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Teachers share expertise in developing countries

October 21, 2014

Learning flows both ways in long-standing assistance program

Cameron Archer — Ghana

Cameron Archer participates in group activities in the Greater Accra region of Ghana.

I was blessed to take part in the New Entrants’ Program in partnership with the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), which has a long tradition of working with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, dating back to 1968. GNAT is a leader in its country in providing teachers with opportunities to learn professionally. In a three-year cycle, the GNAT-CTF program visits all the regions of Ghana.

This year we conducted one-week workshops in Takoradi-Sekondi, Cape Coast and Greater Accra.

The new entrants’ and Nkabom projects are part of a larger program with about 200 participants in each region. I was impressed by how GNAT organized the logistics of the workshops. Ghanaians are proud of their hospitality, and GNAT went to great lengths to make sure that we were comfortable and enjoyed our time in Ghana. The New Entrants’ Program supports the GNAT youth policy, which in part addresses the high rate of attrition among beginning teachers. Ghanaian teachers face the same challenges as their Canadian counterparts, but to a greater degree. For example, most teachers are first posted to rural areas, where it is very difficult to find accommodation. On top of this, they need to pay for at least six months’ accommodation in advance; their first paycheque is often delayed by the same amount of time. The teachers who we worked with face such challenges in and out of the classroom in the same way as other west Africans live — from my experience — with grace, resourcefulness and enthusiasm! ❚

Cameron Archer is a high school teacher currently on secondment from Elk Island Public Schools to the ministry of education as curriculum manager in international languages.

Kim Carson — St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Alberta teacher Kim Carson works with co-tutor and host Semonique Harry to develop lessons on technology.

“Welcome home, sisters.”

These were the first words we heard when our host teachers greeted us at the Kingstown airport. From that moment forward, we were made to feel so welcome and part of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union. Over the first week we had an opportunity to experience cultural events, visit memorable historical and natural sites, and connect with our host co-tutors. In the two weeks that followed, our team of four Canadian teachers and four co-tutors delivered several sessions on differentiated instruction in language arts and mathematics, classroom management strategies, Google Drive, technology integration, teacher self-care and building inclusive learning environments. The host country selected the topics, and we were there to support them and to articulate our best practices.

Approximately 80 participants actively engaged in the workshop sessions. All the teachers gathered new information on instructional strategies and discovered ways to incorporate the ideas into their planning and lessons. Through ongoing dialogue we outlined commonalities between our educational systems and identified some key features that make each of our systems unique.

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, teacher training expertise varies. Some teachers have master’s degrees while others entered the profession directly after graduating from high school. Whether in Alberta or in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, teachers care about their students and strive to create effective, safe and stimulating educational environments. With class sizes in the 30-plus range and limited resources, the teachers looked for practical ideas to embed in their lessons and incorporate into their teaching practices.

The collaborative partnership is a valuable project for the children of our world. It is imperative that everyone remembers that all students throughout the world deserve access to quality education, and by building this collegial partnership we are fostering this philosophy. I was truly blessed to be part of this remarkable and memorable experience.

For additional details and photos, visit my blog at ❚

Kim Carson is the principal of Thorhild Central School.

Simone Desilets — Togo

Simone Desilets avec les participants Togolais.

La rédaction de cet article me replonge, avec émotion, au cœur d’une extraordinaire aventure. Tous les jours je pense au Togo, je vois le Togo, je ressens le Togo. Ce pays est en moi : les femmes vendent leurs produits le long des rues, j’entends Folly, notre chauffeur, rassurer notre équipe et je ressens la fatigue et le courage qui meublent le quotidien de mes camarades togolais.

Notre équipe a dû y surmonter plusieurs difficultés, depuis l’incertitude de notre rôle au départ, jusqu’à notre panique lorsqu’on nous demandait d’intervenir sans préparation. On puisait alors dans notre expertise canadienne des solutions à un système éducatif un peu branlant. Mais ces demandes urgentes nous prouvaient que la FESEN, le syndicat des enseignants du Togo, avait confiance en nous et qu’un dialogue s’établissait entre nous.

Le perfectionnement professionnel que nous leur avons apporté diffère bien sûr de celui auquel nous sommes habitués, mais c’est en bâtissant sur nos similarités qu’un climat propice à l’accueil et à l’apprentissage s’est installé. Lorsque je repense à nos défis là-bas pendant trois semaines, je réalise qu’ils constituent le lot quotidien de nos collègues togolais. Le recul me permet de mettre en perspective mes propres petits désagréments et inconforts. Belle leçon d’humilité!

En quittant Lomé, je pensais ne jamais avoir l’énergie de répéter une telle expérience. Et pourtant, plus le temps passe plus je souhaiterais revenir. Je me demande ce que fait Justine au centre diocésain. Je sais que la chaleur l’incommode et freine ses progrès. Comment se débrouille Nabédé, notre participant non-voyant? Et la petite Maeva, fille de notre chauffeur, qui commencera bientôt l’école… Je pense à Madame Hounsimé qui continue de soutenir les femmes de sa région. Tous ces visages et bien d’autres défilent dans ma tête.

Je sais que tandis que l’automne frappe à nos portes et que l’air frais nous ravigote, la chaleur du soleil togolais ralentit le pas de nos camarades, que dès 18h15 la nuit tombe, mais que de la fenêtre d’une chambre de l’hôtel Excellence à Lomé un client remarquera, comme moi, au petit matin, une corde à linge arquée sous le poids d’une lessive fraichement étendue.

L’accueil chaleureux des Togolais et leur désir d’améliorer leur réalité scolaire ont contribué à la réussite de notre séjour. Notre équipe en retient des leçons capitales. Dans la vie, ce sont les rencontres que nous faisons qui nous forgent, nous transforment et nous inspirent. Grâce à Projet outre-mer nous sommes devenues des «Yovos» (personnes de peau blanche) améliorées! Nous tenons à remercier l’ATA et la FCE de nous avoir fait participer à ce projet et de concrétiser ainsi, en dehors des frontières de notre pays, notre engagement collectif envers l’éducation. ❚

Simone Desilets est prés-entement en prêt de service au Campus St-Jean de l’University of Alberta où elle travaille dans la formation des futurs enseignants.

Benny Lo — Dominica

Alberta teacher Benny Lo presents a certificate to a literacy group participant on closing day.

Six months prior to my arrival in Dominica, I received a call to inform me that my application to Project Overseas was selected by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. As three of the members were from Toronto, we communicated by email and through conference calls to plan our project. As a rookie in this project, I was grateful to have the support of my teammates. Prior to the orientation program in Ottawa, I realized that I was part of an exultant team of four Canadian team members!

My stay in Dominica required a few adaptations: the weather was extremely hot and humid, and every day the local news talked about chikungunya (a mosquito-borne viral disease). In spite of these circumstances, the experience was extremely rewarding! As the Canadian team member responsible for the workshops in literacy, I worked with participants who were keen to discover a repertoire of strategies to assist their students in furthering their literacy development. The local teachers welcomed the expertise of the Canadian team, but in the end I realized that I also learned a lot from this experience.

The enthusiasm of the local teachers working alongside one another was very conducive to collaboration. I consider Project Overseas to be a paragon of innovation with an emphasis on Teachers’ Action for Teaching.

I am grateful that the Dominica Association of Teachers did everything possible to ensure a successful and comfortable experience for the Canadian team. Transfers from and to the airport, securing tickets for a choral music concert by the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers and a nature excursion in Wotten Waven were just a few of the many kind gestures on the part of the Dominican association. I feel privileged and honoured to have had the opportunity to participate in Project Overseas! ❚

Benny Lo teaches grades 5 and 6 at Mayland Heights Elementary School in Calgary.

Mireille Prévost — Uganda

Mireille Prévost visits a school in Kampala, Uganda.

This past summer I was part of a team of four women from four different Canadian provinces who went to Uganda to work with 150 primary and elementary teachers in the town of Hoima.

Our team spent three weeks in Uganda: one dedicated to planning and preparing with Ugandan co-instructors, and the other two spent on location inservicing two separate groups of teachers. The following subjects were emphasized: classroom management, English, life skills, physical education, literacy, numeracy, as well as making and using instructional materials. Other workshops were also offered, including school health, the importance of belonging to a union, HIV-AIDS, gender equity and community mobilization.

Right from the beginning, the Canadian and the Ugandan teams worked well in close collaboration to prepare and then deliver dynamic sessions in which the participants were truly engaged. Not only did the local teachers learn new content, they also became acquainted with various strategies to make their teaching more significant for their students.

Of course, the instructors were learners as well, and as a bonus, we Canadians got to appreciate the beauty and culture of a wonderful part of Africa. In short, this year’s Project Overseas in Uganda was a success for all! ❚

Mireille Prévost is a former teacher, curriculum consultant and principal who retired Aug. 31. She’s currently a part-time instructor at Campus Saint-Jean.

Leah Rawlings — Ghana

A teacher names Deku tries his hand at playing French Canadian wooden spoons.

I was thrilled last January when I received a phone call from the Alberta Teachers’ Association advising me that I had been selected for Project Overseas and that I would be heading to West Africa — Ghana to be exact.

I was excited to be working with my colleagues from across Canada and Ghana. My favourite part of the whole experience was working closely with the Ghanaian teachers who participated in our workshops. I was impressed with their enthusiasm and their passion. One component of our time there was to facilitate a discussion on challenges faced by beginning teachers, such as being placed in villages where they don’t speak the language, not having housing at the placement or even the possibility of having to canoe to school, and how those beginning teachers could best be supported.

The passion and attention our participants put into finding solutions was inspiring. It also made me realize how incredibly fortunate I am to teach in a location with walls and a roof, to have so many teaching supplies at my fingertips and to work with an amazing staff.

Our hosts, the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), also helped us to experience the country by arranging sightseeing expeditions. I came back with a better understanding of the country, the people and the history. It was a pleasure to represent the Canadian Teachers’ Federation along with the ATA and to continue the partnership that has existed with Ghanaian teachers for many years. ❚

Leah Rawlings is a music teacher at École Steffie Woima Elementary School in Sylvan Lake.

Lyle Watling — Ghana

Lyle Watling with co-tutors in Takoradi (western region) Ghana.

Nkabom means “coming together.” The Nkabom Project in Ghana most definitely is a living example of the coming together of teaching colleagues as part of the Teachers’ Action for Teaching initiative. I was most fortunate to have the opportunity to lead a team of Canadian teachers to Ghana during the summer. We were very excited to work with our wonderful Ghanaian co-tutors to plan and deliver workshops for local teachers in three different locations.

The Nkabom Project focuses on providing professional development for teachers from underprivileged schools. These teachers are incredibly amazing and dedicated. They work in extreme conditions without resources and often in the most basic of classrooms. Frequently they work without pay but continue to strive to provide the best educational experiences possible for their students.

When I reflect upon my experience in Ghana, it is the warmth of the Ghanaian people and their endless smiles that warm my heart. ❚

Lyle Watling teaches students with complex needs at the Yellowhead Youth Centre in Edmonton.

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