It’s 1 pm and James Kargbo turns back from the blackboard of his fifth-grade class at Evangelical Primary School to find Mr. Barnard in the doorway of his classroom. He wasn’t expecting Mr. Barnard just then, but welcomes him into the class. Mr. Barnard is a familiar face, showing up unannounced once every one or two weeks to observe his class and coach him on his teaching.
Mr. Barnard, below, occasionally takes over the class to give a demonstration lesson on more difficult topics. You know it’s an experienced teacher when normally bored preteens sit in rapt attention on a subject like fractions.
With your help, we’ve done a lot to raise the quality of education in Rotifunk schools in the last several years. We’re particularly excited now by the potential of the primary school program and the impact we can all have on children’s lives there.
It became clear, to get HERE ……………… We need to start HERE!
Operating for five years, CCET-SL’s after-school tutorial program for ninth graders now has 95% of students passing their senior high entrance exam. But passing doesn’t mean results are strong. Many are in fact rather marginal.
To set kids up for success in senior high and give them a good shot at higher education, we need to work with them at the primary school level.
Fourteen teachers and nearly 400 primary students were put in the capable hands of Oliver Barnard, a retired primary school teacher and headmaster of 30 years’ experience. At 65, this man has energy to spare. “I actually enjoy teaching,” he said. Of retirement age, but not ready for it, he lamented,” I thought I was nowhere. Now I’m back in the system.” His frown turned into a wide grin. Teaching children he says, gives meaning and purpose in his life.
And Rotifunk’s primary school teachers need him. Only 4 of the 14 teachers he works with have the basic three-year Teacher’s Certificate, qualifying them to teach primary school.
The other ten only graduated from high school and were put in front of a classroom, like Mohamed Kamara. A teacher for three years, he would like to go to college, but like most, doesn’t have the means to pay for it. Abdul Kanu, at Supreme Islamic Council School, below, is another dedicated teacher who appreciates Mr. Barnard’s guidance.
Sometimes a principal just hands new teachers a book and sends them to a class to teach. The principal often teaches full time themselves and has little time to monitor or coach a young teacher.
To make matter worse, without a teaching certificate, the government does not pay unqualified teachers. School principals scrape together donations to pay them from parents who have no money to spare. Maybe half the parents will offer something, often as little as 5000 leones – or 50 cents. From this, unqualified teachers get a token monthly payment of $15 – $25 a month.
With classrooms like James Kargbo’s at the Evangelical Primary School, below, you know schools don’t have extra money to pay teachers. Nonetheless, teachers are teaching, and kids are learning.
Village children are walking 3, 4 and even 5 miles each way to go to primary school like these in Rotifunk. Their village schools often barely function, with one or two teachers for six grades who may have only completed primary school themselves. These are among the children in greatest need of education that we can influence in a positive direction.
Most class five and six teachers in Rotifunk are young men because they have at least finished high school. It’s one of the few paid jobs in town, but the pay is hardly enough, especially with a family. Teachers like James and Mohamed leave school to go home and work in gardens growing fruit and vegetables to supplement their tiny family incomes. Their wives may be the primary breadwinners of the family as market women, selling produce in the market.
This leads to morale problems and malaise among many unqualified teachers. Without having learned teaching methodologies, they struggle. When one teacher must teach all seven subjects for one grade, they skip over the topics they’re not familiar with. Students end the school year without learning the full curriculum.
English language, written composition and math are the weakest subjects in primary school. These remain weak all the way through to the 12th grade national graduating exam. Students never catch up.
Mr. Barnard is shaking the trees to change this. In a good way.
The teachers know he’s there to help them and look at him as the coach and mentor they never had. Week by week, after observing their class, he gives feedback on improving their teaching. He helps them prepare lesson plans on topics they are weak in. His demonstration classes give teachers confidence to cover topics they didn’t know how to teach and practical tips on handling a class.
The kids enjoy him. The class gets a shot of energy when Mr. Barnard confidently takes over a lesson. And they learn.
Sometimes Mr. Barnard puts the chalk down and just talks to the kids about the importance of education in their lives. He points out successful people they know who only got ahead because of their education.
Too often these young impressionable students see the opposite – young people who dropped out of school and with the little money they earned bought cheap cell phones and flashy clothes.
Young women tell the girls, you’re wasting your time in school; I have my own baby.
What they don’t realize is, chances are, the women will be abandoned to raise that baby themselves. Young female and male drop-out’s never get ahead and live impoverished lives. Sound familiar?
But many times, it’s a role-model teens strongly admire that sparks their imagination and starts a change in their lives. If she or he came from the same place as me and achieved what they did, so can I. Rosaline Kaimbay, CCET-SL’s locally born and college educated managing director has been a role model that sparked this change in many students.
We all recall teachers who had a big impact on our lives. Sherbro Foundation is working with CCET-SL to develop more teachers who will play that role for these kids.
Last week 200 class six students lined up to take their National Primary School Exam in Rotifunk, most from CCET-SL’s program. The exam sets the course for their education journey. Either they continue to secondary school, or faced with repeating class 6, many drop out.
With nine months preparation and practice exams, Roman Catholic primary school headmistress Salamatu Fofanah could see the difference in the students from CCET-SL’s program this year. She said, “Today our children feel relieved and happy to take the exam in a cool atmosphere. They have the confidence to take their exams with no fear. We appreciate the great support of CCET-SL and Sherbro Foundation.”
She knows James Kargbo and his fellow teachers have worked for months to prepare their students for this week with Mr. Barnard’s ever-present coaching. The results will no doubt be better than last year. The teachers are energized to keep improving and pledge to soon achieve the highest results in the district.
Sherbro Foundation is excited to kick off our annual Education Fundraising Campaign with this practical program. It’s developing teachers on-the-job, while covering the full primary school curriculum and giving students a better education. It uses existing resources to do this.
As the advertisement used to say – the cost per student for the whole school year for all of this? Only $25. Changing a child’s life? Priceless!
I can’t think of many things we can do with higher impact on the lives of more people.
When 400 young students get a strong education foundation and keep progressing in school, the impact will be felt for years to come. Whole families benefit when students turned adults keep succeeding.
You can help change a child’s life for $25. Sponsor four for $100. Or why not sponsor a whole class of 20 for $500? It’s a guaranteed feel-good investment you’ll be glad you made. Give HERE.
As always, we deeply appreciate your support. Thank you!
— Arlene Golembiewski,