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Inside the world’s classrooms

VSO/Sophie Tremblay

Open the door of classrooms around the world and you’ll find a surprising range of challenges – as well as some truly incredible teachers dedicated to changing children’s lives.

Millions of teachers around the world show up each morning not knowing how they’ll manage the day ahead. They face overcrowded classrooms, a lack of resources and many other challenges.

But thanks to their dedication, ingenuity and passion, teachers are making classrooms magical places of hope and opportunity for the world's most under-priveleged children. Here are seven classrooms where VSO’s support is making a real difference.

Reducing stigma against children with disabilities

Nambia, who attends the special needs unit at Township Muslim Primary School in Machakos, Kenya VSO/Amber Mezbourian

Nambia Mutemi, who attends the special needs unit at Township Muslim Primary School in Machakos, Kenya.

Widespread stigma means many parents in Machakos, Kenya, keep their children with disabilities hidden away at home, rather than sending them to school. 

VSO youth volunteers on the International Citizen Service programme have been working with people who live in the vicinity of a special education unit to try and change that. 

Head teacher Margaret Mbithi says, “Attitudes are changing since the volunteers started coming here to work with these children. 

“Children in the mainstream school used to be scared of our pupils here. They used to run away from them. But after seeing the volunteers, they now sometimes come across to our unit and assist with the children here. Even the other teachers see them differently now. They realise that they are children too, and that with support they can do marvellously.”

Nambia, who attends the special needs unit at Township Muslim Primary School in Machakos, Kenya VSO/Amber Mezbourian

VSO youth volunteers are working to change attitudes to children with special needs at this special education unit in Kenya.

Safe spaces for Rohingya refugee children to learn

Rohingya children try to draw pictures with the note books and color pencils donated by VSO at the home-based child friendly center at Jamtoli. VSO/Abir Abdullah

Rohingya children try to draw pictures with the note books and color pencils donated by VSO at the home-based child friendly center at Jamtoli.

Since 25 August 2017, targeted violence against Rohingya communities in Rakhine State, Myanmar, has forced over 671,000 people, mostly women and children, to flee their homes.  

Many are living in makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. For the youngest children, this disruption poses a real risk to their development and education.  

VSO volunteers have trained Rohingya mothers to educate groups of younger children at home through play-based learning. We’ve also created child-friendly spaces where older children can learn in safety.

Bringing science education to rural Nigeria

A lesson with the mobile science lab Nigeria VSO/Onye Ubanatu

One in nine Nobel Prize winners in science are from developing countries. VSO Nigeria is working with schools in rural Katsina province in the Mobile Science Lab programme.

Schools in Katsina state in northern Nigeria are generally poor and remote. Many schools lack even the most basic science teaching aids. 

To change that, VSO has piloted a ‘lab in a van’ concept. This is a mobile science lab with a set of teaching resources and a qualified teacher trainer. It rotates science education between 15 schools, reaching around 7,500 students and 60 teachers.  

It’s delivered by young Nigerian graduates who have spent a year volunteering in schools, as part of the National Graduate Volunteering programme. Their VSO training equips them to teach English, maths and science in rural schools.

Bridging the educational gap for teenage mothers in Sierra Leone

Young teenage mothers are taught at the Teenage Mothers School. VSO/Peter Caton

Young teenage mothers are taught at the Teenage Mothers School, where they can nurse and care for their children while getting their education.

During the Ebola crisis, schools in Sierra Leone were closed to prevent the spread of the disease. An unexpected rise in teenage pregnancies followed.  

Whilst pregnant, young girls are not allowed to continue schooling in Sierra Leone. The interruption to their education, in addition to their parenting duties, means they may never return to the classroom.  

In Binkolo, VSO’s support has led to the formation of a ‘teenage mothers’ school’. Set up by retired teachers and local community volunteers, the afternoon school uses local classrooms to teach young mothers the basic curriculum.  

Students can bring their babies into the classroom so that they can nurse them whilst learning. Many have been able to return to mainstream school having kept up with their education.

Using technology to improve learning in Malawi

Teacher Grace Chigwechokha and learner Francis Nkhoma, during lessons in the Unlocking Talent Learning Centre, Malawi VSO/Amos Gumulira

Teachers are some of the most hard-working and under-valued members of society with a crucial role at the front line of development. VSO is using its deep-rooted access to raise their voices to call for change and more support.

With an average class size of 70 children, teachers in Malawi struggle to provide feedback and support to each student.  

Through the Unlocking Talent project, VSO is making personalised support to each student possible again. Using solar-powered tablets loaded up with literacy and numeracy apps, the programme provides instant feedback and allows children to work through topics at their own pace.

Developed with our partner, onebillion, the programme has been so successful at bettering learning outcomes that it is now being implemented in schools in the UK as well. 

Volunteers like Chris Goma are inspiring teachers to find new applications for the technology. Recently, they’ve seen success using the software to re-engage children who have dropped out or fallen behind in their learning, ultimately resulting in children re-enrolling in education. 

Building self-esteem through SMS education in India 

Girls excitedly sharing their SMS Story learning cards in a school in Delhi VSO

Girls excitedly sharing their SMS Story learning cards in a school in Delhi

For many children in India, being able to speak and write in English is a pathway to jobs and better opportunities. But teaching quality remains low, with many children struggling to pronounce letters and words, and lacking in self-confidence.  

To challenge this, VSO partnered with Vodafone’s World of Difference programme to set up a project to improve literacy by introducing a phonics approach to teaching. Bitesize lessons were delivered to resource-poor teachers via SMS messages to their mobile phones. Volunteers drawn from Vodafone’s workforce, as well as local communities, oversaw the project’s roll-out. 

The impact has been remarkable. The project evaluation suggests that before the project, 51% of children in 120 schools weren’t able to read a single English word. After the intervention that number dropped dramatically, to just 5%.

Raising aspirations for children in Nepal

Shee Jewan Jyoti Madhyamik Bidhyalaya school has a total of 1014 students – with a gender split of almost 50:50, girls to boys. It’s a huge achievement, as in Nepal there are many barriers that can lead girls to drop out of school early.

Teacher leading a class in Nepal VSO/Priyanka Budhathoki

“I feel proud to be part of this school." Tirtha Prasad Poudel, Head teacher

Tirtha Prasad Poudel is head teacher, after going to school here himself as a boy and then working first as a teacher for 30 years. He’d seen a lot of changes over the years, and especially in the years since the school joined VSO’s Sisters for Sisters Education programme. 

Women from the local community, or “big sisters”, mentor ‘little sisters’ – schoolgirls who have been identified by teachers as vulnerable and at risk of dropping out. VSO’s programme also provides school materials to encourage young girls to stay in school, learn English and digital technologies.  

Tirtha says, “I feel proud to be part of this school. Especially, when I see students from this school represented in senior positions in the government. There are doctors, police officers, and senior government officers in the country who were students of this school – my students. They make us feel proud and many come back to the school and to help us – they are our strength.”

Supporting children to reach their potential in Tanzania

Video of teacher Julius explaining the challenges he battles with at school in Tanzania

In Tanzania, teachers like Julius can face an uphill struggle. Children often come to school hungry, and then large classroom sizes can make it difficult for teachers to engage students.

VSO's Raise Income for Secondary Education (RISE) project has given more than 800 parents access to business loans, and helped nearly 600 parent farmers improve their crop yields by 50%.

In the classroom, the introduction of interactive teaching methods has improved attendance across eight schools, coupled with a 40% improvement in reading ability.

Julius said, "VSO’s project has supported my teaching in three significant ways. Firstly I’ve developed skills that improve my teaching of children in large groups – our classes often have over 70 children. Secondly, we now have some story books, sports equipment, teaching aids and even computers. Thirdly – and very importantly – I’ve been trained so I can pass on my skills to other teachers."

You can read more about VSO’s education projects here.