Daphne Sharp, teacher trainer, Tanzania

Thanks to support from VSO, pre-primary education in Zanzibar is receiving a makeover. The old-fashioned “chalk and talk” approach once ruled - but walk into a classroom today and you’ll find children learning through participation and play. Working alongside local colleagues, VSO volunteer Daphne Sharp is helping to ensure that all children in Zanzibar receive a good basic education, whether that’s in a brightly decorated classroom with an animated teacher or under a tree with a wind up radio.

Interactive learning in Zanzibar’s classrooms

It’s a bright Tuesday morning at Saateni pre-school in Zanzibar. The children in Teacher Asya’s class are busy: in the playground, three young girls crowd around a saucepan in which they are ‘cooking’ a plastic fish, while in the brightly decorated classroom two boys are stringing red shells onto shoe laces to make necklaces. Teacher Asya moves from group to group, smiling, encouraging and admiring.

This is known as free play - essential for helping children reach important social and emotional development milestones. It’s thanks to VSO volunteer Daphne Sharp that free play has been scheduled into the school day not just here at Saateni but at nursery schools all over the island.

Daphne and Teacher Asya working in partnership

With support from her close friend and colleague Teacher Asya, Daphne has spent the last two years sharing her expertise in early-years education with teachers in Zanzibar. These teachers have previously been trained in the “chalk and talk” style of teaching, which simply doesn’t work with three to six year olds.

“We need to move the teachers away from chalk and talk. So Teacher Asya and I developed 14 weeks’ worth of three-hour workshops, looking at things like story telling techniques, making teaching aids using local resources, classroom management, team teaching and free play,” says Daphne. “Asya went away and translated them, and then she delivered the workshops in Kiswahili.”

Skills shared with 18 schools

Representatives from all of Zanzibar’s government pre-schools attended the workshops. This means that every child attending pre-school – over 12,000 - has benefited from Daphne’s skills. She is confident that what she has achieved in Zanzibar is sustainable: “I know that Asya will continue the work we’ve been doing. Seeing how she has blossomed as a teacher and a trainer has been absolutely wonderful.”

Teacher Asya - who now divides her 38-strong class into lions, giraffes, elephants and zebras so that she can manage it more effectively – is just as confident.

“Teacher Daphne has taught me so much. I have so many approaches to teaching now,” she says. “I am ready any time, any place to teach.”

Listening and learning with RISE

Daphne has had an equally positive impact on her colleagues at the Radio Instruction to Strengthen Education (RISE) project. RISE is funded by USAID and focuses on thousands of children in Zanzibar who don’t go to pre-school, perhaps because they live in remote areas far from schools or because their families can’t afford uniforms and books.

Instead these children receive basic education by joining a local RISE club and tuning into an interactive radio programme. Broadcast three mornings a week, it covers maths, science, Kiswahili, English and life skills. Each club  – there are 126 in total – has a wind up radio and a trained mentor who reinforces the content of the programmes. Each child is given a free kit containing string, a dice, flash cards, shells and coloured blocks, all sourced locally. Currently over 6,250 children in Zanzibar are benefiting from RISE clubs.

Daphne has been working with the RISE scriptwriters to ensure the content and style of the radio programmes mirror what’s happening in classrooms.

“She has taught us games and songs to put into our scripts,” says Sabrina, one of six scriptwriters. “She has also helped me to write the mentors’ guides, which will help the mentors conduct the lessons alongside the radio. I have learned that there are different ways of praising children. In the handbook we tell the mentors to use words like ‘good’, that’s right’, ‘you got it!’ and to use an action like a thumbs up.”

The future for pre-school education

From 2009, children enrolling at primary school will only be able to do so if they’ve received some form of pre-school education, be it in a classroom or in a RISE club. VSO volunteers like Daphne will continue to play a crucial role in ensuring that Zanzibar’s teachers are well equipped to make those early years of education interactive, informative and inspiring. 

How to apply

Interested in volunteering with VSO? Find out what you need to apply and begin your application process now.