At the Precious Gems Nursery, located in the region of Bartica, Guyana, teachers are making learning fun. In the school playground, students stand in front of the teacher who is throwing them a small ball. Every student has the strained look of concentration: they must catch the ball with their hands and not let it fall. This exercise is important for children’s development as it helps them improve motor skills while enhancing hand-eye coordination.
Walking into the school we see teachers and students sitting in a semicircle singing and dancing. In an adjacent classroom, students are learning the alphabet. Using a piece of playdough, they must follow the shape of the letter “A” which has been written with chalk by their teacher on the table. The school walls are painted in bright colors and display several learning resources such as posters, drawings, and pictures, reflecting the school values and celebrating children’s learning.
Similar scenarios in other preschools were observed throughout our visit to Guyana. Our objective was to observe the impact of the GPE-funded program, implemented under the leadership of the government of Guyana and with support from the World Bank. The program focused on improving literacy and numeracy skills for children in preschool through grade 1 in remote hinterland regions.
In every school we visited, we noticed a common thread: all students were developing the building blocks of lifelong learning by engaging in playful activities; with well-prepared teachers; and effective learning materials.
However, for many years, this wasn’t the case. Teachers had no choice other than to improvise and make their own materials using elements from the environment including cardboard, seeds, nuts, and bottle tops. To teach children to count, they built abacuses using seeds; to teach them music education, they built percussion instruments using sticks.
Intuitively, teachers knew that children preferred to learn by experimenting, exploring, and playing with objects instead of grasping concepts in a verbal way, which was the method that they previously applied.
Making their own learning materials was challenging for many teachers as they had to spend extra time focusing on this task. Many went above and beyond and spent their own money on learning resources for their students.
“Basically, you had to take extra time to make a whole lot of different learning materials. There weren’t durable and got damaged fast. You had to find the time to make more.” - Carnita Williams, Teacher, Precious Gems Nursery
Additionally, teachers didn’t have the knowledge to deliver a lesson properly - they lacked pedagogy skills to be able to explain concepts to their students; and often felt helpless when they weren’t able to manage the classroom properly.
“Before they had difficulties delivering the lessons… You could see the frustration on their faces since they didn’t know what to do…” – Pamela Daniels, Head teacher, Hill View Nursery
New resources enhance learning
The new learning materials combined with teacher training have solved these challenges. Now, for every concept the teachers need to explain to their students, there is a specific learning material available. These resources have also made the lessons more interactive and interesting for children.
Carolina Joseph, the head teacher at Precious Gems Nursery, told us that when children first saw the new learning materials, they screamed in happiness and couldn’t stop exploring and playing with them. Some learning materials seemed to be more popular among the children including the paint and doctor kits.
Children are more engaged when the lessons incorporate the new learning resources. If the teacher decides to do an activity that doesn’t require the use of these materials, children are reluctant to participate. Additionally, when classes end, children don’t want to leave school; and when they come back, they have a huge smile on their faces and are ready for another day full of fun activities.
Thanks to the training program, teachers feel more confident addressing students during class. They can also effectively tailor the lessons to meet the needs of the children and can successfully provide an environment that stimulates children’s learning, engagement, and creativity.
Teachers now monitor their students more closely, which helps improve learning outcomes. With the help of a specific guide, once a month, they measure how much children are learning. For example, teachers ask students to recite the alphabet and when a mistake is made or the child stops, they put a mark next to the letter.
More involved parents
Thanks to the GPE-funded program, parents are now more involved in their children’s’ learning. At the Hill View Nursery, a “Parent Circle” was piloted. A teacher was assigned to talk to parents, to provide encouragement, and explain what the children had learned during class.
A mother told us that the school has a bulletin board for parents where teachers post what the children learned during the week. She, along with the rest of the parents, have “homework” every week: they have to reinforce the lessons that the child learned at school. For her, it is evident that it’s important for her son to attend preschool; and she knows that education is the key to a better future. “I have big dreams for him,” she said.
Children are better prepared for primary school
Several head teachers mentioned that these improvements have led to an increase in enrollments and children being better prepared for primary school. Primary teachers agree that children have acquired a strong foundation that is now helping them succeed.
“Coming to grade 1, these children know everything. They can write a full paragraph…they can analyze; if you ask them a question, they will go into detail... they can write well and neat...and are ready to go on. This is what I love about my children…they motivate me also.” - Shania Samwaru, Grade 1 teacher, St Anthony Primary School
Reaping the benefits of early childhood education
After a full day of visits to several nursery and primary schools, we were heartened to see how the GPE-funded program has brought tangible results in improving learning and equity in Guyana’s hinterland regions.
Before visiting the schools, we knew the extraordinary results that the program had achieved including:
- 8,000 school children living in hinterland and riverine areas benefitted from the program
- 88% of children master reading and math skills compared to 37% in 2016
- 526 teachers received annual training.
- 750 early childhood education resource kits were distributed to schools as well as teachers’ manuals explaining their use.1
But it was so much more rewarding to see the impact first-hand!
We witnessed how children are motivated to come to school and learn more effectively; and how teachers feel more confident teaching since they have acquired the necessary tools and skills to do their job better. We also noticed how engaged parents are with their children’s learning, and how schools are now equipped with child-friendly and effective learning materials
Before leaving the school, I (Carolina) asked the students what letter was written on the board. Before I knew it, several students jumped to answer in unison: “The letter M!” followed by the “M” sound.
We couldn’t feel more hopeful. These children are well on their way to a quality education, and a bright future.
Thank you to the ministry of Education for organizing this visit; and a special thanks to Quenita Walrond, Christina Khan, Pamela Daniels and Farida Jacobis for accompanying us.
Learn more about GPE’s work and results in Guyana:
- Figures provided by Guyana’s ministry of Education