Nursery schooling in The Gambia covers a higher age range than in the UK as children don't start school until they are seven or nearly eight years old, and Gambian pre-schools therefore care for children between the ages of 2 to 7, after which children move on to lower basic schools.
Nurseries and pre-schools may be private schools, community schools or annexes to government Lower Basic (primary) schools (a recent innovation). Other than the annexes (which are free) they are not government funded and many parents struggle to pay the fees. There is precious little to spend on equipment, and where there are resources there is often little knowledge as to how to use them creatively - children have so little opportunity for learning through play. Facilities vary greatly - from good to barely non-existent. Some schools have links or sponsors from overseas who provide equipment and maybe send visitors to provide occasional training. Many others have as many as 60 to a class with only one member of staff, and when he or she is absent they just have to double up with another class as there is no supply teaching facility available. There is little or nothing in the way of equipment apart from a few pencils and chalk. Most of the learning is by rote and some classroom walls are completely bare. At the moment, nursery teachers who have completed the only ECD course at Gambia College are paid as unqualified teachers, earning only 1000 dalasi a month, which is about £22, although some higher salaries are paid in privately-funded schools.
The Gambian government has identified ECD as a priority and is committed to providing pre-school places to all Gambian children. A meaningful and accredited ECD programme has been developed, however Early Childhood Development professionals are practically non-existent in The Gambia and this project seeks to strengthen this initiative with skilled volunteers.
Futures Training Foundation (FTF) was founded by Lisong Bah, a Gambian educator trained in Sweden and the United States and recognised as a leading ECD practitioner in The Gambia. The aim of the Foundation is to work alongside the government to run training courses and provide resources to help raise the standards of ECD teaching.
FTF's premises include a model nursery school which opened in January 2014 - Mary's Little Lambs (MLL) Daycare, Nursery and Preparatory School. The school has the capacity to take 50 children between the ages of 2 and 6, in three classes, in the nursery and about 100 children aged 6 to 9 in three classes in the prep school, with plans to expand this further in future years. Most of the children come from poor backgrounds in the local neighbourhood. Nine teachers, three teaching assistants and two nannies are employed at the school, and it is likely that volunteers would spend most of their time here, working alongside these teachers to share good practice.
It is also possible that volunteers might spend some time in various other local nursery schools supporting the teachers there, or helping with teacher-training sessions run by FTF.
Because the volunteer programme is working with The Department of Education on the teacher training programme, whilst you are working with the children and teachers of MLL Nursery or other local schools, you will also be contributing to the development of a sustainable education programme for The Gambia's youngest and most vulnerable children.
"I'm realising that Lisong is right when she says the important thing is to train new teachers and raise the quality of the children's experiences in the classroom, and that you don't need expensive resources to do that. I've seen a few classrooms now with the odd thing obviously donated by well-meaning visitors from abroad - the odd reading book or coloured poster, and they always look at though they are just put on one side or sellotaped to the wall and never looked at, for example alphabet friezes with half the sections missing. I'm coming to realise that donating things is a waste of money, the important thing is to raise the quality of teachers."
To learn about how the volunteer programme works with this project read more here.