Preschool teachers Charlotte, Stephanie and Sofie travelled to their partner school in Kabwe, Zambia, to meet their Zambian colleagues for the first time: “We hope our schoollink takes on a life of its own.”
VVOB’s SchoolLink programme connects schools in Belgium with schools in Middle and South America, Africa and Asia. Through educational and intercultural exchange, learners both young and old are stimulated to become global citizens. Some of the schoollinks are in an advanced stage, while others are still just beginning to develop what will hopefully become a sustainable partnership.
The schoollink between BSGO Magnolia in Ukkel (Belgium) and Lukanga Primary School in Kabwe (Zambia) is a new one. In November, preschool teachers Charlotte, Stephanie and Sofie met their peers for the first time.
You probably had some preconceptions about education in Zambia. What was the biggest surprise?
Sofie: “I thought the preschoolers would have to repeat a lot of what the teacher said, but that wasn’t the case. The preschool teachers develop a lot of their own material with which the children can do their own thing. They make those materials with stuff they find at home, in the streets or in nature… they’re very creative! Despite limited resources and infrastructure, they’re very motivated to move forward with their pupils. In Belgium, we tend to buy learning materials that may be too complicated. This visit made us realise we can also have an impact with little resources.”
Stephanie: “I also noticed how they focus on their learners’ ability to be independent. They teach them how to garden and cook, very concrete skills they’ll need in their day-to-day lives. The ‘special needs’ classroom is another great project. Learners with difficulties or disabilities have an equal opportunity to learn. Multiple teachers are in the classroom to support every child as well as possible.”
You teach very young children. How does a schoollink contribute to their development?
Charlotte: “Our youngest are introduced to the big world ‘out there’ for the first time. We let them discover the possibilities, we teach them how to communicate… The preschoolers in both schools learn from each other through song, game, a video message. In the third year of preschool we use the schoollink to have a more philosophical talk and stimulate their critical thinking and open attitude. A schoollink between preschoolers can be the basis for their global citizenship.”
The visit had two goals: getting to know each other and developing an action plan that will be the framework of your partnership. How did that go?
Sofie: “Relatively easy! Our first brainstorm led to a long list of possible themes to work on together. Eventually we chose three: culture (typical games, dress, ceremonies, music); plants, animals and nature; and talents and skills. Then we thought about how we could work on these themes at the level of the children, the teachers and the broader school environment. We still need to check this with our home front though!”
Stephanie: “Decisions about the budget were tougher to make. In Belgium we’ll easily get our hands on the necessary materials to do the activities. That’s not the case for Zambia. Our colleagues still need to buy some stuff for the project, at least an internet bundle to be able to communicate.”
Looking forward, what do you hope to learn from the schoollink, both as a teacher and a Belgian?
Charlotte: “I hope the schoollink takes on a life of its own in our school, with teachers and parents fully involved, and that our small ideas evolve into something grand. We can use the schoollink as an inspirational tool to introduce the world to our learners, and to invite them to think with an open mind. On a more personal level, I hope this new way of working together will teach me how to communicate better and will give me more insight into cultural diversity.”
Sofie: “I also hope that the schoollink takes on a life of its own in both schools, and that we can make something good of it. I want to get to know the Zambian school, its learners and teachers even better by working together on the chosen themes. We’ll constructively exchange ideas, learn from each other and be open for change and innovation.”
Stephanie: “We’re going to learn so much from them, and I want to return that favour by inspiring them with practices from our Belgian context. We’ll both be enriched with new ideas and experiences. There’s no better to way to grow as a teacher.”