Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Helping peers in learning at school

Epifania (11) is one of many students in her school
benefitting from the Child Friend Schools (CFS) approach,
known as “Eskola Foun” in local language. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Sgmartins
Like today, every afternoon Epifania (11), works together with her  peers and classmates to complete their homework at her house in Aiteas Suco (village) of Manatuto district which is 67 kilometre east of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.

With care and patience, Epifania leads and guides her peers and classmates to complete their weekly tasks and assignments. Epifania Gomes, is a 6th grade student of the Ensinio Basico Filial Rentau School in Manatuto district of Timor-Leste.

“I have learned how to support my peers through everyday activity in the classroom, I love my classroom setting and the way our teachers’ are teaching us. We are seating in a small group in class and doing a lot of group discussion and helping each other to find answers while working in a group. When some of us are having difficulty in my group, I always try to help them,” Epifania proudly shares her experiences as a Peer Leader in her class.

“Epifania knows our strengths and weaknesses very well. Since I am good in math, she encourages me to be a math leader in our group and help others with their math homework. Since I have difficulty on the environmental study, she helps me to do my homework, too,” confirms Agil, one of Epifania’s classmates.

Improve Learning environment
Epifania is one of many students in her school benefitting from the Child Friend Schools (CFS) approach, known as “Eskola Foun” in local language, a child-centred learning and teaching method. 

“These child-centred learning and teaching methods, combined with parents being encouraged to actively participate in their children’s school management and learning at home, have made a huge difference in children’s learning,” says Norberto Coordinator of the Ensinio Basico Filial Rentau School.

“Teachers from Bobonaro, Dili, and Aileu districts visited our school last year and interacted with our students, observed the learning process and discussed with the teachers, Parents Teachers Association and Student Council representatives,” he continues.

With UNICEF support the CFS approach was first introduced by the Ministry of Education (MoE) in 2012 in this school and most of the teachers have received training on CFS approach. By end of 2014, CFS approach was expanded by MoE nation-wide. This school is now being considered as a model school for others in all of the 13 districts of Timor-Leste.

The new classroom arrangement where the children sit in groups
gives teachers an advantage in managing their classrooms more participatory manner.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Sgmartins
“The combination of the participatory teaching and innovative methodologies motivate children to ask questions and try to answer teachers’ questions. The new classroom arrangement where the children sit in groups gives teachers an advantage in managing their classrooms more participatory manner and allows the teachers to have more time to give children one-to-one attention,” says Norberto while explaining the benefit of the CFS.

Epifania – a role model
Matrate study group, led by Epifania, is comprised of six classmates who meet every day after school for one hour to work together on their daily homework as well as try to help each other on certain subject areas.  “It is a fun group! Sometimes I have to be patient when I try to explain things to my peers. If they don’t understand, I have to explain them again and again. After studying together we play together,” says Epifania.

“One of the methods of CFS approach is creating after-school study groups which are formed based on the location of the household so that the students are not far from each other. Epifania volunteers herself to organise and lead the group of six students in her village.  Every day after school, her classmates or peers go to her house to study and work together on their school homework,” says Miquel Soares (48), Epifania’s teacher.
“Epifania is a really active and creative student. If she sees any opportunities to help her peers or teachers, she will ask and act immediately,” Miquel continues.

“Teacher Miguel is monitoring the learning activity of the group every day.  He visits student houses and, if we have difficulty to solve any problem in our homework, he guides us,” says Epifania while explaining the role of her teacher in developing her own capacity as a Peer Leader.

Epifania supports children outside her study group as well.  “Olimpia, my classmate, was having troubles in reading, writing and speaking in Portuguese. She was always absent from Portuguese class.  Even though she was not in my study group, I asked her to join my group because I want to help her and teach her how to read, write and speak Portuguese. From our study group, Olimpia can now read and speak Portuguese like me. I am so proud of her!” She shares, in a more serious tone.

“Learning Portuguese language was hard before, and I thought that I’ll never be able to read, write and speak in Portuguese.  Thanks to Epifania, with her help now I can do it,” Olimpia confirms Epifania’s comments.

 “The CFS approach is encouraging children to learn and work together to achieve their educational and social objectives. It has contributed this school to achieve hundred per cent school attendance rate of students and a very low repetition rate,” says Tonico de Jesus, School Inspector of Manatuto Municipality.

Epifania is leading her classmates at morning assembly.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Sgmartins
Epifania is one of the successful Peer Leaders representing many like her in the Ensinio Basico Filial Rentau School in different classes.  After successful implementation of the CFS approach, the Ministry of Education has adopted Child Friendly Approach for all schools as a method of teaching and replicating countrywide. 

By Sandra Gusmao Martins, Education Specialist

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