The ALERT Education Centre (AEC) project was developed to undertake a variety of empowerment programmes through classes, workshops, internships, facilitated research placements and field trips. Current programmes at our AECs in Livingstone (Zambia), and in Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) include:
1. Conservation Education - The aim is to encourage engagement with the natural environment in which participants live, and to help them understand the advantages of living alongside and conserving local wildlife, habitat and ecosystems. The course teaches foundation concepts within ecology so participants can better appreciate the value of the natural environment. This, in turn, enables participants to adopt and develop practical approaches to conservation and managing their environment so that nature and people co-exist harmoniously for mutual benefit.
One of the main objectives of the course is to help students identify ways humans impact the environment and to encourage them to explore and promote alternatives that reduce or reverse these effects. In order to meet this objective, , learners must appreciate that alternative ways of doing things are available and that these options have long-term, tangible socio-economic benefits for the community, as well as producing benefits for the ecosystem.
Many of the learning activities are delivered through participant-led problem-based contexts or scenarios (known as “problem-based learning (PBL)” so lessons are highly interactive and participants are fully engaged throughout. In addition to a deeper understanding of the course content, this pedagogical approach also develops important soft skills such as self-confidence, organisation, team working, leadership, communication and creativity. In combination, these skills strengthen participants’ ability to analyse, evaluate and challenge current practices and to develop more flexible thinking processes so they can propose and support innovative solutions and adapt them for use with their communities.
The conservation education programme has been written and resourced by a team of qualified teachers and Coventry University psychology and education researchers. A planned programme of research is in place to assess its effectiveness.
2. Basic Life Skills - The Basic Life Skills programme aims to give students experience in developing ‘soft skills’ that will support them in their home lives, future education and will make them both more employable and more responsible citizens. The course shifts the focus from fact or content based learning to personal development. Students are exposed to the skills transparently and have the opportunity to practise them through a large variety of activities and challenges.
These super-curricular lessons are intended to be student lead wherever possible, creating an interactive and enjoyable environment in which to learn and build confidence in their own skills and independence, without the demands and restraints of the normal curriculum. The course is written and resourced by a team of qualified teachers working with academics at Coventry University and John Taylor High School, and has been adapted for use in Zambia from Personal Learning and Thinking Skills courses (PLTS) taught worldwide, and in particular the STRIPE model used in many schools throughout the UK at both primary and secondary level. STRIPE focuses on 6 key basic skills:
S – Self Manager (Organisational skills and motivation)
T – Team Working (Including leadership, communication, co-operation and compromise)
R – Reflection (Reviewing strengths and weaknesses, resilience and target setting)
I – Innovation (Working creatively and testing new ideas)
P – Participation (Appropriate Behaviour for Learning, active participation and respect for others)
E – Enquiry (Asking relevant questions, independent research and analysing, evaluating and summarising ideas)
Lessons focus on each skill in turn, ensuring pupils have the opportunity to use each skill and also identify situations where they would need to use the skill in their everyday lives.
3. English Literacy - Education outcomes for African children, and especially those from rural communities, remain among the worst in the world. English is the official language of both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and without good proficiency in English reading and writing, students will likely be excluded from many aspects of active citizenship, including employment opportunities. English proficiency also helps students to better understand all their school subjects, and to be able to tackle exams, which are given in English. In partnership with Coventry University, ALERT has established English literacy programs at weekly Book Clubs to improve children’s English literacy levels and foster a love of reading. Pupils attending book clubs are tested to establish their current reading age, and then tailored, locally appropriate, assistance is provided to improve literacy using educational materials from AXIS Education, TESSA and Happy Readers. A library system provides pupils access to a wide-range of reading level appropriate books.
4. Fully Funded Internship & Facilitated Research Placements - students of African educational facilities, who otherwise might not have access to the opportunities that we are able to provide, are offered placements to gain practical experience in support of their academic learning. The program seeks to assist in building local capacity for conservation and conservation related tourism, as well as in the field of community development.
To date our project sites have provided 909 months of placements to 126 students from the following instititions. In Zambia from the University of Zambia (Lusaka), Copperbelt University (Kitwe) and Mukwela Youth Resource Centre (Livingstone). In Zimbabwe from the University of Zimbabwe (Harare), Bulawayo Polytechnic, National University of Science & Technology and Sizinda Vocational Training Centre (Bulawayo), BEST College, Educare College, Micronet College, Trust Academy, YWCA Mkoba, Gweru Polytechnic College and Midland’s State University (Gweru), Great Zimbabwe State University (Masvingo), Chinhoyi University of Technology (Chinhoyi), and Bindura University of Science Education (Bindura).
5. Funding Schooling Costs – Many students are unable to meet the costs of attending school. Through this program these costs are met including the students’ fees, uniforms, text books and stationary. In 2014, 106 students in Gweru and Victoria Falls benefitted from an education fund of USD 35,463 (2013: USD 10,464).
6. Future programmes in development or proposed include: Vocational Training, Numeracy, Business Studies / Entrepreneurship and Health, Nutrition and Physcial Eduction.