When it is story time at the Bethlehem Governmental Kindergarten, children race to the reading corner and sit in a circle around their teacher.
Together, they select a book and, as the teacher reads aloud, she calmly asks and answers questions about the story.
The children giggle as their teacher’s voice grows softer as she impersonates the voice of the flower, and then stronger to imitate a mighty cloud that harbors the rain drops. She shows them the illustrations after reading each page. She has learned her new vibrant storytelling techniques in an in-service teacher training program.
Anera initiated the training program in 2010 with eight teachers and two supervisors from two preschools in Bethlehem and 12 teachers from Nablus. The two-year diploma program is part of Anera’s early childhood development (ECD) program, which provides preschool educators comprehensive classes on teaching methods for young children. The program is funded by Dubai Cares.
The eight teachers from that first class now are completing more advanced classes to become certified trainers. The Training of Trainers (ToT) course gives them theoretical and practical training on how to train other teachers. At the same time, 37 more preschool educators have stared their in-service training. They come from 14 preschools in disadvantaged communities around Jerusalem and Hebron for the free training they could not otherwise afford.
“The critical lack of trained ECD personnel in the West Bank and Gaza compromises the quality of care, education and development of preschool children. Offering preschool teachers the opportunity to become trainers and mentors themselves is good for the teachers, the children in their care, and the future of the ECD sector as a whole,” explains Sulieman Mleahat, Anera’s education program manager.
Teachers and school directors meet weekly with ECD professionals and Anera trainer Sulaima Abu El Haj and her team of trainers to explore topics like planning, evaluation, mentorship, capacity building and adult learning theories. This year, the trainers also involved parents and caregivers. After their first sessions with mothers, there were demands for more intensive sessions. The turnout of stay-at-home moms was even greater than working moms, which reflected the women’s eagerness to develop and learn.
When they complete the ToT training, the educators are expected to not only work with parents but also mentor colleagues in the field and deliver in-service training sessions to new trainees.
Iman Abdulkarim from Beit Sahour has been a preschool teacher for 12 years, the last five at the Bethlehem preschool. “This is where I’ve really developed as an educator,” says the 34-year-old. The training Iman and her fellow educators received three years ago covered children’s rights, active learning and child development. Iman says her previous education focused on rote teaching, but the in-service training brought a new mind-set of active learning and child-centered activities. The young teacher says a better understanding of early childhood and all the information she has gathered has given her more confidence in dealing with her class and their families.
“We used to ask ourselves ‘why are we going over everything we’d already studied in college?'” Iman explains. “We soon realized that nothing was haphazard or redundant, but was something that we immensely needed.” She says the trainer wanted them “to climb the ladder one step at a time as part of laying a strong foundation” before they moved on to the practical training.
She says parents have noticed that their children are happier in school than ever before. The trained teachers, she says, are more informed about early childhood and more effective ways to interact with children. “Anera taught us that the child has its own separate entity and experiences, and has the ability to build and create on his own.” Iman and her fellow trainees see their role to facilitate the child’s development and not dictate it through boring rote lessons.
Anera’s ECD trainer Sulaima Abu El-Haj also has focused training sessions on the importance of reading to children, as well as arts and games as learning tools. She says a key to training also involves observation. Last May, 37 teachers in May visited the two Bethlehem preschools to observe classes and share their expertise and accumulated knowledge. The teachers are the new trainees in Anera’s in-service teacher training course.
Anera’s ECD program also rehabilitates and equips target preschools to create safer, cleaner classrooms and play areas. The preschools receive essential games, toys and books to help create stimulating learning environment. Anera works closely with the education ministry and local communities to ensure that all stakeholders are invested in the program’s progress.