Manal AbdulWahed Shareef AlShureify
Teaching is one of the most challenging professions. Teacher training is often poor quality and focuses on theory, denying trainees exposure to the real-life situations they will encounter in the classroom. There is also a lack of a support system for teachers. In this article, Manal looks at the issue of working children in Yemen, and how teachers can be prepared to meet their educational needs.
Barriers to learning
Yemen has relatively low economic and human development indicators. Forty per cent of the population is under 18 years of age, and the system cannot keep up with the need for education. Poverty forces many families to send their children to work. Education enrolment rates for girls are especially low. Large family sizes mean Yemeni families often decide to educate boys while girls are expected to do household chores, care for younger siblings or get married young. Yemen therefore has many working children. They face many of the same barriers to inclusion in education that other children face, such as overcrowded classrooms, poor teaching quality, lack of educational stimulation and support at home. However, they also have to contend with long working hours, physically demanding and dangerous work. For most, their work interferes with their education and often compromises their physical development and health. For instance, children often work in car repair shops, handling heavy machinery; in agriculture where they are exposed to dangerous chemicals; or selling and buying on the streets, where they are vulnerable to harassment and abuse.
Helping teachers to support working children more effectively
In my experience, this is the most effective form of training as it exposes trainees to practical situations involving working children, and enables them to experiment with the theories they learn.
Recognising individual learning needs
While Yemen’s basic level curriculum is now more activity-based, and less based on content and rote learning than a decade ago, students experiencing difficulties still generally just receive extra support through repeating the same lessons. Since this offers only a short-term remedy, a remedial education pilot programme was established at the Working Children’s Rehabilitation Centre two years ago. It targets disadvantaged children enrolled in public schools and supports the education they receive at school. It also helps teachers identify every child’s individual learning difficulties and styles. Teachers were introduced to the educational needs of working children, the difficulties they face and positive attributes they have, and the importance of making classroom environments more welcoming for them. It also helped teachers think about how to help working children develop positive attitudes towards learning at school.
Linking school with real life
In my experience, the main barrier to inclusion of working children in education is teachers’ use of methods that are not related to the children’s daily lives and so hold no appeal. Working children come to school with more experiences from the street than non-working children. They soon feel bored when school seems unconnected to their real life, and eventually drop out. Working children have become conditioned to believe that school and learning is boring and teachers rarely prove otherwise. High unemployment among graduates also leads families to believe that starting work early offers a quicker solution than educating children to work when they are older.
Teachers were introduced to the idea of linking the formal and informal learning environments in which working children operate. They were trained to use classroom observation methods and to carry out focus group discussions with the various people involved with working children in public schools. The teachers were also exposed to real-life school experiences and encouraged to come up with practical ideas for addressing these situations.
Classroom observation is an important training tool. It helps trainers give more targeted advice to trainees. Replaying lessons on video can help trainees observe how they managed their lesson, and reflect on their students’ responses and needs.
The teachers were encouraged to use the children’s work experiences to make learning more related to their daily lives. For example, in subjects like maths, they used simulations of shops and selling and buying to make the subject relevant. They drew on children’s communication skills from anger or conflict management situations on the street, to help them with Arabic language skills.
In all this work, the role of the working children should not be ignored. The best teacher trainers are usually children! When allowed to give their ideas, they can contribute to their own learning by making the teacher aware of their needs.
Manal AlShureify has recently been appointed Inclusive Education Programme Officer for Save the Children Sweden in Yemen.
PO Box 18624