The Early Childhood Development Training Centre (Futures) is the vision of Mrs Lisong Bah, a Gambian educator who has worked as an ECD educator and programme coordinator first for Unicef and then for Christian Children's Fund (CCF).
Futures seeks to provide
"an environment that nurtures children, provides for child friendly settings, appropriate childcare practices, and ensure holistic child development, thus securing a generation of adults that have developed in a holistic manner to sustain and maintain good governance, productivity and peace in the future."
All educational facilities in The Gambia closed in March 2020 for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lockdown volunteers have worked productively with Lisong to write a training programme for trainers and teachers on the GOALS curriculum - this is a new version of the Gambian early years curriculum, designed to provide a more structured approach a clearer guidance than earlier versions of this curriculum, which was first issued in 2012. The Goals curriculum will be implemented in Mary's Little Lambs School and other local school from September 2020, and thereafter in other parts of the Gambia. Remote volunteer help has been invaluable in putting this course together - Lisong would like to work in a similar way to develop other courses in the future. Volunteer help will also be invaluable in the classroom setting when once schools reopen.
Early childhood care and development has become part of the basic education title in The Gambia and The Department of Education is keen to work with Futures to provide training for pre school teachers. The education policy of 2015-30 acknowledges the importance of these early years, and the department of state for education has developed linkages with other governments, NGOs and local authorities and local communities to promote an integrated approach to ECD. Since ECD is largely provided by the private sector, affordability becomes an issue and poses a major constraint for poor households. The problem becomes more pronounced in rural areas where poverty is more acute and where the traditional practice of leaving children in the care of siblings or grandparents, or having children accompanying their mothers to the farm or work place still remains the dominant practice for early childhood care.
" 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. " Volunteer Dianne 2009
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 they move on to lower basic schools.
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 50 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 pencils and chalk, most of the learning is by rote and some classroom walls are completely bare. Nursery teachers who have completed the only ECD course at Gambia College still early less than those holding primary teaching certificates. A meaningful and accredited ECD programme will mean higher rates of pay and in turn attract the best teachers.
There are no educational equipment suppliers, early learning centres or large toy shops in The Gambia. Basic items like sugar paper and paper fasteners (attaches-parisiennes) are impossible to find. Children have so little opportunity for learning through play.
Pre-schools are not government funded and school fees are 100 Dalasi (about £2.80) per term per child in most village schools - so there is precious little to spend on equipment. Where there are resources there is often little knowledge as to how to use them creatively.
This is the background against which Lisong has set up her Early Childhood Development Centre. Futures Training Foundation was founded by Lisong to provide certificate training workshops. The Foundation also includes a model school, Mary's Little Lambs, which provides high quality pre-school and lower basic (primary) education, currently for children aged 2 to 9 but with plans to take children up to age 13 by 2021.
This is an opportunity for volunteers to be involved in the creation of meaningful pre school education for the children of The Gambia.
Learn more about how the volunteer programme supports Early Childhood Development in The Gambia here