Five minutes with...Camilla Gore, Teacher Trainer and Adviser, Rwanda
Why did you decide to volunteer?
I’ve always enjoyed teaching, being creative and trying out new ideas. I was an early years teacher for five years in the UK before volunteering with VSO; but I had always wanted to work overseas and share my skills with people who’ve not had the opportunity to receive much training and guidance with their career.
Describe what you are doing.
I work in a teacher training college as a methodology and resources adviser, helping improve the quality of education in Rwanda. My role is to work with trainee teachers who haven’t yet taught in schools, sharing child centred teaching methods with them, like songs, games and group work. I’ve been showing them how to make teaching resources out of low cost materials such as rice sacks, paper bags and discarded bottle tops. I’ve also started up a centre for student teachers.
What’s the education system like in Rwanda?
Things have moved on here - most children now have access to education in Rwanda but a lot of children drop out of school in their first few years. One reason for this is that the quality of education is poor. Class sizes are very large and a double shift system is operated throughout primary school where children only go to school in either the morning or afternoon. This means teachers work very hard, teaching from early morning until evening for a small wage, most have also had only very basic training so they lack an understanding of how children learn.
Can a UK trained teacher add value in a country like Rwanda?
UK trained teachers have lots of skills to share with teaching staff in Rwanda such as how to plan lessons, assess learners and make learning fun and engaging. These things are a great help to a country like Rwanda where most trainee teachers themselves have had an incomplete or disrupted post-genocide education and have never experienced child centred methods.
Describe a typical day on placement.
I start my day looking at my list of classes, reading lesson plans and preparing resources. I then teach a variety of classes across the three year groups of the teacher training college. Some days I observe and support the trainees on teaching practice at the local primary school and sometimes they come to the resource centre to ask for help with making teaching aids for their lessons. From time to time I train teachers and head teachers to run workshops on methodology and resource making with other VSO volunteers.
Most memorable experience?
I developed a teaching and resource making course with other VSO volunteers for pre-service teachers. It was recently included in the official curriculum for teacher training colleges across Rwanda. Knowing that our course will continue to be taught by local tutors after we have left our placements felt like a real breakthrough - it makes our work sustainable and long lasting.
Best moment so far?
One of my best moments was when my trainee teachers decided to teach me something. We had been singing the song Frère Jacques and I had been teaching ways of adapting the words to teach children about different topics. My class of trainees then decided it was time to teach me the song in Kinyarwanda and they didn’t give up until I could sing the whole song back to them. It was great for them to see that sharing skills is a two way process.
And the worst?
One of the hardest things to deal with is that teacher training colleges in Rwanda have a high staff turnover. Sometimes I’ll work with a tutor on teaching methodology at the college and a few weeks later they will leave their post and I’ll have to start all over again.
How is it living long-term in Rwanda?
Rwanda is a beautiful country, the scenery is breathtaking and it is small and easy to get around so I have done lots of travelling in my spare time. The people here want to develop their country so they are forward thinking and eager to work with you. I have been lucky enough to experience a completely different lifestyle and culture, and learned so much as a result.
Any stories you would like to share about the trainee teachers you work with?
I had one young trainee who came to me for advice on making a teaching aid for her lesson on the water cycle. I suggested she try drawing a picture of it on rice sacking material. At first she refused, saying she couldn’t draw. But after a bit more encouragement she gave it a go and was delighted with the result. I saw her teach a lesson using the resource she had made and it was brilliant, it would have been considered a good lesson anywhere in the world. Since then she has been one of my most enthusiastic trainees and she often comes to the resource centre to practice her drawing.
What would you say to other teachers considering volunteering?
Do it! It will add an international dimension to your teaching experience and you will be inspired every day by the willingness of the teachers and trainees to improve their practice and develop their country in difficult circumstances. I have had opportunities that I would never have had in the UK, for example working on curriculum development at a national level, organising education conferences for donors such as UNICEF and USAID and working with other inspiring volunteers from all over the world.