By SIMON NAZER
EDUCATION was important to Hortence Kiroha that she and her husband decided to set up an early learning centre.
“I saw the young children just running around,” she says.
“I really wanted to help them learn and be productive so we built this centre. We don’t take any money for it – we’ll be repaid in heaven.”
Kiroha runs the Katselolo Early Learning Centre on Bougainville where 38 children, aged 3–5, are currently taught in three small classrooms built from wood, sand and coconut leaves.
“I was in Port Moresby for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (Unicef)curriculum and teacher training. It was excellent,” says Kiroha.
“One of the best things we did was on daily routine and material production.”
Teachers from all across PNG were trained by Unicef on how to plan classes and help children learn through play.
They were shown how to build learning materials such as learning blocks, visual aids and games using local materials.
“I learned how to improvise. I use rice bags to draw and write on since we don’t have blackboards,” Kiroha said, pointing around one of the classrooms.
“You can see we use the coconut leaves as mats for children to sit on.”
In the first years of life, children establish the cognitive, emotional and social foundation upon which they can build their futures. Early childhood is the most significant developmental period of life.
In PNG, very few children below the age of six have access to early learning opportunities.
Most early learning centres in PNG are privately operated and expensive, which means poor and marginalised children are often unable to access them.
“It makes going to elementary school much easier for them, they have the basic skills,” she said.
“Teachers visit us and they are happy with what we’re doing here. We’re doing well,” Kiroha said.
For four hours a day, Kiroha and two other volunteer teachers take the children through a host of activities.
“We teach children in many ways,” explains Kiroha.
“We have literacy circle, corner play, snack and play time, math circle and a closing meeting where we reflect on the day.”
The parents are also enthusiastic about the results.
“When they finish here the children go home and show their parents what they learned,” Hortence said.
“That’s really helpful. The parents see the work and tell us how much the children are improving.”
Unicef is helping the government in drafting the minimum operating standards for running early learning centres and a multi-sector early childhood policy.
The satisfaction of seeing the children develop and be successful at school is what keeps Hortence motivated.
By SIMON NAZER