Teachers discussing ECU information packetThe last two weeks of September I shadowed a handful of PHARE staff at a primary school on the banks of the Niger river in Ségou for an intensive training of teachers and academy directors on the 'Ecole à Classe Unique' (ECU) program the Ministry of Education is implementing with 35 schools this year after piloting the program last year with 5. After spending over 80 hours spanning 2 weeks with 35 teachers, 7 pedagogical advisors, 20 teacher trainers and part of the PHARE staff, I re-emerged in Bamako rubbing visions of the alphabet out of my eyes and with the ringing of children singing instructional songs in my ears.
Kids reading at an outdoor practicumCamera in hand and Power-point warming on the computer, I spent morning, pause café and afternoon roaming from classroom to classroom and session to session to document the ECU training for tax-paying folks back home (and their dependents) and my bosses and colleagues in Bamako (the Americans of which I hope also pay their taxes). Along the way, I learned what an ECU is and how it is supposed to be implemented in Mali.
Interactive learning on a matECUs are intended for villages where the primary school population does not exceed 40 and the closest primary school is 10 km or more away - too far for a child to walk. The idea is that instead of kids having to walk to school - or simply not go which is more often the case - the school will go to them. By reaching out to isolated populations through ECUs, PHARE is assisting the Ministry of Education to realize the goals set forth by the United Nations and the Millennium Challenge mandating universal primary education by 2015.
PHARE sought to achieve certain objectives with this training, one of which was how to organize the ECU classroom. Some teachers will hold class in a one-room school house and others will conduct school under the shade of a mango tree and on the surface of a plastic mat. Other objectives included how to employ active teaching methods in the classroom, how to use the interactive radio sessions broadcast on ORTM (the Malian National radio station) and produced by PHARE, how to produce teaching material in the respective national languages and to discuss the history of the ECU in Mali. PHARE staff also spent time working with the directors of the teaching academies to discuss the evaluation of ECU teachers and how it differs from those with a single-level classroom.
Moussa teaching icebreakers (hangman)With grades 1-6 in one classroom the teacher encounters new challenges to engage all students simultaneously and to effectively instruct. One of the guiding principles behind ECUs is the desire to instill autonomy in its students by encouraging them to teach one another. For example, during language arts, the 4, 5 and 6th grade students can pair up with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades to produce books. The older students write the story while the younger ones illustrate. With math, while the teacher helps the 5th and 6th grade students with long division, the 4th graders can help the 1-3 levels with their addition and multiplication - correcting and guiding each other along the way.
With over 14 languages, 7 of which were present at this training (Bambara, Dogon, Peul, Songhai, Tomashek, Bomu, Bozo), the Malian Ministry of Education (and PHARE!) has its work cut out for them to produce quality bi-lingual classroom materials and teachers capable of implementing it. The amalgamation of languages made for colorful conversations at the training and also a lot of nagging about why I only speak Bambara and French. Why don't you learn Fulfuldae? the Peuls would say. What about Bomu? said the Bobos. And don't forget about the Songhai of Kidal! said the cute, little old man who had never before this training been past Gao. I would smile, offer up the word or so I know in their language (if any), and joke about all the beans they ate before coming to the training. After all, not only were they (jokingly) insulting my capacity to learn obscure African languages, they said the man drawn on the chalkboard after the lost game of hangman was a Coulibaly!
One of the participants in the middle of a simulation lesson to practice what was learned
Bringing all the levels together for a lesson