The ALERT Education Centre (AEC) concept was founded in 2011 to provide education and educational opportunities that are not currently being provided within the formal education system to communities surrounding conservation areas. Our AECs in Gweru and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and in Livingstone, Zambia aim to engage in conservation education, basic life skills, and health & nutrition courses; as well as provide funding to attend formal education, fully funded internship and facilitated research placements, and vocational training.
The AECs have achieved much already, including having provided over 60 students from 7 universities with fully funded placements in fields as diverse as conservation research to hospitality- totalling almost 500 months of internship placements. In the past two years alone, over USD 45,000 has been provided to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to allow them to pursue their education from primary through to university level; whilst hundreds of children have been through our conservation education programmes.
Despite these successes, we are always looking to develop and improve our programs. At the moment, the life skills course is undergoing a complete revision by David Brackstone, a teacher from the UK, who has joined the team in Livingstone through ALERT’s internship programme. He had this to say:
I had been advised prior to leaving for Africa that part of my internship would be assisting in developing the life skills course. On arriving in Livingstone and talking with the ALERT team about what their vision was for this course I noticed a striking similarity with a ‘cross curricular’ life skills course delivered at my own school in the UK. It’s a course I have had heavy involvement with the development of over the past 4 years, and it is now well established, with the skills embedded across the entire curriculum.
I therefore decided to base the course out here on the model used back at home. Whilst the content that shall be taught will have significant differences to accommodate cultural relevance, the age and ability of students involved, and the delivery time available; the core themes remain the same.
The course is known as STRIPE which is an acronym of the 6 skills used:
- Self Manager (coping with stress) – which incorporates being motivated and organised.
- Team Player (effective communication) – which also covers leadership, co-operation and adaptability
- Reflect (self esteem) – which also covers target setting
- Innovate & create (problem solving) – which encourages students to look at problems in new ways
- Participator (non-violent conflict resolution) – which encourages students to ‘behave for learning’ and make positive contributions
- Enquirer (decision making) – which encourages students to ask questions and research their own answers to reach valid conclusions.
The course is to follow a simple structure of 16 weeks, with two hours of dedicated delivery time per week. In the first two weeks, the sole purpose of the lessons is to expose pupils to the six skills; so they can simply recognise what they are called and what they ‘look’ like. This will be followed by 12 weeks of lessons where each skill in turn is the focus for a two week block. Finally, the skills will be brought together again for an end of course project spread over two weeks where pupils should demonstrate each skill.
Lesson 1 was delivered in the Maunga community on January 3rd 2015 and in Natebe one week later. Pupils were introduced to all six skills in turn during mini-activities of around 15 minutes each.
It is worth emphasising that we would not expect pupils to truly get to grips with the entire concept at such an early stage of the course; and that this lesson was purely about introducing and exposing students to these concepts for the first time. The focus lessons between weeks 3 and 14 are where the impact will be made.
As expected, students began the lessons apprehensively; as they were very unfamiliar with the concepts. However, each activity was something that every child could be seen to succeed at; and praise for demonstrating the skills will remain a vital feature of the course’s overall success.
Activity one, ‘Self Manager’, involved pupils focused on following simple instructions carefully which would lead them to see the benefit of making their own plans to maintain organisation and motivation and therefore reduce stress. This was accomplished by the volunteers drawing a simple picture and giving verbal instructions for the pupils to follow in order for them to replicate the drawing (without seeing it). Pupils initially found this very difficult, but soon showed significant improvements as they learnt to listen to the whole instruction.
The second activity, ‘Team Player’, involved the group taking on a skipping challenge. It was clear that the more successful groups were those who were communicating and co-ordinating their ideas.
The third activity, ‘Reflection’, began with students responding to simple questions about themselves (name, age, favourite animal etc.) but developed into “What are you good at”, “What could you be better at” and “What do you want to be when you grow up.” This was clearly the activity students struggled most with out of all six; as most were either very reluctant to evaluate themselves or may simply lack self-awareness at this stage- this will be a focal point in future.
The fourth activity, ‘Innovate and Create’, involved pupils making a bracelet out of the resources available to them. Almost no other instruction was given, and this is where pupils came out of their shells with some (girls in particular) coming up with some fairly elaborate designs!
The fifth activity was ‘Simon Says’ which had a clear 100% participation rate – instantly hitting the success criteria.
The final activity was the treasure hunt, ‘Enquirer’. Here we asked a variety of questions about the school environment and students had to get up and actively look for the answers- practicing observation and primary research skills. Again, this was a slow starter that soon erupted as the students got the hang of the activity and were fervently hunting by the end of the 15 minutes.
Overall the lessons’ objectives were hit:
- Students were exposed to the 6 STRIPE skills and have now some experience of using them.
- Pupils were fully engaged with interactive learning.
We now look forward to week two’s lesson, where students will be assigned a single task and asked to use all 6 skills simultaneously.