Gambian teachers and students have experienced the Andover and Sparsholt College way of teaching courtesy of an exchange trip funded by British Council Connecting Classrooms, a global education initiative, which offers school partnerships and professional development for teachers.

Early Years lecturer Mandy Woodray and Animal Management lecturer Rachel Unwin recently returned from 10 days staying at Mansa Colley Bojang School, Jalanbang Village where they lived authentically as Gambians and shared their expertise and experience in the classroom at Mingdaw Upper Secondary School.

Mandy explains what happened following her observation of a typical lesson in Gambia where 60 students sit in one place all day: “The teachers are incredibly stern and the classroom itself is very regimented with the students effectively talked at all day, learning by rote – no notes are taken.  Our suggestions were very simple – we encouraged the teachers to smile so their students knew they were happy to be there which aids their learning. They then noticed that this encourages and gives students the confidence to contribute and share ideas making learning a two way process. We also suggested that students move around into different groups, enabling them to discuss, debate and embed the learning.”

The lecturers also had some valuable lessons to impart to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) at the school, particularly with regard to Child Protection. Although culturally the two countries are very different, the issues of safe guarding children in the community and in the classroom were covered with the message well-received. The SLT have since requested a child protection policy and incident form.

There are no emergency services on hand, ready to deal with accidents in Farato Village  and none of the staff at school had any first aid knowledge, a priority for the college team to address during their stay. An earlier shipment from the UK included some resuscitation dolls which were used to teach CPR, recovery and choking. Mandy taught staff some simple techniques to deal with injuries without the use of first aid equipment – such as putting an arm into a sling without a bandage.

With the Mingdaw School keen to develop their science provision, Animal Management Nutrition lecturer Rachel Unwin taught the Gambian students about the digestive system of birds, ruminants and humans, using resources taken out with her to include laminated diagrams and labels, post-it notes and wipeboards and pens. The students and teachers were intrigued by these resources, as they had not seen them used before.

Rachel was very impressed with the prior knowledge the students showed when encouraged to share ideas in class. Also, in the one lesson she observed (taught by the Biology teacher) it was clear that the teachers at the school have the subject expertise, just sadly lack the resources to deliver in diverse ways that colleges in England are fortunate to have.

Visiting Gambia wasn’t just about time spent in the classroom. Mandy and Rachel were encouraged by Muctarr Bojang, the lead co-ordinator in The Gambia, to live as authentically as possible. Their accommodation was basic – very little furniture, sitting on the floor and all food was Gambian, eaten with their hands, from a communal bowl.  When the water ran out they had to pull more up from the well like the locals.

Connecting Classrooms is a global education initiative, which offers school partnerships and professional development for teachers. The grant from the British Council financed Mandy and Rachel’s visit to The Gambia and will cover the cost of a teacher from Mingdaw School (the College’s link school) to visit the College. While in Andover and Sparsholt, The Gambian visitor will be keen to pick up techniques on teaching and engaging with students.