Ghana and Israel team up for kids

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 4/24/2013, 6:25 p.m.
Imagine a kindergarten in Ghana--a dull, undecorated room full of mismatched furniture with nowhere to...
Ghana and Israel team up for kids

"What we saw was a child-centered model with planned activity centers and classes. We came back showing video slides to the top people of what we saw in Israel. We started training. Within a short time of three years, the environment had been completely changed. The most interesting thing was that we used local things, even the trash, and created scenery and an atmosphere for play. Children learn though fun and experience," Amaning said.

Hirchmann added, "It was a tremendous change in the approach of the teachers. The way in which we felt it could be done was that if the teachers themselves experienced play--if they experienced that one could learn through play, then they would be able to do this with the children. Everything was learning through play and active participation the theory was taken out of the practical."

But a good idea needs a good leader, and Amaning had to get others as excited as she was. She got people from the top to the bottom excited about the project, including the teachers. "We can effect a change in our school system," she said, using every opportunity to promote the project.

To date, 130 teachers have been trained. The goal is to have 700 dedicated kindergarten teachers.

"We need teacher learning materials, which has been difficult. We hope that we will be able to get funds. If we do that, from what we have been able to do is help the children to be critical thinkers. You can see the potential coming out of the children. We believe that we can help the children through this process. If they can throw away their fears, doubts and shyness and they are confident in themselves as they grow up, they will be able to fit into the society and be able to do something better," Amaning said.

"The children are now helping their parents to get ideals. It's a breakthrough to help children come out of their shells. When children enter the first grade, the teachers are very excited. They compare them with children who come in raw and see that there is a big difference. They take initiative and can master what they want. It shows a vast difference between the old system and the new system," Amaning said.

"Children are now asking questions. It is not part of the culture to ask questions. In a way, it's changing the culture," Hirchmann added.

Four years later, things could not be more different. Teachers and their students are now actively engaged in learning. Teachers take pride in their jobs and kids are thriving. Classes now have between 35 and 50 students with one teacher and one attendant per class.

Early childhood education in Ghana now has a ray of light, but there is still much work to be done. "We need to expand and move forward. We have to train more teachers for sustainability," Amaning said.

Among those things still needed are books. Teachers who are now enthusiastic about their work use their own money to buy things for students. The project, which while awash in enthusiasm, still desperately needs funding for materials and training.

"We're hoping that the Ministry of Education will open its pocket a little wider," Hirchmann concluded.