Campus - 21.09.2016 - 00:00 

With P.I.E.C.E.S. in Zambia: en route on an educational mission

Twice a year, the P.I.E.C.E.S. association runs various projects around the globe. This summer, eight four-week projects were realised in Latin America, Asia and Africa. A new programme was launched in Paraguay. Our student reporter Tabea Stöckel was in Zambia and describes her stay there.

22 September 2016. P.I.E.C.E.S. has been active in most countries for quite some time, and volunteers are able to benefit from established structures. In newly launched programmes, participants pave the way for future projects by communicating the values upheld by P.I.E.C.E.S. on site. The association does not ask students for a fee, thus clearly taking a stand against the commercialisation of volunteers’ stays.

P.I.E.C.E.S. defines clear basic conditions before students set off and requires them to document their stay in detail. In every project, students use video clips and final tests to measure children’s learning progress. In this way, they ensure that their teaching has a sustained impact. If this impact is deemed inadequate, the project will be discontinued or relocated. Thus problems were noticed in a project in Zambia in February 2016, for instance: an insufficient knowledge of the alphabet and oversized classes constituted hurdles which could not be removed within the limited period of time available to the project. For this reason, the project was relocated to another town. The project was attended by four participants.

A school day in Zambia

A typical school day in Zambia starts at seven o’clock in the morning with one hour’s walk to the school. In the first two weeks, classes were run in the normal manner with the volunteers working as assistant teachers during that time. In the last two weeks, they were able to take over their own classes and structure their lessons themselves. The main focus was on English and mathematics, but topics such as malaria or AIDS were also dealt with. Zambia’s official language is English, which made communication distinctly easier. What was difficult, however, was coping with the different levels of knowledge: whereas many pupils were far advanced, others had poor reading and writing skills. The students solved this problem by dividing their classes into two streams.

Improvisation required

In Zambia, the current volunteers are additionally encountering the teething problems that are typical of every new project. They must find out on site to what extent they will be able to help. "We just went into the school and let ourselves be surprised," says Nadine Hitz, one of the participants in Zambia. "What is important is to find out what is best for both sides and how pupils will be able to benefit most." A lack of teaching materials and the simple infrastructure require improvisation and often also ludic learning.

Language barriers and other obstacles

The volunteers in Paraguay are having to grapple with similar problems to those encountered by the volunteers in Zambia – in total contrast to Thailand, where the project has been running longer. There are enough teaching materials, but the children are not familiar with ludic approaches to learning. A poor command of English also means that there is no common language. In such projects, the teachers translate what the students say or the students have to communicate with signs. Basically, all the projects focus on an improvement of pupils’ command of English. Within the constraints of what is feasible, the teaching of other subjects is perfectly welcome, however. In the next few months, P.I.E.C.E.S. will evaluate the summer projects before the association draws up the programmes for 2017 and staffs them with new volunteers.

Tabea Stöckel is studying International Affairs in the third semester.

photo: Tabea Stöckel

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