A dialogue between Tide~ global learning and the National Environment Agency, The Gambia
What do you feel the benefits of the partnership have been for yourself ?
Ajie: It has been a way of learning new ideas from visiting teachers coming to The Gambia. It has helped me learn a lot, especially in terms of editorial work [eg in developing the new Gambian Environmental Action Plan and State of the Environment Report]: spending time with colleagues in Birmingham, looking at materials, and then thinking about how we develop our own materials, and generate materials through teachers.
As for teachers, if I can quote George Trawally, who has been involved in the sub committee for a long time: we are very happy to have this partnership, which offers us a way to be able to use new teaching methods.
After joint work with British and Gambian teachers, the latter go back to their schools with methods and tools they have acquired from workshops, and use them there. Some teachers [like Antou Jammeh, Abubacarr Darboe and Abdoulie Sowe], have come to the UK and learned from that.
Some school partnerships have developed, with exchanges of information, internet communication with UK schools, for example around Geography, climate change, teaching methods. The links have not just been between teachers but with schools as a whole, including students corresponding between countries. This has helped with Social and Environmental Studies [SES], as children have been able to understand the environment better as a result of these partnerships.
The UK group coming to The Gambia helps open up discussion more widely [eg seeing the SES curriculum beyond a narrow focus on things like family issues].
The teachers in the sub committee have grown in confidence and leadership. Some of them have done Training the Trainers courses, for example linked to the Sand Watch project, where Gambian children are documenting coastal erosion.
The partnership has helped the teachers develop the confidence to come out of themselves. They mix with a lot of people. Now they are very confident, whereas once to speak publicly was very difficult. It can be difficult for new teachers, but that will come.
There has been a shift from teacher-to-pupil teaching methods, and for the teachers involved in the partnership their teaching has become more participatory. As the teachers move schools, this comes with them, and it is passed on through teacher conferences and so on.
We are changing a lot, and at the end of the day we have done a lot.
How does NEA see the environmental education part of its work?
Ajie: It is very important. It is valued by the Executive Director, who always tries to make time to be involved. When the minister came, the first place they visited was the resource centre at Environment House, and the Deputy President has also visited. A lot of people are impressed by this work.
We are investing in it as well, for example by resourcing an NEA staff member to join the researcher and teacher during a UK visit as part of the research being carried out by Dr Fran Martin at the University of Exeter.
Communities have also benefited from the teachers' visits: people in the village of Tanje; the partnership between Acton Scott Museum in Shropshire and Tanje Museum; The Bishop’s Wood Centre in Worcestershire; the Exeter research project. It goes beyond the main partners.
What do you feel this side of the partnership has offered Tide~ ?
Ajie: This is a mutual thing, it has to benefit both. We have helped resource conferences together in The Gambia, transport for field work, sharing practical costs. Teachers have formed partnerships with other schools. There has been access to new projects and possibilities, and plans such as the environmental education centre we are now proposing should be of benefit for both partners.
Cathryn: It has also given us access to expert teachers.
Ben: Without the NEA we would not have had access to those in a lead role in sustainable development in The Gambia: both at the NEA and through other agencies.
Ajie: The NEA is a co-ordinating body, so we delegate and decentralise. For example, climate change is with the Department of Water Resources, but NEA is the secretariat. Those departments are also benefiting from the partnership.
Cathryn: One thing that is really important to Tide~ is that this enables teachers to engage with real development issues like those around climate change and water resources
Ben: Those issues include questions about North-South partnership. In a way, the Tide~ and NEA partnership is a sort of laboratory where teachers can start to explore what it might mean for such partnerships to be based on mutual learning, and what kind of issues come up in trying to achieve that.
What might NEA and the Gambian teacher group want from the partnership in the future ?
Ajie: We want to continue, where both parties really benefit. What NEA really wants is longer term partners, not just something that lasts a year or so, and to nurture those partnerships for the benefit of both groups. This has been going more than ten years. The teachers want it to continue, for their own experience, to make more friends, to see the world as one place, one ball.
The experience gained and knowledge shared are the main things: each learns from the other.
Cathryn: What might NEA and the teacher group offer Tide~ ?
Ajie: An open policy, sharing information, taking you to the field, developing materials. We are ready to share and give wider information. This is valued by the other agencies in The Gambia. New relationships, such as that with the Gambian Youth Parliament, are consolidated by teacher group visits. National news on Gambian TV had 5 minutes on the last Tide~ group visit.
Cathryn: A lot of other school groups visit The Gambia from the UK, and yet it is quite a small country. What impact do they have ?
Ajie: Some of these visits are linked to the Ministry of Education. It all depends on how you start things. Some people from the UK come and, say, set up sponsorship arrangements or help build schools.
However, the Ministry of Education regulates and controls the development of new schools, for example through paying for teachers. For the schools that pass through NEA, these sorts of sponsorships tend not to happen.
Cathryn: We have tended to look at the positives so far - so what about the challenges?
Ajie: It is important to channel other partnerships through the NEA and Tide~, so as to maximise the opportunities, share ideas and access support … but not so as to control them. We need to keep being clear about the purpose of what we are doing.
Cathryn: It is important to keep the channels of communication open. In terms of what Tide~ wants, this work has had a huge impact on many teachers, and we want to find ways to continue with that, even though the funding situation is changing. The depth of learning for many UK participants has been life changing for them, and has changed their practice significantly.
Ben: It is about how we continue to support teachers in both places through mutual learning. This also means engaging with teachers critically and thoughtfully, and this aspect has not always been sufficiently valued within the UK.
Cathryn: In terms of what Tide~ can offer, then there is the development of resources, bringing groups over, joint activities, profiling … and support for the planned environmental education centre.
For more information National Environment Agency http://www.nea.gm/