Teaching for success

On Long Island, Papua New Guinea, the people have limited resources for purchasing school materials, but that doesn't stop them from teaching their children.

Men and women trained on the island teach children aged 6-8 in their own Arop-Lokep language. Another training session for prep school teachers will take place in September. Those who attend will receive a bag of nails for building a school. The materials for posts and roof they will take from the jungle.

The children don't need desks. Part of making a school involves carrying loads of sand from the beach and pouring it on the ground inside the school to make a comfortable floor for sitting. This black-sand floor serves another purpose: It’s a writing tablet. When learning the alphabet, young children follow their teacher's example in forming letters in the sand with their fingers. If a child needs more practice, he simply uses his hand to smooth over the sand and starts again.

Math also uses materials from nature. Stones and shells are placed in a circle to form curved numbers and sticks are used for straight numbers. Using manipulatives that are a familiar part of their world helps the children learn faster and remember longer than if their first school experiences involved using pencils and paper.

However, paper was essential in the making of books for the children to read. Teacher-trainer Zechariah tells, "We made many books in the writer's workshop here on the island. There are books on hunting, fishing, making a house, counting canoes. There are stories about animals, telling which are good to eat and which are not. There is also a book about birds and how they are useful for feathers for headdresses in our celebrations."

When the children start attending the government-run primary schools for grades 3-6, the teachers are amazed at what an excellent foundation the students have had. Zechariah testifies, “Starting out in the prep schools in their mother tongue has a double benefit: The children read fluently in their own language, and they transition well into English and make high marks in their classes”

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