“Repeat after me: Oxygen is a gas.” The class repeats the teacher’s words in unison. “Repeat: Water is a liquid.” The class echoes the teacher’s sentence. “All together: Rocks are solid matter.” The children’s lips form the same words as their teacher’s, but for many of the students, the meaning is vague.
In order to integrate more active methods into the student learning process, USAID-funded EDC has focused its work in Guinea on interactive and student-centered learning. Since 1998, EDC, through the Fundamental Quality and Equity Levels (FQEL) Project, has trained the country’s teachers and principals to use a variety of materials and approaches to create enthusiasm and enhance the learning process in Guinea’s classrooms.
In the small village of Tolo Center, where roosters chase chickens outside the only local primary school, children became joyous and motivated when FQEL methods and materials arrived, according to school principal Jean Faya Yaradouno.
Yaradouno, who trains other teachers in FQEL strategies and materials, stresses the importance of using games, projects, songs, self-evaluation, an interactive radio program and questions that require critical thinking. “Before the project started, some teachers were only asking questions that required a recall of information,” Yaradouno explained. “But with the training we’ve received, the teachers look at the notes they have prepared and ask good questions that allow students to use their reasoning skills.”
Therésè Yassa Guilavogui, a 12-year-old aspiring doctor, described how self-evaluation was put into practice when she was in Yaradouno’s fifth grade class: “If one of my classmates goes to the blackboard and he can’t find the mistake, and I can, I say ‘there’s the mistake.’” Guilavogui said she likes learning in groups because “if you don’t know something, your classmates can help you. If you know a little about something, you and your classmates can work together (to find the answer).”
The group work continues after school hours, according to Idrissa Diallo, president of Tolo Center Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association. “The children regroup to study what they learned that day,” Diallo enthused. “They discuss the lesson. If one person forgets, another student reminds him.” Prior to FQEL Project’s arrival in Tolo, only an average of five students were entering the seventh grade. Now, the number of seventh grade students can be as high as 40.
According to Yaradouno, Tolo has also embraced FQEL Project’s radio program “Under the Kapok Tree” that is broadcast in classrooms two to three times a week. “Radio teachers” instruct classroom teachers in playing games, doing science projects and singing songs with their students.
“When the radio program first came to Tolo, the school was surrounded by people,” recounted Yaradouno. “People even left their jobs to see what was going on. They were yelling, ‘What’s going on? Have people come from the capital to give classes?’ They saw that it wasn’t something just happening in Tolo, but in all the schools across the country.”
Pépé Guilavogui, Therésè’s father and a professor at Guinea’s National School of Agriculture, said he welcomes the changes FQEL has made in the schools. “I’m not saying that we weren’t trying or that we weren’t exciting the children before FQEL, but children need to learn in a concrete way,” Pépé Guilavogui said of FQEL’s interactive teaching methods. “I’ve seen such a qualitative improvement in my daughter’s level of education. She’s interested in what goes on in class. Even at home, she plays the games and is teaching her younger brothers who aren’t yet at school what she’s learned. She reproduces what she has seen in class: She will sing or imitate animals, trying to think of their names.” The distance between the teacher and student that used to exist in the Guinean classroom has been replaced by genuine contact that has improved education, Pépé Guilavogui added.
“The youth of today will take over tomorrow—they need to be well trained and well educated,” said Pépé. “That means parents and the government must be involved in helping these children become capable people for the future.”
Originally published on April 30, 2005