Strengthening Coordination Among Dawasamu Schools
Schools in the Dawasamu District of North Tailevu in Fiji have some of the lowest exam results on Viti Levu, the main Island of Fiji. The factors contributing to this are many and complex. Among them are the remote rural location and attendant way of life in communities in the area. Most community members rely on subsistence fishing and farming for their livelihoods. This means that children and young people are often required to help on the plantation, in the home or on fishing trips, all of which affect their ability to engage in teaching and learning activities at school. Due to a low levels of literacy and education throughout these communities, education and schooling are not well supported in the home. Additionally, due to the prevalence of a subsistence livelihood, communities may see formal education as something that is not particularly relevant or useful to them.
Schools are under-resourced and due to their location often appear not to be a priority for input and improvement by the Ministry of Education. These schools have however been highlighted by the MoE for their poor results and poor management hindering their improvement. Poor English Language skills are one of the key factors hindering students progress at secondary level where English is nominally the language of instruction. Recently the secondary has highlighted poor English literacy among first year students as an area of difficulty. In light of this a meeting was called between teachers from the secondary and its feeder schools of Burewai, Navunisea, and Dawasamu District Primary. In attendance were the District and Divisional Education Officers and the Chairman of the Fijian Teachers Association.
Staff from the GVI Dawasamu Education Project attended the meeting to discuss issues around literacy in the district. The meeting was an excellent opportunity for the newly developed Education project to be presented to all of our partner schools. A focus of the presentation was the use of in-depth running records to assess learners’ reading levels. The use of an A-Z scale for reading assessment has allowed us to determine exactly how learners are reading, in terms of both phonics knowledge and abilities for literal and inference comprehension. The Columbia University running record scheme differs hugely from that used by Fijian teachers, and involves testing and re-testing students to find their just-right reading levels. While this would be impractical and unreasonable to expect from the schools themselves, our use of these tests has allowed us to detail learners’ reading abilities and behaviours, and teach to their level. This alleviates gaps in learning where teachers do not have the capacity to teach to the broad range of abilities they find in their classes.
Staff demonstrated how the education programme has been shaped in order to best meet the needs of learners. Providing tailored one to one input for students who need to be heard reading aloud regularly, or need specific support with phonics and comprehension means that teachers are able to continue teaching the class level curriculum required by the formal education system. It was reiterated that while teaching and learning for mechanical reading skills is very strong, the area of weakness is comprehension and this is the area in which our projects can help make literacy meaningful and useful for students. The structure and strength of the partnership at Navunisea District School was outlined to the meeting. This was a great forum to demonstrate to our other partner schools the serious literacy focus of our programme. The subsequent questions and discussion illustrated teacher’s enthusiasm for the programme and to share our findings and resources to enhance literacy delivery in the classroom. It was agreed that this should be the first of many such meetings, and would go a long way to strengthen the coordination of efforts across the district to improve literacy in our schools.
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