Local stories are at the heart of new schoolbooks being published, thanks to funding provided by the Australian Education Union (AEU) to the Pan African Teachers’ Centre (PATC). African education unions will print these storybooks to help students to develop a taste for reading using local stories and contexts. In most cases, teachers wrote or selected stories from local cultures, ensuring greater relevancy at grassroots level.
In 2021, the AEU decided to continue support for a development cooperation programme in Africa, including the development/production of storybooks. This is done in conjunction with PATC, a department of Education International Africa (EI Africa). The PATC is in charge of the professional development of teachers and educational workers, as well as promoting equity and quality public education for all, in Africa. It ensures that EI affiliate members receive training in a variety of fields, including research methodology. This is aimed at building union capacity to garner the evidence needed to build their narratives in social dialogue.
AEU: Learning materials must be culturally relevant and context-related
The AEU perspective has always seen development cooperation programmes as a way of building organisations, supporting the development and strengthening of education unions, explained AEU Federal Secretary and Education International President, Susan Hopgood. “And we always look for ways in which we can achieve quality public education for all around the world.”
“We see it as important for education unions to assist other organisations,” Hopgood said. So, when Education International approached AEU with its first opportunity to work with PATC, her union was pleased to accept.
“The programme is not only an opportunity to provide professional development for teacher unions in Africa, it also offers opportunities for teacher activists to gather and learn from each other, providing learning material, developing materials to be used in the classroom.”
Hopgood is also interested in this programme from a cultural rights perspective, “from experience, we know that learning materials must be linked to the context. Learning materials must be culturally relevant and appropriate to the context. We know that from our own country, working with First Nations and migrant students.”
Contributing to education for all
For EIRAF Director Dennis Sinyolo, “this is a great opportunity for member organisations benefiting from the project to contribute to education for all, particularly in disadvantaged areas. In some schools, the storybook is the only textbook available to teachers. In addition, the programme includes a professional training component, enabling teachers to be trained in writing and using the book.”
Burkina Faso: Training beneficial for teachers from diverse cultural realities
In Burkina Faso, Souleymane Badiel, General Secretary of the Fédération des syndicats nationaux des travailleurs de l'éducation et de la recherche (F-SYNTER), said that stories were written, proofread, and selected in 2015, their content adapted to the level of targeted children.
One issue highlighted during this professional development programme was the loss of local values. “It is a problem our society is facing,” said Badiel. “This explains a certain number of shortcomings observed at the youth level, for example poor discipline, juvenile delinquency and its relationship with narcotic substances, or the issue of youth/elderly relationships.”
Role of storytelling in passing on values
In the cities, new technologies have replaced the telling of stories by grandmothers to children – an activity which could anchor these values, Badiel regretted.
“We must be able to put this in writing, audio, or visual media to allow children to learn about it,” the F-SYNTER leader also advised.
He also noted that the students no longer read, they no longer have a taste for reading. He queried how children can be enticed to read today, particularly younger children. “It can be through stories like the ones developed thanks to this programme, rather than the classic textbook which is seen as imposed on the school.”
Carrying out activities such as printing the storybooks - which are not the primary activities of trade unions - is a way of showing people another aspect of trade unionism, he remarked. It was regrettable that some people think that unions are just about strikes, Badiel added, insisting that the union can carry out activities that contribute to the development of the education system.
It was also disappointing that public authorities have not exercised enough responsibility around this issue of textbooks. “There is a clear lack of financial resources. The question of schoolbooks is acutely highlighted during this type of exercise consisting of creating textbooks adapted to learners’ needs. We end up with a school manual for 10 students. Even for simple reading sessions, there are no resources to buy textbooks.”
Burkina Faso: History schoolbooks still focus on France or Europe
The General Secretary of the National Union of Secondary and Superior Teachers (SNESS), Anatole Zongo, also explained that, in Burkina Faso, some history textbooks still focus on France or Europe.
“In the last ten years or so, some of these books have been replaced, but not all of them,” he said.
“Teachers therefore use books from Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, or France, and most of the works in schools highlight foreign, imported situations and cultures.
“But these are not our realities. Doudou and Fatou are not first names from Burkina Faso!”
Zongo added that learning is more fluid when the cultural context is familiar. This made the professional development training organised, thanks to AEU and PATC, very relevant, with stories presenting “accounts of known situations, specific to students’ realities and community customs”.
He also recalled that all four Education International member organisations were represented during the two-day training workshop. SNESS sent three members to the workshop, where teachers were trained to write a booklet on specific realities, i.e. local customs, tales, and legends. The aim was always to choose the best stories and publish them, he underlined. Written and printed schoolbooks must serve as educational documents for primary and secondary school teachers, as a support for teachers and students alike, he said. Now, these works must be promoted, he concluded.
Ghana: Use of new skills to write stories in local dialects
Ghana National Association of Teachers’ (GNAT) General Secretary Thomas Mussa also highlighted the quality of the PATC programme regarding the book development project with GNAT. The programme’s theme is ‘Let’s work together’.
For two-to-three weeks during the school break, GNAT chose teachers to be trained on several professional aspects in a specific region.
Mussa outlined how some selected participants have been trained on literacy, storytelling, and story writing. The trained unionists then used the acquired literacy skills to write simple stories in their local dialects and used it at basic school level.