In Nicaragua, the activities carried out by the education union Anden to create a child labour free zone (CLFZ) in La Dalia (Matagalpa Department) has given momentum for education in the region. 83 teachers from 31 schools have received training, including communication skills, negotiation techniques and teacher leadership. Anden has also started to equip some schools and teachers with teaching materials such as tape recorders, games, globes, story books, and decoration tools.
“Through the training, I learned how to better communicate with the parents, says Marling Cardenal Averruz, teacher in the Slilmalila primary school. I have also better understood why it is so important to improve the classroom environment. The material received from Anden helped me to decorate the class with the children. The pedagogy is more dynamic through the games that we have learned to use at the training sessions. I have developed more contacts with community leaders and together, we try to help parents who raise all kinds of reasons that prevent them from sending their children to school. This project has really changed my school. This year, none of the 85 students have dropped out”.
After the training sessions, teachers make home visits to sensitize parents and community leaders on the importance of education. Teachers record in notebooks what has been said during each home visit (commitment to send the child to school, reason why the child was absent, etc.). They feel like they are in a stronger position when they speak to parents and plantation owners thanks to the training, but also thanks to being part of a child labour free zone project in their region which is supported by the local authorities. Radio spots on child labour have been developed by Anden and are largely broadcast on local radio stations, especially in December and January (the most intense coffee harvest season). Banners against child labour are put in schools and caps and bags distributed to the teachers to increase the visibility of the project.
“Some teachers visit at least two families each week, even if the children of those families attend classes, says Bernarda López, National coordinator of the project : they understand more and more that direct communication with families is very important and parents are grateful because they see that the interest of the teachers in their children is increasing. At each monthly meeting with the parents organised at the school, the teachers speak about a new subject related to child labour, the CLFZ, the importance of education and of the values (self-respect, non-violence …)”.
Anden noticed that in a few cases, pupils attending schools where none of the teachers participated in training asked to be transferred to the schools involved in the project: they heard from other children that the classes seem better, that pupils play in classes, and that teachers suggest exercises that are more interesting. Pedagogical circles have been formed between teachers who attended training and those who could not participate to increase the quality of education in every school. In some communities, the momentum around education created by this project has ended up convincing the Ministry of Education to open literacy centers for adults, partly because parents expressed the need to be able to follow up and support the schooling of their children.
La Dalia, school directors report a reduction of the dropout rates and success in bringing back to school children who had dropped out. “We get reports on a higher sense of happiness of the children in schools thanks to a better environment and better teaching, says Bernarda López. Teachers feel empowered and enthusiastic thanks to the professional development of the teachers involved in this project. They are very grateful for the material that they received. They informed us that they needed extra training on how to properly use new teaching material (such as puzzles and other games), so we conducted a few more training sessions”.
Anden considers the development of this CLFZ in La Dalia to be a pilot project. Longer term, the union intends to use this as a model for other projects in other regions. Articles and videos have been published by Anden to communicate the successes of this project within the Nicaraguan teaching community.
Paula del Carmen Polanco Tonez, teacher in the Santa Rosa kindergarten:
This project has boosted everyone’s motivation. Thanks to the training, I have learned to put in place strategies to prevent pupils from dropping out, to make them feel good in the classroom, to make school attractive to them. My colleagues and I have shared with the parents all we learned during the training sessions, which is helping to spread the message.
One of first success was to attract two sisters of 4 and 7 years who had never attended any class before to school. It required effort and patience ! On my first visit to the family, I was only able to meet their aunt. she told me that they had gone with their parents to another region for the coffee harvest. I informed her of our project and told her that we really wanted the girls to join us in school. She communicate by telephone with the mother who pledged that her children would go to school when they return to the village. From that day on, my colleague or I returned every day to the family’s house to ensure that the promise was kept. We continued speaking with the aunt. After one month, one morning the mother was at home with the two sisters. They had returned from the harvest area. We had a coffee together and she agreed to send her children to school the following day. This is how Marta Rivera (primary level) and Maria (pre-school level) came for the first time to school. We keep a close eye on them to make sure that school was a good experience. They love it !