Over the last few months, two of the biggest issues which have exercised us are how to deal with camp distractions to learning, and how to ensure that the Kurdish children develop their own Kurdish language and culture.
The distraction factor is one that has been problematic for some time now. A few weeks ago we had a distribution of bicycles which is still causing fights between the children. Some children actually stopped coming to school for a while because they didn’t want to let their bike out of the sight. We had a distribution of water pistols recently, which again have led to fights and conflicts. For the first time in several weeks, we exhausted a first aid kit patching the cuts and bruises which resulted. Last week we had a distribution of lolly pops in the middle of one morning. One minute we had 17 children in class. The next minute we had no children at all, as they all ran for lolly pops. We also, recently, had a well meaning group of clowns turn up wanting to put on impromptu performances for the children. Balloons and juggling triumphed over Maths and Science, as entire classes disappeared to follow the clowns.
To help us deal with the camp ‘distraction’ factor we have been trialling a wrist band system this week, which has been invented by one of our volunteer teachers. For each completed learning outcome children receive a wrist band. We can then ask groups offering entertainment to ask that the children show up with their wrist band before accessing the entertainment. Where we have been able to get groups to work with us in this way, it has proved a very simple and effective way of making sure that the entertainment does not disrupt the children’s learning. The children have really appreciated the immediacy of the wrist band as a sign of what they have achieved. We had several cases of children so proud of their wrist band that they rushed home to show parents, rather than using it to access entertainment.
The wrist band system is also giving us a way into reporting to parents what their children are doing. Over the last month we have had a couple of incidences of children ducking out of chores at home by telling their parents that they are in school. Simultaneously the children were telling us at school that they could not do school work because they had chores to do. In reality the child was fishing in the local lake and doing neither school work nor home chores. Now that we have a wrist band system which records what the child has actually done, it will be impossible for children to mislead their parents about their school attendance and achievement.
The other big problem which we have been wrestling with over the last few months is how to safeguard the learning of Kurdish children in their own language. We were shocked a few months ago to realise that some of the children had a more secure grasp of numbers in English than they did in Kurdish which they were speaking at home. Vina, one of our Kurdish teenagers was able to read and work comfortably with seven digit numbers in English, but she had no idea how to express the same number in Kurdish.
Our solution to these problems has been to try and recruit refugees to support us as assistant-teachers. It is a difficult strategy to maintain because the refugees are turning over so fast in the camp, but over the last 3 months we have managed to recruit and train about half a dozen assistants. Those assistants have helped us to translate concepts into Kurdish and they have directly taught small groups in Kurdish, in order to ensure that the children maintain the same levels of comprehension in Kurdish, that they are building up in English.
This week was a sad week for us, as we lost one of our longest standing assistant teachers. Dilpak came to us 3 months ago and has worked tirelessly, supporting our children. She has been with us every day that she has been in camp and even came in to deliver a lesson in Kurdish less than 24 hours after having a medical operation. We are very grateful for her selfless commitment to the children and there are several hundred children who owe their continuing Kurdish education to her contribution. We have also watched her own confidence and skills blossom over the last few months. It came as no surprise to us when she told us that she wants to change career to become a science teacher.
Although we are sad to lose Dilpak, we have been pleased to recruit a new assistant teacher this week and we are continuing to benefit from the contribution of Hussain. Hussain is 16 and an unaccompanied minor. He comes to school to continue his own education, but he also supports teachers by translating concepts into Kurdish and by giving explanations to young children in Kurdish when necessary.
Although education is always led by qualified teachers, the generous contribution of our Kurdish assistant teachers has been an absolutely essential part of our educational strategy.