Creative learning inside and outside the classroom for street-connected children in Uganda
S.A.L.V.E. International works in the Jinja District of Uganda. Our name stands for “Support and Love Via Education”, so education is a critical part of what we do. At our headquarters outside Jinja town is our Halfway Home. This provides temporary accommodation for children who have lived on the streets before they are resettled with their families. We also have a Drug Rehabilitation Centre for children who have become addicted to harmful substances such as Mafuta (aeroplane fuel) while on the streets. As a teacher, my role is to encourage children at both centres to continue with their education despite the time they have been out of school.
The challenges of re-joining education
Some of the children are too old for their class. For example, Sula is 17 and should be in Year 2 or 3 of secondary school, but his educational level is only Year 2 of primary. When he first arrived, he did not feel comfortable saying his class level, especially because he acquired most of his academic knowledge through our drop-in centre. He, and others, have friends of a similar age or younger who have reached higher educational levels, and this makes them feel ashamed.
Sometimes a child who was studying in Primary 4 before spending three years on the streets, will tell me they reached Primary 7. Through interacting with them I discover their actual learning level. When children arrive at the Halfway Home, we organise some general lessons and then organise them into classes according to their ability. On the streets, children live a ‘free-range’ existence. It can be difficult for them to follow a timetable or a formal programme after this freedom. It is my role to encourage them to come to lessons and develop their concentration skills ready for their return to formal education.
Learning through creative play
Learning through creative play involves using available resources in the community to aid the facilitation of the lesson. For example, if we are teaching about the weather but do not have weather instruments like a wind vane, we can use a plastic bottle, sticks, bicycle spokes and banana fibres, as shown in the photograph. The compass points are made from cardboard boxes. We also use young trees or plants for science classes, taking children outside to teach them about how plants transpire. We cut the top off a plastic bottle and put it over a young branch. We cover the top of the bottle using cloth or paper, and tie it with string. After four hours we can see that the plant has given out water through its leaves, hence showing how plants transpire.
The playground at the centre is an important resource in my lessons. I teach mathematics using tyres. The children can easily identify the shapes and colours and I set tasks appropriate to primary mathematics activities where they sort and identify as a technique. The swings can be used to teach many ‘doing’ words (verbs), especially when we are developing the children’s English language skills. In Uganda, the children speak their home languages but by law school classes must be conducted in English. The children learn as they play. We say things like: “Go and sit on the swing”; “What they are doing on the swing?”; “I am swinging”; “I am sitting”; “He is pushing me”; etc. I crerate games that can teach as many verbs as possible related to the children swinging with their friends.
Using creative play has helped me, and the children, to feel a lot more confident about our teaching and learning. It has helped me to identify and develop the learning abilities of the children, and they feel more comfortable to express themselves through play.
Using learning through creative play you can develop a stronger relationship and understand the child better. For example, if a child is shy or does not enjoy sharing, games can help you to involve them and develop skills such as sharing and communication.
Preparing for formal education in Uganda
I want to encourage teachers to include a creative play learning approach in their teaching. Learning through creative play is an approach like any other teaching approach, such as demonstration, illustration, etc. Children who are street-connected are often playful, and teaching them through this way of learning makes them feel they are doing what they liked to do before. This encourages and motivates them to develop their love for education. We teach from known to unknown to help them feel confident.
To prepare a child to go back to mainstream education, I try to increase the amount of time they spend in the formal classroom before they are ready to be resettled with their family. I also encourage children to keep using the creative play techniques with their friends. We invite the children to come for special workshops in school holidays to check on their progress, and we help them to look at difficult topics in other ways.
Learning things through observation and practice is not easily forgotten. Using the very games that the children enjoy in their free time provides an aspect of continuity when they go back home to their family and re-join school, and play the same games.
Using creative play in their teaching helps teachers to listen to the children and to learn their language, in reality and metaphorically. By learning the words they use and using them as part of the medium of instruction, the children can more easily understand you. As a teacher I want my students to express themselves. Starting with their language helps me to move onto what I need to teach them and engages them in their learning. Many street-connected children experienced problems at school before they went to the street. Creative play is a way of helping them to love learning and feel comfortable with you, especially if they have been out of school for a long time.
I hope that more teachers in Uganda and across the world will start to teach using creative play ideas. If we make education enjoyable and accessible, every child should always find something useful in a lesson.
Faisal Kapeli is a teacher at S.A.L.V.E. International (Uganda)