When grade 12 exams are scored Zambia, each section is awarded a certain number of points, anywhere from 1-9, with 1 being excellent, and 9 failing. Those points are added up and the student receives an overall score. Six is the best a student can do. That student would definitely be accepted at university and would likely receive a full scholarship if s/he is from a village. Ten is a great score, as is 14, even 19. At 24, university is no longer an option, but teacher’s college is. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it is what it is.
I have met a young man, Andy, who is currently in his second year of teacher’s college in the town near us. We meet from time to time and talk about his studies, his projects, and about education in general. I am encouraged by Andy’s enthusiasm and by what he is learning. He had to write a paper on the pros and cons of bilingual education. He had to make a spring scale or a balance scale and explain how to use it. He has had to explain the difference between a British abacus and a Chinese abacus and describe one activity for each. Admittedly, that one flummoxed me a bit because I’d never heard of a British abacus, and could find no reference to it on the internet, so assumed a British abacus is what we might refer to as a school abacus. Andy has completed one practicum in a grade 3 class, and will have one more before he does his student teaching. He seems to be learning a lot in his courses; however, a lack of resources is a definite problem. He has no access to the internet, and any extra-curricular texts he has access to are all quite old. Nothing new, nothing modern. I hope I can rightly assume that students in teacher education courses in the cities do have access to more resources than Andy does.
So what about our preschool teachers in rural villages who likely have no training at all? Maybe it’s this lack of training that contributes to the closing of many rural preschools. And surely it contributes to the fact that there are many communities with no preschools at all.
Training teachers provides a multiplier; it’s the gift that keeps on giving. A well-trained teacher provides an excellent education to the students. S/he is able to train other teachers. S/he brings professionalism to the preschool, which instills confidence in the parents and the community, which in turn brings more students as parents share their confidence with others.
Training teachers can inspire them to seek out possible routes for going to teacher’s college themselves. Where there is a will there is a way, the old saying goes. Sometimes all it takes is a little boost to get someone going in the right direction and give them the inspiration and motivation they need.
For someone who has not been to teacher’s college, it’s not just training, it’s an education. The plural of sheep is sheep, not sheeps. All insects have six legs. Discipline is not synonymous with beating. Some things are better taught beginning with the part and moving to the whole (like learning to read). Other things are better taught beginning with the whole and moving to the part (the account of Jonah teaches us about obedience to God). The “2” in “27” is not really “2” but “20.” Three-year-olds new to school will have difficulty with one-to-one correspondence, and it’s ok.
It is a privilege and joy to be able to share with eager teachers what I have learned about education over the years. To show them activities that will draw the children in and make learning interesting; to teach alternatives to rote memorization; ways to develop thinking skills; how to practice good classroom management; using local resources. And it thrills me no end to hear the children counting, or reciting the Bible pledge, or talking about plants, not just while in the classroom, but while out playing.
Included in the training of preschool must always be a “sustainability” factor. By that I mean training the teachers in such a way that they will not develop a dependence on the trainer. The trainer is a coach. This is how you do it. Practice. Correction. More practice. More correction. Just like in the classroom. Now do it.
Is it possible to have a preschool without trained teachers? I suppose so. But as mentioned above, preschools close (four in this area alone). Our goal is to develop preschools that won’t close, but will continue to serve their community for as long as there is a need. And as long as there are children, there will be a need.