By Lilliane Pitters
Jeanette has been a major influence in the lives of hundreds of children in Monrovia, Liberia. A Grade 2 teacher at the Slip Way Public School, Jeanette has been teaching elementary school for 10 years and sees herself as a mother to all of her students.
"I am also a parent, therefore I feel responsible for all these children," explains Jeanette. "I want the best for them, I want them to succeed." She believes it's her duty to improve the lives of the children any way that she can. "The other day, a girl came to class with unkempt hair," says Jeanette. "I asked her why her mother didn't fix it and she said her mother was too busy. I couldn't let her walk around looking like that so I got a comb and quickly tidied her hair."
The 35 year old has a very busy schedule teaching eight subjects, inclusive of mathematics, English, science, social studies, spelling, reading, writing and bible studies to the 56 children in her class. The work load is demanding. Earlier this year however, Jeanette received Right To Play's teacher training and has begun applying the play-based, learning methodology to her lessons.
"When I started to play with the children in class, my work became so much easier," says Jeanette. "I used to be so stressed out at the end of the day, but now I am more relaxed. I also see that the children have changed completely and they behave better in class."
Flipping through her lesson plans, she points out how the children are improving. "Teaching mathematics and English are no longer difficult for me," says Jeanette. "The children are engaged, involved and they enjoy participating. Before this, I would ask a question and none of them would even move a finger! But now, nearly everybody has their hands up all the time. I love this program because it empowers me to give my children something exciting. When they are happy, they learn faster."
Jeanette has even recommended that two of the children in her class be promoted to Grade 3 before the end of the school year. "They are doing better and have improved beyond my expectations, therefore we made a decision to promote them to the next class." Beaming broadly, she reveals that the two exemplary students are both girls. "I am very proud of them because I personally went to their parents and encouraged them to send their daughters to school this year," explains Jeanette. "I even bought them their uniforms so that their parents would no longer have an excuse to keep them out of school."
One of the girls, Alice, is almost 12. She started school later than the other children her age. According to Jeanette, this is a common problem in Liberia resulting from the political and economic upheaval of past decades. Jeanette's Grade 2 class would ordinarily be made up of six to seven-year-old children, but the youngest she's teaching is eight and the oldest is 14. And all of her students are impacted by extreme poverty.
"Many have nothing to eat all day," says Jeanette. "Their parents are too poor to afford lunch for them. In my class, I encourage the children who bring food to share what they have. We put our resources together and I try to give every child a bite. Liberia is going through tough times, but if the children are having fun at school, at least they will remember what they learn and use the knowledge for a better future."
In 2015, Right To Play launched the Play for the Advancement of Quality Education (PAQE) program with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in eight countries including Liberia, PAQE uses Right To Play's experiential learning methodology to build teacher capacity and remove barriers to education to improve learning outcomes.