Why Preschool in a Rural Setting?
In the United States many children have access to education prior to grade one. Kindergarten, while not always required, is readily available. Some public schools and many private schools even offer 4-year-old kindergarten. If a child doesn’t attend kindergarten, he isn’t prepared for 1st grade. I have seen a huge difference between students who went to kindergarten and those who did not. Even for children from families of low-economic status, there are programs like Head Start that provide that much-needed exposure to preschool education.
Here in Zambia government sponsored schooling begins in grade 1. The typical student is anywhere from 6 years of age on up depending on distance of the school or health of the child. Preschools are not unheard; many are found in the cities and towns, although less common in the rural areas. Beginning a preschool can take more resources than a small village can provide, like a place to meet or money to pay a good teacher.
Having a preschool in a community provides many benefits to that community. In our village we find that in general the children love coming to school. They are enthusiastic and can often be heard repeating what they have learned as they play with their friends on the playground or at home. The benefits to the children are many as they learn the basic skills that help form a firm foundation for their continued schooling.
Perhaps in a setting like ours, where daily survival has for so long been the main focus of life, learning the value of education is one of the most important benefits of a preschool, for the child, the parents, and the community. I wish I could say that the education system in Zambia was a good one. But I can’t. It is sorely lacking. But education can help facilitate the learning of how to look beyond the current circumstances and see that there is an exciting world out there and that we each are a part of it. In preschool we plant the seeds of the importance of education in the minds of children and parents. Education is a good thing, whether you grow up to be a farmer or president of a nation. It opens doors and encourages new ways of thinking, which usher in change.
While I’ve not visited other preschools besides the one here in this village, my guess would be that the teachers would not have an education beyond grade 12. The desire to go to teacher’s college is often there, but the money isn’t. It is an all-too-common story. But what about teacher training? A grade 12 graduate, if he has any savvy at all, can teach letters, numbers, Bible verses, songs, and the like. Add to that a handful or two of strategies, methods, skills, and educational principles, and voilà! a teacher is born.
If you click on the embedded links, you can read in more detail about the education of children in Zambia as well as the training of teachers. We, Pete and I, have an opportunity now to start a new preschool, at the request of the elders of a group of 14 churches. Resources will be few, but it’s amazing what you can do with salvaged bottle caps and cardboard from cereal boxes! Thank you for sharing in this journey with us!