coaching through peer-to-peer networks of teacher facilitators that address changes not just in teaching methodology but attitudes towards children’s learning, especially focused on reading and writing and on student-centered learning. It also included strategies to support teacher resiliency as a key to creating and maintaining nurturing classroom environments.
Furthermore, in both Africa and in the LAC region, community is usually very strong but often left out of practices in the education system. These programs endeavored to tap this immense potential by involving local authorities, mothers, fathers, elders and volunteers. This approach has turned out to be a vital component of the projects and a strong support to the classroom activities.
The panel’s discussions explore the impact of the nurturing classroom on student performance, teacher behavior, and family-school relations and explain how the concerted efforts have concurred to success, providing a hopeful model for a more humane educational context.
Mali Balanced literacy, nurturing classroom and socio-emotional learning. - Youssouf Mohammed Haidara, RARE
Honduras Reading Activity - Empowering Teachers and Directors to Create Nurturing Classrooms - Monica Sahonero, EDC
CRS/Honduras – Empowering Teachers and Directors to Create Nurturing Classrooms - jennifer mallman, CRS