For months we had been looking forward to the eNSPIRED learning week in April. Educational experts from Zambia and Surinam flew to Brussels to find solutions to the shared challenge of vulnerable learners in their societies. Belgian teacher trainers, (student) teachers and other educators also took a seat at that inspiration-filled table.

The widening gap

With this first eNSPIRED learning week, VVOB’s North programme achieved its priority goal: “I was already using most of the theoretical frameworks we discussed in my classes, but not yet from a diversity point-of-view. That’s a fresh angle, and very inspiring.”

Throughout this article you will find more testimonials about our learning week. Scroll down to the end for a short documentary of the week and some relevant downloads.

eNSPIRED’s core business is to inspire education actors. The partner countries of VVOB have fewer resources and face more challenges than Belgium. Even though implementation tends to fall short from time to time due to financial barriers, governments still manage to develop relatively ambitious education policies. VVOB offers technical support to these governments to overcome these difficulties.

VVOB seeks out ambitious ideas and innovative approaches from the Global South and introduces them to the Belgian educational field. Research may well show that, in general, the learning outcomes of Belgian learners are above average. But a new and troubling trend is bubbling up: 1 in 6 learners performs badly, and the gap between that group and the strongest performers is significantly wider than in other OECD-countries.

Vulnerable learners in perspective

The socioeconomic background – more so than the migration background – is still the determining factor for school performance in Belgium. This is a discriminating factor that our partner countries simply don’t accept.

In Zambia for example, children from more privileged families attend public schools. Sadly, because of the limited capacities of these schools, the most vulnerable students tend to be left out. Community schools offer them a safety net. Parents, teachers and communities do what they can to give these children the opportunities to move forward. They strongly believe in the power of education as a catalyst for development.

In Surinam, the lower vocational schools (LBO) are often a last resort for youth that drop out of general education – a context similar to the Belgian one. LBO caters to a lot of vulnerable youth who deserve extra attention to maximise their chances of decent work. The faith of teachers in their abilities is very strong.

“I learnt a lot about the education system in Surinam and discovered many similarities with the Brussels’ system.”

In upholding its commitment to a Belgian education system that benefits all learners, eNSPIRED invited a delegation of education experts from Zambia and Surinam for a deep exchange on vulnerability with Belgian teacher trainers, (student) teachers and other actors.

Experts and photographers

The experts from Zambia and Surinam cleared their schedules for two days during the busy learning week to facilitate workshops for their Belgian colleagues. The main focus? Discovering international education practices on dealing with vulnerability in the classroom and finding inspiration that can be put to practice in Belgium too.

The first day of the learning week was dedicated to introducing each member of the international delegation and his/her area of expertise, with plenty of room for interaction:

  • Teacher trainers were inspired by Muyangali Muyangali, professor at the College of Education in Zambia. He raises the awareness in his student teachers about the impact they have on the lives of their future vulnerable students.

  • As a preschool in Zambia, Mutinta Sifaya is confronted with vulnerable children on a daily basis. She shared how she goes on home visits to proactively maximise parental involvement.

“Zambian teachers put a lot of effort into reaching the parents. I didn’t know home visits could have such a powerful impact.”

  • VVOB colleague Georgina Sakala shared her personal experiences on how community schools in Zambia can make a difference, despite the many challenges they face.

“There’s so much passion in the community schools… no wonder they have such a positive effect!”

  • Esvah Chizambe from the Zambian ministry of education gave an interesting insight into how the government fulfils its responsibility to tackle child poverty, despite limited resources.

  • As a teacher trainer in Surinam, Anton Douglas opened a dialogue with teachers with a few case studies on how to handle pupils with behavioural issues in the classroom.

  • Youth worker Rachel Wittenberg from Surinam explained how to empower youngsters to create a positive self-image and how to help them discover and develop their talents.

“Rachel’s session offered a lot of useful tips and practices. It was very inspiring.”

  • Yet another VVOB colleague took the stage. Maggie Schmeitz, based in Surinam, shared her insights in the iGROW-programme, which creates safe learning environments.

As an intense first day came to an end, Lieve Blancquaert opened up about her own experiences as a feminist, photographer and journalist. Thanks to her job, Lieve has travelled the world, which has gotten her convinced that education is the most important means for development and (women’s) emancipation. She illustrated her impressive stories with touching pictures of two smitten refugees in a container home, young girls on their (arranged) wedding day, and even younger girls becoming mothers.

Arts and crafts

The second day was if possible even more interactive than the previous one. Our educational experts from Zambia and Surinam divided the participants into groups. In the morning, the Zambian experts shared inspiring stories of change on parental involvement through a self-reflection game.

Parental involvement is a thorny issue in Belgium as well. The minister of education Crevits once received a lot of backlash for saying: “Immigrant parents should be more involved.”

“It’s inspiring to see we face the same challenges in education: poverty, multilingualism, behavioural issues, communication and collaboration with parents, …”

The delegation from Surinam brought new insights on diversity in the classroom. Surinam has always been a very diverse society, which is also reflected in its schools. Rachel, Anton and Maggie introduced us to new pedagogical models and practices that create a safe class and school environment for all students, with a particular focus on student participation.

“Challenging behaviour is a problem in both Surinam and Belgium, but they seem to be miles ahead of us in some ways!”

The Zambian afternoon session was all about craftwork. Based on what they do daily in Zambia, teacher trainer Muyangali and preschool teacher Mutinta showed us how to make your own learning materials for the classroom. Why would you spend large amounts of money on materials, when it’s so much more fun to make them yourselves together with the learners?

When you’re teaching and learning using locally available resources – TALULAR – you only use locally available materials in the classroom. Belgian teachers and teacher trainers went back to basics, using scissors and glue to make their own dice and other educational games.

“We entered the world of preschoolers by making our own learning materials. This inspires children to be creative at home in their day-to-day life as well, using bottle caps, milk cartons, …!”

From vulnerability to gender

The 2017/18 schoolyear is coming to an end. After the learning week – and the lecture from Professor Kwame Akyeampong on vulnerable students and the crucial role of the teacher –eNSPIRED can look back on an inspiring year that revolved around vulnerability in the classroom.

Next schoolyear the eNSPIRED-programme will switch its focus to gender. Different subject, same concept: facilitating an international dialogue to approach shared educational hazards creatively. 

Teachers Going the Extra Mile for Vulnerable Learners

Quality Teaching and Learning with Homemade Materials