Education is for everyone: Creating inclusive classrooms in Burundi

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The sound of singing fills a classroom in Gisuru, an eastern region of Burundi, but the pupils aren’t who you might expect.

Instead of children, the narrow benches are filled with adults – teachers, to be exact – who are miming actions while they sing a song about handwashing. They’re practicing the songs so they can help their students protect themselves from COVID-19.

The 45 teachers in today’s session come from schools across Gisuru, an area in eastern Burundi that’s home to a large number of returnee Burundians who fled the country during 2015 civil unrest, and have since returned. Since 2017, more than 120,000 Burundians have returned from Tanzania from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Kenya.

Girls in returnee communities, especially girls with disabilities, struggle to go to and stay in school. Few schools have appropriate washroom facilities, and few teachers are trained in how to ensure the classroom environment is welcoming to girls, and targeted to meet their needs. Add to that a fear sexual or gender-based violence and the obstacles for girls pile up.

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Teachers learn by doing in a Right To Play workshop, playing Over and Under, a game used to introduce mathematics and counting to students.

Empowering Students Through Engaging Classrooms

Gloriose and Felix are two of the 235 teachers who travelled from across Gisuru to participate in professional development workshops hosted by Right To Play. Throughout the week-long course, facilitators imparted the knowledge, attitudes, and skills teachers need to create positive learning environments for girls, children with disabilities, and the whole student body – environments that are inclusive, and nurture the mental health of students, many of whom struggle with the impacts of displacement, violence and discrimination. The workshops also equipped teachers with games that help build literacy and numeracy skills, and create a more active, engaging classroom experience for teachers and students alike.

“I use less time to make children understand the lesson thanks to these games and I’ve already seen improvement in their grades as a result of playful learning.” -- Gloriose, Grade one teacher

Integrating play into the classroom is proven to support children to develop relationships through communication and collaboration, and help them become engaged, self-motivated learners. Once they’re back in their classrooms, these teachers will bring a new approach to learning to children from 30 regional schools.

The support doesn’t end after the workshop. Teachers continue to receive guidance from facilitators once they're back in the classroom. Having a chance to learn from experienced and knowledgeable facilitators and educators is hugely valuable for teachers, many of whom are faced with the challenge of managing large class sizes with training.

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Children stand ready to play Over and Under, a game that helps them practice counting.

The Transformative Power of Play

Gloriose has noticed a big difference in the way her Grade one students have been responding to her lessons since she started using playful lessons in the classroom. “My students are much more motivated to come to school since I started introducing games into my lessons. I’ve even had students who had dropped out return to school because their friends were playing the games with them at home,” she says. “I use less time to make children understand the lesson thanks to these games and I’ve already seen improvement in their grades.”

Felix, a second-grade teacher, is excited about continuing to build his knowledge of playful learning strategies so he can create a more supportive classroom for girls and students with disabilities. “The play-based learning approach has helped me understand what to teach and how to teach it well. My students are more motivated and less distracted,” says Felix. “I look forward to Right To Play’s continuing mentorship in better ways to integrate this approach.”

“My students are more motivated and less distracted.” -- Felix, Grade two teacher

The teacher training workshops are an important part of the My Education, My Future project, which is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Working in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council, the project improves access to and the quality of education for 48,000 primary school-aged children affected by the Burundian refugee crisis by building their life skills, resilience, and social cohesion.