Benefits to the Children
How Do the Children Benefit From Attending a Village Preschool?
If I, in rural Zambia, and you, in a first world country, sat down and made a list of the benefits children receive when they attend preschool, the lists would be different, but there would be some common elements. Those common elements are what I would like to highlight.
Probably the first items on the list would be basic skills like letters/sounds and math. There is no question that the earlier a child learns his letters and their accompanying sounds, the earlier he will be able to read. The sooner he is able to read, the sooner he can read a Bible, or a book about fish, or a sign post; the sooner he can discover for himself things about the world around him. As children “read” books in preschool, they practice their language skills as they share books with one another, even finding “sight words” that they’ve been taught. The pictures enter their minds, giving them something to see in their minds’ eye as they play.
Learning English at a young age is a huge benefit. In the government school, students are not taught English until grade 2, which is too late in my opinion. I am astonished at the poor English speaking skills of grade 9 students who need to pass an exam (written totally in English, except for the Bemba section) in order to be accepted into grade 10. And I am amazed at the students who pass the exam, yet really can’t speak English at all. If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you know that speaking is more difficult than reading or understanding what is said. Speaking reveals our shortcomings, and we’re not comfortable with that. And it gets more difficult the older we get. So learning English and becoming comfortable with it at as early an age as possible brings greater success in the long run. Missionaries from other villages agree that children who learn English in preschool fare much better in grade 1 than those who don’t.
Number concepts is another basic skill. Counting. Greater than. Less than. Zero. It is sad for me to watch older children using their fingers to add 8 + 3, or struggle to multiply 6 x 7, if they can do it all. Did they go to grade 1 with confidence in math, knowing without even thinking about it that 9 bottles is more than 7 bottles? Or that if they add one to any number, it just gives the next number in line? What does “8” mean, anyway? These are things that a child can understand before he turns 7 and that is taught in preschool.
If you are a Christian writing your list, like I am, you would include on that list of benefits that (a Christian) preschool reinforces what children are learning about God at home and church. Or it introduces unchurched children to God and His Word. Many children here attend church, albeit irregularly. How much they are learning about God there or at home is difficult to say. A basic catechism teaches the foundational principles of the Christian faith. Bible stories that bring the Bible alive help the children learn what God has to say to them.
You would probably include discipline on your list. Learning to manage one’s behavior. Learning to take turns, to wait, to listen without interrupting, following directions, to be respectful of others. When the children of the village enter grade 1, depending on the teacher, the headmaster, or the school, they may receive a beating if their behavior is not up to par in any way. We want to avoid that at all cost.
First world children are exposed to so much before going to school, no matter what the age. Not so in a rural African village. Toys are discarded water bottles or maize stalks or the cap to a Bic pen. The minds of young children are not stimulated like an American child’s is. Not that these kids can’t be creative. Let me tell you about Mule (pronounced Moolay), age 10. Mule has been watching adults make bricks and then build huts with those bricks. He decided he wanted to do the same. So Mule found a small empty plastic container and cut it open to make a mold for bricks. He made the clay, formed the bricks, and then stacked them with pieces of charcoal in between so he could fire them. Once he had his fired bricks, he dug a small foundation and laid the bricks. He even used some line to make sure everything was square and level! It was amazing! Now, that came from Mule watching adults work and deciding to follow suit. Imagine if Mule were getting a really good education, one that was giving him plenty of opportunity to be creative. A good preschool program gives children that opportunity. Creative play stimulates the mind and helps children learn to think beyond what is commonly thought.
What else would be on your list? You might make general statements like preschool gives students an early launch into education. It helps ensure that a student is at the top of the class in grade 1 rather than at the bottom. Have you ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers? It’s a fascinating book. In it he talks about hockey players, the best hockey players, and how being born in January or February was a contributing factor to their becoming so good. They ended up skating with kids who were up to a full year older than they were, kids who were better skilled, from whom they learned so much and in the end they were stronger players. The children in a rural preschool can range in age from 3 to 7 (we actually have an 8 year old also). Our 3-year-olds are learning as much from the older children as from the teachers. It has been amazing to see the transitions from last year to this year. Case in point – Savior. Last year, he barely participated. He did not seem to know anything and I was concerned when his father told me they would send him on to grade 1 in 2012. I expressed that concern, and in the end Savior was kept in preschool. This year he is a star pupil, and he helps the other children in both learning and in behavior. What a difference. Will Savior be ready for grade 1? You bet! I wish all of the children like Savior would stay for that extra year.
Success breeds success, and I am hopeful that our preschoolers will go on to getting a better education than others, perhaps not because of the school they attend, but because of who they are and what they have already learned.