Hi guys! So this blog post was originally composed during our trip while we were in Cape Town for meetings but we were unable to upload it at the time due to connection difficulties. Sorry for the delay but here it is!
My name is Amanda Halacy, I am a rising second year, and my teammates are Lauren Baetsen and Emily Nemec, both rising fourth year Biomedical Engineering students. This summer, we’ve been working with Special Hope Network (SHN), an NGO based in Lusaka, Zambia that provides education to children with intellectual disabilities. Our main project has been to collaborate with SHN to improve teachers’ skills in planning fine motor, gross motor, literacy and math lessons.
All of the teachers employed with SHN are all high school Zambian graduates. They are very eager to learn because they see the children progressing much faster as a result of their new lesson planning training. Developing the teachers’ executive function skills (lesson planning, task management, goal setting, etc.), plays a vital role in the children’s literacy, life skills, and social skills. All three areas directly correlate with physical health, opportunity for upward mobility, and quality of life. Thus far through our meetings, the teachers have been extremely attentive and involved. We have learned so much by working with them and we look forward to continuing that work, focusing especially on scope and sequences for the kids, when we return to Lusaka.
The largest challenge that we have faced thus far is encouraging the teachers to be creative and flexible when it comes to planning their lessons. When given a lesson plan, a teacher should be able to adjust the activity and difficulty based on a child’s individual goals and needs (IEPs). However, failure isn’t seen as a stepping stone to success in Zambia as it is in the US. It’s difficult to work with the teachers on lesson planning trial and error because they feel like every lesson plan needs to be an immediate success when in reality, it’s often better to fail and learn from the mistakes for next time.
We are in Cape Town this weekend having just met with Carole from Nal’ibali. Nal’ibali is a “reading club” program in libraries, schools, and community centers in six provinces in South Africa. Their goal is to encourage literacy through storytelling and reading for pleasure. They train local volunteers, often teachers, librarians, or parents, in shared story book reading techniques. Our team was very impressed by Nal’ibali’s network and motivational practices in place. They have created a strong communication network by encouraging volunteers to use a Facebook group, WhatsApp, and more to check in and ask each other questions. We had a great conversation about Nal’ibali’s training and are excited to take ideas back to Lusaka!