Awakening the Joy of Learning at the Fountain of Hope After School Center

craftsAwakening the Joy of Learning at the Fountain of Hope After School Center

Panatau, Romania

By Didi Ananda Devapriya

In the rural villages of Romania, the dropout rate in primary school is very high, as parents also did not complete their education and put more value on having help with farm work than education. Some of the children frequenting the center come from families that have no monetary income except the meager monthly “children’s allowance” from the state – amounting to approximately 5 euros per month. Often they do not receive balanced nutrition at home, and come to school hungry, walking up to an hour on unpaved roads, making concentration difficult. This project plays an important role in offering a better future to these children by encouraging them to continue their studies and thus break the vicious cycle of poverty. Since the first year of functioning, none of the beneficiaries have dropped out of school, or repeated the school year – and all of them have drastically improved their school attendance, only missing in the case of sickness.

Although Fountain of Hope only offers a few hours of extra-curricular support to these children, and cannot undo all of the damage of years within such a school setting, it does present a valuable opportunity to awaken the joy of learning through positive, creative, multi-disciplinary experiences. Didi A. Cetana volunteered several weeks at the Fountain of Hope, focusing in particular on developing a program for awakening a love of learning in the Fountain of Hope children. Most of these children have become habituated to sitting in classes for long hours without understanding anything, terrified of being asked a question that would expose their lack of comprehension. As their own parents themselves often did not complete primary school, they do not have someone to guide them at home. The formal curriculum and textbooks in Romania progress at an extremely rapid pace, but are not thoroughly explained, or broken down into steps, let alone presented in ways to appeal to multiple intelligences besides verbal and mathematical thinking. The teaching style is very authoritarian and intimidating, with an emphasis on rote learning and memorization rather than critical thinking skills and children shy to ask questions quickly fall hopelessly behind. The whole school experience becomes a stressful chore, reinforcing a feeling of incompetence and hopelessness. It is only the exceptional child gifted in memorization or with a great deal of extra-curricular tutoring that manages to succeed scholastically.

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Didi’s challenge was to find fun, attractive games and activities, that would help solidify very basic fundamental mathematical concepts often poorly understood without appearing too condescendingly childish. She created several games focused on practical skills such as shopping, and games with multiplication, addition and subtraction.

She also experimented with a “project-based” approach – selecting a project that would attract the interest of all of the children and within that context provide an opportunity to learn and exercise a variety of skills in a practical and interesting way. Together with Cristina and the staff, Didi developed a “Mother’s Day” project over a 2 week period. The children were involved in planning the event, making invitation cards for their parents, making crafts and gifts, making a shopping list, preparing a cake, and creating a theater based on the “Giant Radish ” story. The children were delighted and very involved and enthusiastic, and especially proud when their grandmothers and mothers came to see all of their efforts.

We look forward to Didi returning again to help us continue to develop more activities, and also to including other volunteers who would like to share their skills.