The colours were vibrant, the narrative was educational, and the exhibitions were moving. Eight young researchers from Pinelands Creative Workshop’s Early Childhood Education programme wowed their parents this weekend. They presented some stunning exhibits on West African countries for the programme’s African Awareness project.
One of the main goals behind the exercise was to demonstrate that African heritage does not begin and end with the atrocities of slavery. Shakira Gittens leads the class and has been an early childhood educator for ten years, she has been working in PCW’s programme for twelve. Her passion for the majesty of Africa was passed on to her by her father who often regaled her with stories of the rich scientific and inventive achievements of African scholars. And she has infused the positive aspects of African history into the curriculum. As a result, PCW’s programme is centred on the Ministry of Education’s Attainment targets but is punctuated with scores of Afrocentric exercises.
Her class is a diverse mix of Infants A & B, Class One and Class Two students; and she has come up with some intuitive lesson plans that use the continuity of the MOE’s targets to bridge the competency divide. So while the children operate at different levels, a big chunk of the real learning takes place in the hands-on exercises. In addition to the written activities of the traditional Maths and English, an emphasis is also placed on oral and artistic expression. Children get to act out their solutions in dramatic tasks, and it wouldn’t be PCW without the disciplines of song and dance. One of her main goals is to get her kids to think critically, and she has found that giving them these options to express themselves has boosted their confidence and encouraged them to find solutions outside of the mainstream.
By incorporating activities and examples that reference both Barbadian and African cultures she hopes to bring some more clarity to the process of learning for her young enthusiasts. Independent learning and the value of information are two other components where she has seen positive results. Her students have so far taken to this approach. Grades have improved with most of the students, and parents like Rosemary Marshall is quite pleased with her daughter’s marks as well as her general attitude to work.
For Saturday’s proceedings, the children researched and made oral and dramatic presentations on several West African countries. The theme of the exercise was “Before the Ships Came; Land of Our Ancestors”. By the end of the session, the children educated many of the parents on the geography, demographics, cultural, political and culinary aspects of the homelands of the slaves who were brought to the Caribbean.
Each presentation was interactive, there was lots of prompting, encouragement, side talking and giggles, in what at times seemed more like a family get-together than a class. CEO Sophia Greaves-Broome and Founding Member Rodney Grant were right in the mix cheering and snapping photos like the proud parents and friends. No one was acting in anything near an official capacity; the children were the stars on Saturday, and ‘Education Via Fun’ seemed to be the real theme of the morning.
Togo, Mali, Mauritania, Liberia, The Republic of Guinea Bissau, Ghana and Gambia were the focal countries. Many of the students wore the national colours of their subject countries, and every presentation had a hook element. Togo had two dishes, one was a yam-based mash that is generally served with a meat stew; everyone was asked to stand for the national anthem of Mauritania, and Ghana’s presenter wore an outfit of its national colours including a particularly precise black trim.
The morning ended with rousing congratulations, a flurry of photos and tasty snacks. Ninety minutes well spent.