PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip February 2015 - Blog Posts
Microscopy & Science Workshops and Other Visits
A Pageant team consisting of Pippa & Ian Howard, Kathy & Andrew Groves, Chris Robertson, Anne Jackson and Trudy Read went to The Gambia for the now regular Pageant Microscopy and Science Workshops. As well as the workshops, some of the team visited schools and villages to look at Pageant projects and also check on how Pageant's sponsored children were progressing.
Despite difficult internet access, Kathy and Chris managed to post their news from The Gambia on the. We will collect their posts on this page so you can see them all in one place.
More About The Workshops
Pageant's Microscopy and Science Workshops are designed to show teachers how to give practical science lessons in schools which may not have the benefit of mains electricity or running water. It all started when Frances Boswell, a Pageant member who was studying Maths, Physics and Electronics atin Horsham, was in The Gambia during a half term break. She realised that science was taught there mainly as a theoretical subject with little or no practical work. She enlisted the help of Collyer's Head of Science, Joe Brock, who developed a science teaching kit, and organised the first Physics Workshop in 2006.
The teaching kits consist of a collection of low cost everyday items, which allow practical demonstration of many concepts in physics. Joe and others from Collyer's have been continuously improving the kits over a series of workshops in The Gambia. He wrote a handbook,, the latest edition of which will be used for the physics workshops. The Institute of Physics is also using Joe's book in in nine African countries. There is now a 'sister' volume being used in the workshops, written by the Students of Collyer's.
The other part of the workshops programme are sessions in Practical Microscopy. Pippa Howard was until recently, an electron microscopist at ERA Technology. Another Pageant member, Kathy Groves, is a food microscopist at Leatherhead and has collaborated professionally with Pippa for many years. In 2010, Pippa and Kathy organised Microscopy Workshops for Gambian teachers, with help and some funding from the. They have written a book, Practical Microscopy for Schools Anywhere which will be used for this year's workshops. A critical part of Microscopy Workshops is the provision of microscopes for the schools where the teachers work. We would like to thank all who have helped by donating microscopes, or making them available at substantial discounts.
The workshops in 2015 marked the start of a five year programme to assess the benefits of such workshops on students' results. The workshops took place in three schools; Presentation of Mary BCS on Saturday 14 February, Jambanjelly BCS on Sunday 15 February and Pirang BCS on Tuesday 17 February. At each school teachers were split into two groups and swapped over between microscopy sessions and physics & electricity sessions.
2 February - Getting ready for 2015 workshops
After the AGM we have provisionally packed 3 cases and weighed them all - 45Kg so we have 10 - 15 Kg to use for microscopes or physics kit.
Joe is with Pippa and Ian this evening weighing all the physics stuff - we then have to sort it to the different members of the group.
This is my first blog of the trip and I am finding my way round it. I can't believe we will be there next week. I will try and add photos and more news as we go but meantime think of us cramming microscopes and other stuff all in several cases and boxes.
I had also forgotten that I can't see what I am typing using the galaxy tablet!
7 February - Some Background from Kathy
Kathy Groves is busy getting ready for her trip to The Gambia, so she has sent me this for posting:
"I work as a food microscopist at Leatherhead and met Pippa many years ago by needing her talents with the microscope. For the last few years Pippa and Ian have organised science workshops involving microscopes, physics and chemistry. In the Gambia science is taught mostly from the blackboard. It is taught well but it is difficult to fully appreciate science without doing the practical bit. Next week we are going out to see all the children and schools as usual but also running 3 days of microscopy and physics workshops for science teachers in 3 schools.
Pippa Ian and Chris are travelling out next Monday and on Thursday I will be going with my better half Andrew who is a trustee of Pageant. With us will be his sister Anne who is a retired English teacher, her friend Trudy who is actively teaching and finally but importantly Joe Brock, Head of Science at Collyers A-Level College in Horsham. Joe has several simple but very good experiments for the teachers, designed so that they can do them with their classes. We are taking over 30 microscopes and ancillary equipment for the microscopy workshops.
The current plan is to hold the workshops on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday and Anne, Trudy and Joe will travel back to the uk on Thursday. Joe and Trudy are fitting this in their half term break.
You can imagine the amount of equipment we have to take but I will try and photo it when we go. At the moment we are up to 4 cases and a large box of meter rulers in our hall with more to pack. Including of course my forgotten underwear and Andrews trousers!
I hope you find this interesting and will try to update the blog as often as possible. We are all looking forward to seeing Wandifa, Abdoulie, Yankuba, Linda and all the others. A beer by the pool bar and the sunshine are also attractions."
Two mobility scooters + microscopes etc. make up 22ish of my 35kg hold allowance. Thomas Cook have kindly given me 15kg free to enable this. Physics wise we are going to be running workshops using very basic equipment (intentionally). More on this anon...
All safely arrived. Thermal shock not as great as anticipated- only 30C here.
Tomorrow we pick up the science teaching kit already shipped over and check out one of the schools who are kindly hosting us.
What with unplanned changes to the teaching crew I will be taking on electronics rather than radioactivity. Need to try to think in terms of Lamin's loaf lorries!
PS hey Luke H- are you reading this?
Posting problems, grrh
Aside from the pants IT and losing two blog posts had been a good day. Picked up science kit, visited three schools where we are running workshops too. Later several staff joined in experiments with the Collyer's electronics packs!
And just to prove we really did arrive
Here is us loading up the PAGEANT minibus at the airport with thanks to Wandifa, Yankuba and Abdoulie.
Action songs and mobility
Change of scene today and a trip out to a local nursery which PAGEANT has only become aware of we were greeted by smartly uniformed little ones all singing excitedly with all the teachers leading enthusiastically. I was even allowed to teach them an action song. The principal reason for visiting was to deliver a couple of '. One of the little ones has mobility problems and we hope this will enable him to be more involved in play.
This afternoon was checking over the microscopes we will be using in the workshops and splitting up the teaching equipment into kits. We did this outside at the hotel attracting a lot of interest from others staying including one generous donation. Thank you :-)
PS saw 4 children travelling on just one bike yesterday.
A day in Numbers
- Almost 40 children miraculously appeared in an (initially) quiet compound we visited just to check out what was happening.
- 45% of Gambians are aged 15 or less, and only 2% are over 65 (according to stats we read in a schools publication).
- About 60 exercise books bought for workshop attendees.
- 0 power sockets in most of the school rooms where we will be running the workshops (thankfully not a problem).
- About 20 children patiently waiting for stylish pipe cleaner glasses.
- 3ish chairs from St Marks Horsham in a headmaster's office.
- 4 new additions to our group who arrived today; welcome Anne, Trudi, Kathy and Andrew (with 13 more electronics kits)!
- Oh, and if you were looking for an in depth, all day Bible study my apologies. Please accept Numbers 6:24-26 by way of compensation. :-)
New skills under the microscope
Some of the new arrivals went out with Pippa and Ian checking out sponsored students in the morning. I finished planning the electronics part (based on the amazing kit and manual developed by Dan, Jayson and Joe about 3 years ago) of the science workshops starting tomorrow.
This afternoon we checked over the second hand microscopes we will be using.
tomorrow to set up :-(
Bought some standard school exercise books today. The back cover isn't too surprising- common units and conversions but with a local twist (e.g. how many trusses to a bale). The front cover? Well you probably wouldn't get away with it in Britain.
Out of peanuts!
Having a well earned drink back at base-supplemented by the last saucer of peanuts in the establishment. Peanuts are virtually the the only export from the Gambia so to run out seems ironic. Incidentally our road home took us through a cloud of peanut dust. Any tourist heading for the normal beach strip of hotels from the airport would naturally pass under the conveyor connecting the two parts of the processing plant either side of the main road. An unsettling thought for those with a nut allergy. Anyway... a pretty successful day. We departed 6:40 for Brikama and drove through the African dawn to our first science workshop of the trip. The school appeared deserted with the gate locked but thankfully it was not for long.
We had 45 minutes to set up before an 8:30 start. 17 teachers, some in post plus a few trainees. In the morning it was about imparting the idea that teaching off the board and enabling pupils to explore practically as a more effective approach than lecturing to the the class from the blackboard. Our subjects were microscopy, physics and electronics. They were all very engaged by this involving approach but did struggle with performing often quite simple arithmetic (as we expected) and the concept of radioactivity (a subject in their curriculum which can be explored through a neat dice throwing game) appeared entirely unknown. Andrew therefore shifted to another area where there is gradual drop off- medication effectiveness after stopping taking the pills. After lunch the teachers took turns teaching using the equipment and using the techniques introduced in the morning. A challenge for them to take this forward but we hope Gambia College will be able to provide some support.
This was all rounded off by a Valentine's dinner for 8 with a characteristic Gambian twist. Here are a few photos but Trudy has much better ones- don't think I should borrow the memory card just now as we have the same early start tomorrow.
Of microscopes and multimeters
Workshop day 2, if anything, went even better than the first. Teachers were very engaged and showed they had learnt a lot about actively involving pupils in hands-on experimentation and open questioning. In microscopy some wonderful specimens were collected for examination including a mite-infested leaf.
Tomorrow is an almost break before Workshop 3. We will be teaching for an hour in a local senior secondary school in Banjul and then we shall see.
Rather sporadic connection with the web here. Yesterday we found ourselves at St Augustine SSS in Banjul, teaching what seemed to be grades 10 to 12 as one class. Half did microscopy with Pippa, Kathy and Ian. The rest did electronics with me. Bit of a scrum but they seemed happy. Photo below is out of the school gate.
Today was the last workshop of the tour in Pirang which is beyond where the first two were held - so an even earlier start. Quite a proliferation of check points in the lead up to the 50th anniversary of Gambian independence tomorrow. After a shaky start (only 5 out of 20 teachers arrived a few minutes before the start) things picked up. Letting children actually participate in hands on experimentation here is quite foreign. During feedback sessions we had to persistently draw them back to letting the children try and asking guiding questions to enable them to answer for themselves. But they did respond.
In microscopy there was some excellent sample collection again including some fearsome creepy crawlies which caused a stir.
Travel back involved a circuitous and bumpy diversion to bypass a roadblock in Serrakunda. Back at base Pippa and Ian presented our three amazing agents, Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba with certificates for their invaluable work as teaching assistants during the workshops. All made a massive contribution wjich we all so much appreciated.
Tomorrow we're off visiting compounds for the day.
Third and last day of the workshops. At a school about an hour's drive from Banjul. Another very early start in the dark at 6.30 arriving after several stops at security checkpoints. The school was very welcoming and we started on time at 8.30. Breakfast at 10.30 was a generous baguette of fish and then the second group session where the teachers swapped over. Lunch at 1.30 was a lovely chicken benching.
We left at 4.30 but took a while to get back as the road was closed in part for preparations for Independence Day tomorrow. All getting an early night as quite tired!
The central reservations were decked with flags, the lamp posts freshly painted in the national colours to mark 50 years of Gambian independence as we headed out for a day of visiting families in their homes. We were afforded such a warm and gracious welcome at every stop; it was very humbling. Several contained well tended gardens containing crops such as banana, sweet potato, chilli, onion, salad, mango and orange (ate my freshest ever orange having watched them shaken from the tree). While business was being done to do with school fees I was free to play with the wonderful little children who seem to spring from every crack. A bit of a scrum at times but such fun. We were also treated to the best meal of our stay-far better than any restaurant we had been to.
Today, Wednesday, we spent the day visiting compounds of sponsored children and adults. We have sponsored two children from young teenagers and now they are in their early twenties. We saw in one compound a really lovely garden with vegetables and recently planted flowers. Each year we have seen this garden change and improve thanks to the efforts of young Ebrima. In addition to gardening to provide family veg he also does men's hairdressing and has recently opened a small salon with the small sponsorship we provide. He had gone to GTTI and learned to be an electrician and gets work doing this too. We are very proud of him and his efforts. We also saw others determined to try and start a small business. This is essential as there are so few jobs. This year very few tourists due to fears of Ebola. There is no Ebola here in the Gambia and never has been.
Today Anne and Trudy have to go home sadly but they were so helpful in the workshops, and they enjoyed the visits to sponsored children and schools. We will put photos in once I can work out how to do this from my tablet!
Goodbye to Anne and Trudy
We went off from the hotel about 11 today and visited several compounds to see sponsored children and pay over the sponsorship money. Abdoulie is a very good driver and knows the way in a maze of small backstreets. The roads were very bumpy but worth it when you meet such lovely families. All welcome you with a handshake, even the small children although some are frightened by our white faces. Wandifa and Yankuba help sort the forms that Pippa has prepared in the UK and they are given to the children for them to write a letter or draw something for their sponsors. The money is counted out and if we have time we talk to the family and play a little with the children.
After this we went to the airport and said goodbye to Anne and Trudy. The plane was in early. Also there was a big gathering of officials to say goodbye to a visiting president. Yesterday being Independence Day several had come to see the celebrations.
Tomorrow we are visiting Kings Kid school and then sadly saying goodbye to Chris as he is returning home.
Goodbye to Chris
Friday dawned and breakfast in the hotel. Today was a visiting compounds day and trip to the airport to say goodbye to Chris who was flying back on Gambia experience . The trips to the compounds involved a very rural back route behind the airport visiting families living close to the airport and Banjul but in a much more rural setting. One small group of houses had amazing art paintings on the outside walls of their houses ( photos to follow as on the camera). As usual all families were very welcoming. Chris found out at the airport that there was a problem with the plane so that two smaller planes were being used. This meant a delay and stopover for refuelling. He was lucky being on the first plane and also this one had enough tank capacity to get all the way to Gatwick.
We were sorry to say Goodbye to Chris and the families will miss him, especially the children. He would always play with them when we called.
Friday we plan to go to the north bank. Always a tiring day.
Trip to the North Bank
Ok so I thought originally I would post this one with the goodbye to Chris but it deserves one on its own.
Up very early to leave at 6.20 to get the first ferry. Waiting to board we realised it wasn't going to be on time since it was not floating but resting on the sand following a very low tide. Only one ferry is running this year but it has new engines so we were looking forward to a faster crossing. Indeed once we were on board and sitting on the very few seats luckily, It left half an hour late and raced along. The weather was really windy and the river and sea choppy so the small pirogues we saw had to turn back. The waves broke over the front of the ferry drenching all the Gambians standing between the cars (lots) and their parcels and animals. It was really windy and cold where we were but at least we were dry. 35 minutes to cross! 15 minutes to get everyone off.
We had a taxi arranged by Wandifa and we drove to a school, Albreda, where although a Saturday the head teacher and others had come in to see us. They showed us the new girls toilet block they had built with funds from PAGEANT. They were very good and even had tiled floors. The head said that the doors were being fitted that very day and within 10 minutes they turned up. He is a very impressive head teacher with a clear vision and strong determination to improve the school. They need some help to finish the kitchen floor and stoves and also to renovate two buildings for classrooms and teachers living accommodation. It is difficult for him to keep good teachers as there is nowhere nearby for them to live.
He had very kindly provided a lovely breakfast of bread, salad and corned beef fritters as well as tea and cold fizzy drinks. They have so little but share it all.
We went on to visit Bakkery and his family who are sponsored by Pageant members. He is Wandifa s brother and a lay Imam. Such a lovely man with a lovely family.
Then the drive back to the ferry. If you have been to the North Bank and visited any schools or families you will know what the roads are like. All sand and ruts so it is very jarring. Even so we all dozed off..Waited for the ferry which was very very full. We did get a seat and watched as cows, chickens and even a sheep in a bag were loaded on.
the hotel at the end of the day for a quick swim and beer.
So it is Thursday evening and we have been back for a few days now. Arrived home in the early hours of Tuesday thanks to delays on the incoming flight. Just a few notes on the last few days of our stay. Now home I have looked at the photos and can put some in here for you to see.
Sunday we had a late start and spent the day at the hotel pool bar showing Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba how to set up the transmitted light microscopes and making up six kits of microscopy stuff for them to take to schools on their own. goodbye as we made our way to the airport with Jerry in his taxi.
They were brilliant at the microscopes and I am sure they will be able to teach the science teachers at different schools how to use them with the students. When we had finished the workshops Ian presented them with a certificate as teaching assistants for the science workshops and I think they were very proud - see photo.
Monday was a return trip to Unity Nursery school in Banjul, but without the guys as the minibus had broken down. We managed to see them to say goodbye as we made our way to the airport with Jerry in his taxi.
That's all folks
The 2015 workshops have finished, and all the Pageant team have returned to the UK. In due course we hope to put together a web page describing the workshops in a more orderly fashion. Meanwhile thanks to Kathy and Chris for coping with a dodgy internet service to bring us news as it happened.