For a better start in education

Church of Latter-day Saints prepare kids for school through ‘mum’s pre-schools’. Interestingly, the teachers themselves are empowered through language skills and confidence.

HUNDREDS of Papua New Guinean children are starting primary school better prepared, through the tireless efforts of women who are volunteering in their communities at what are being called “mum’s pre-schools.”
These home-grown learning centres are giving children the skills and confidence they need to be school-ready. And primary school teachers are seeing a difference in the kids who come to their classes after attending a mum’s pre-school.
Groups of mothers, as volunteer teachers, meet in meeting houses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in homes, or outdoors, and take turns teaching their children for two hours, four days a week.
Not only is this helping the children, it’s also empowering the women. As they teach from the basic curriculum written by a humanitarian missionary eight years ago, the women’s English language skills are increasing. This is leading to more women starting small businesses and becoming leaders in their communities.
In 2013, Reid Spencer, a retired curriculum writer and education specialist missionary with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, developed a localised curriculum for mothers in the South Pacific to use with their children to help them prepare for school.
Moasope McCarthy, a Latter-day Saint leader in Port Moresby, and one of the church’s welfare and self-reliance managers for Papua New Guinea, gives programme information to interested mothers, and helps them to get started, linking them to sponsors. Sponsors allow the pre-schools to function at no cost to families, and fund teacher development.
“Of the five villages sitting on the peninsula,” he says, “four are really involved, the majority in Hula (in Central Province).”
Smiling, McCarthy adds, “imagine children having school under swaying palm trees.”
“In the less populated highlands, nearly two thirds of the pre-school attendees are not members of the church. Parents are so impressed with their children’s progress they are happy to provide resources such as paper and pencils.”
In the more populated areas, such as Madang, Lae and Port Moresby, pre-schools are flourishing, with over 1,000 students.
In Madang, Lulu Hota, a Latter-day Saints woman, has worked hard for three years to implement the program and it is now well-developed and funded.
Hota recently worked with a local architect in Madang, who donated his efforts to draft plans for a classroom.
Australia and New Zealand-based charity, Pacific Assist has sourced sponsors to make contributions towards the cost of building materials, and Hota is recruiting volunteers in the local community to construct the building.
Roselyn Fagau, also a member of the church, wanted to help her village. Four months ago, with the help of Lulu Hota, Roselyn formed a mum’s pre-school in Hula. Now there are 93 children attending classes with their parents. They have eight teachers with children divided into three groups: nursery, pre-school, and kindergarten. Parents assist with the learning and give input during regularly scheduled meetings.
Glenda Ryan has become a teacher at Roselyn Fagau’s pre-school after enrolling her five-yea-old daughter in the kindergarten and seeing her progress.
“I am very happy I have become a teacher in the school,” she said. “My daughter knows how to write the alphabet, numbers and read words.”
Gia Wari, leader of the Alewai Latter-day Saints congregation, is concerned for children’s welfare. He has made these pre-schools a priority. In Alewai, there are 11 pre-schools with many children attending.
Wari believes that the women who are involved are making a big impact. “These mothers minister, setting examples of Christ-like attributes in the community,” he said. “They become community leaders.”
His wife, Iamo Imelda Wari and 20-year-old son, Emmanuel, teach 50 children, with the help of the children’s parents.
Wari says that his daughter Rachel’s involvement in the pre-school helped her prepare to serve a full-time mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Some mothers walk with their children half an hour to school,” he says. “Many families in the community are involved in making the programme run well. Whole villages are coming to know about the mum’s pre-schools.”
Sponsors supporting the pre-schools include Åcahand Foundation, Pacific Assist, and Latter-day Saint charities.
Pacific Assist director, Richard McLean, said: “This is a tremendous initiative in self-reliance, and we will continue to support it. With over 1,000 children now participating in mum’s pre-schools across Port Moresby, Lae, and Madang, we have set ourselves the task of identifying sponsors whose contributions would be used to purchase learning materials from local suppliers, as well as provide funds for infrastructure projects such as simple buildings and solar panels.”
Some mothers are using Joy School English curriculum, produced by Alegra Learning Education Company and Learning Dynamics.
In 15-minute segments of learning, playing and story-time, children learn letters and numbers, as well as school structure and routine. They develop skills such as taking turns, raising one’s hand in class, paying attention, sharing, and completing assignments.
On Fridays the children learn cultural traditions, play sports, or watch videos.
Many of the pre-schools have no materials, so mothers pick up stones, sticks, and leaves, using their imaginations to create their own teaching resources.
Although public schools are available in most villages, many children delay starting school and drop out before graduating. Starting school earlier and being prepared will help many more children be able to finish high school.
Those wishing to know more about the pre-schools and how they can be involved in helping the mums and children can contact Moasope McCarthy at [email protected] or on WhatsApp +675-73525833.