Small pebbles, mighty waves

Small pebbles, mighty waves

Sarah O’Neill works as a volunteer teacher in a remote area of Malawi. She contacted me several months ago through Facebook and we have since chatted regularly about her life and work in Malawi. Lack of resources was just one of the ‘challenges’ that Sarah mentioned.


In the MOODLE Maker Space sessions Heart ELT started running in June, with the support of Dr Nellie Deutsch as moderator, we share ideas and activities for the low resource classroom. Most of these ideas are aimed at teachers who work as volunteers in refugee camps, squats or makeshift classrooms. These teachers are often isolated and have little or no teaching resources. In addition to these handicaps, the classroom situation is very disruptive. Sometimes a teacher is faced with a group of 30 children, their ages may range from 4 -15.  Half that number may turn up for the next lesson; it’s very difficult to have any consistency and almost impossible to make progress.


Heart ELT started just over a year ago, its birthday came and went with no party, no celebrations, no canapes and fizz. The bottom line is we don’t have a budget for such things and our contributors are scattered all around the world, so where would we meet? But I would like you to take a moment to celebrate the seed that’s been planted in many teachers’ hearts. Heart ELT is playing a small part in a very serious crisis which extends far beyond the civil war in Syria. There are forgotten children everywhere around the globe who have limited access to education and if people ask what a difference Heart ELT is making, it’s simply this. We threw some small pebbles in the sea and those ripples are travelling around the world. Slowly but surely, I believe they will go on to make waves. The other question I get asked regularly is whether Heart ELT is only focused on refugees. Of course, the answer is ‘no’. How can we exclude other children or teachers who ask for our support?
When we talk about creating materials that will be suitable for refugees, we have to consider their appropriacy and need to exclude many topics that just wouldn’t be appropriate. Most published materials would also contain far too many topics that are not part of the lives of many children around the world.
As Sarah said, ‘When I started teaching in Malawi I became aware of just how irrelevant the teaching content in most TEFL literature was for my students. My students don’t go for pizza, or go skateboarding, or take holidays, or go to the cinema. I started making my own resources very much tuned to things they could relate to, which isn’t that easy as their worlds are incredibly small and they all experience the same daily routines. Through researching whether anyone else had had these issues, I came across HEART ELT. We are a very low resource school, and what HEART ELT was trying to do resonated with me. Teachers here make abacuses with a bendy stick and old Fanta bottle tops. A scientific experiment on weight is done with a piece of wood, an elastic band and an old margarine tub. All of our classroom activities are just done with board and chalk or else simple paper and pen, perhaps some blu tac and crudely drawn flashcards. Sadly, millions of children around the world are in these under-resourced classrooms, and I find it amazing that this network of dedicated teachers exists – to share ideas and support one another, under harsh circumstances. I’m very grateful for the support and encouragement they offer.’


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