A piece of cardboard with diagrammes and numbers to help pupils learn simple addition

Numeracy for all

Developing low-cost, high-quality maths teaching aids.

In many of the countries where we work, one of the biggest barriers to children’s educational progress is a lack of engaging hands-on teaching materials. Teachers often have no tangible aids to support their lessons, other than a blackboard and piece of chalk, and possibly a limited supply of textbooks. Add to this overcrowded classrooms, and it comes as no surprise that teachers are often not able to work as effectively as they should, and children’s progress can be slow.

In addition, many teachers are underqualified and have received little training; some also have other jobs, and are teaching in their free time. There are often few training resources available for them, and the knowledge developed by more experienced teachers is frequently not passed on to new recruits.

Dedicated learning and training materials are often expensive, putting them out of the reach of many teachers – but our volunteers have shown that, with a little creativity and time, we can overcome this obstacle.

Developing low-cost teaching aids

In many of the countries where we’re active, VSO volunteers have worked to support local teachers to develop learning resources for little – or even no – cost. Volunteers have demonstrated that these imaginative materials can be just as effective for teaching as many expensive mass-made products.

A collection of home-made resources for teaching maths
Volunteer Mary Watkins has transformed everyday items and waste materials into useful maths teaching aids.

Creating resources from waste – and a little creativity – in Rwanda

As part of her work on the Building Learning Foundations project in Rwanda, volunteer Mary Watkins has produced a large bank of low-cost, sustainable and easily-replicable resources out of rubbish and local waste materials.

For example, Mary has transformed the inside of toothpaste tubes into number lines, used milk packaging to create grids, and turned bottle tops into counting aids.

Supporting maths teachers

In order to scale up the impact of our individual volunteers’ efforts, and ensure the sustainability of this approach, we’re working to ensure that teachers are supported to:

  • identify the types of free or low-cost materials they can easily access to make quality teaching aids;
  • create their own teaching materials;
  • use these resources in an engaging and meaningful way – including in individual, pair, group and whole-class teaching;
  • match the use of resources to the curriculum;
  • understand how to store and maintain materials to ensure they can be used for years to come;
  • adapt materials for different topics and different groups of children.
A fan made out of old milk cartons, with counting aids drawn on
Mary Watkins
The guide explains how to make simple resources out of everyday waste - including milk packaging.

Numeracy for All Guide

In partnership with MESHGuides, we’ve developed a step-by-step guide to support VSO volunteers to teach early-years maths – no matter where in the world they are, and no matter what access to resources they have.

The guide brings together ideas and creative approaches from other volunteers, creating a resource bank that will evolve over time as new ideas are added and new ways of using the materials effectively are developed.

It supports teachers and trainers to make and use low- and no-cost teaching and learning aids, which encourage active and playful maths learning.

The guide outlines the resources that a teacher can use, as well as explaining why to use them, and how to make the most of their impact.

Download the Numeracy for All: Resources for Teaching Mathematics Guide [PDF]

You can also access the full Numeracy for All MESHGuide on the MESHGuide website.

Numeracy for All video series

As part of the project, MESHGuides has developed a series of videos for anyone helping young children learn - including teachers, parents and other caregivers. The videos support caregivers to reinforce children's learning through using a range of resources which can be used in a wide variety of activities.

As with the guide, the resources in the videos can be made from low- or no-cost materials, most of which would otherwise be discarded.

Watch the Numeracy for All videos on YouTube

Watch the Maths Games at Home videos on YouTube

VSO School app: Using technology to empower educators

The VSO School app is an invaluable resource that supports children’s learning – both inside and outside the classroom.

The android app contains videos, lesson plans and electronic versions of the resource toolkit – all of which can be accessed offline, so teachers can watch videos, develop lessons for their pupils, and develop their own knowledge and skills through training, all on their mobile phone.

In fragile spaces or emergency situations – such as when schools are closed for extended periods – the suggestions within videos can be adapted by non-expert educators, meaning children don’t have to miss out on engaging maths lessons, even if their time in the classroom is interrupted.

Supporting teachers to develop their own resources

The app also contains an authoring tool, so teachers can develop their own lessons, materials and quizzes. An open source platform allows users to add questions into videos, meaning they can be tailored to the local language and to the audience’s specific needs.

Download the VSO School app from Google Play


Related programmes:

A group of young children carry teaching materials as they walk outside, led by their teacher
Alice Kayibanda

Building Learning Foundations

Developing long-term, sustainable solutions to improve basic teaching for every child in Rwanda.