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In January 2016 Portsmouth and Southsea Rotary team of 3 Teacher Trainers set out from Portsmouth feeling much like the explorers of old. Our destination was the PCF Tondo School in Manila. Our objective; to run a holistic whole-school professional development course for the teaching staff, with special emphasis on the pedagogical use of the £67,000 worth teaching and other materials provided by the Club.
The school, founded by Jane Walker in 2002, is situated in one of the biggest rubbish dumps in the world. Before going we had no idea of what this meant in practical terms, how 'big' is 'biggest'? What we found was indescribable. For anyone who hasn't experienced the lowest levels of poverty and deprivation first hand it's impossible to imagine - I have no adequate words to paint an image of how people can live and maintain their dignity in such slum surroundings.
Built out of containers and painted bright purple, the school has both primary and secondary departments. It is constructed like a fortress with all the classrooms around a central patio which is used for games, meetings and functions. As each classroom has windows onto the central patio as well as windows looking out over the rubbish dump and river, the noise level has to be tightly controlled.
The curriculum follows the National Curriculum as far as possible and there are a wide range of extra curricula activities with specialised staff. The Foundation, which is ultimately responsible for all that goes on, is also housed in the same building giving ample opportunity for departmental communication. This is an area that needs some attention, for example we found that some of the teachers were not aware of the interdependence of the two organisations.
The catchment area for the school is wide and unsafe so it is necessary for children and staff to be picked up by a small fleet of buses. Children arrive at school in time for breakfast and leave after having had a cooked lunch.
The young staff make up with enthusiasm what they lack in experience and professional expertise. Once they understood that our primary objective was to help them in their professional development they responded with interested eagerness. They all attended the Professional Development Course, all the departments working together, learning about and developing their teaching skills. The course was divided into 2 main parts: classroom observation with evaluation and feedback followed by our presentations linked to round table discussions and finally, their presentations on what they had learnt and what they wanted to do next.
However, this is not the end of the process, the course has now gone online and through the virtual teaching platform Edmodo it will continue for another year. In this way it is hoped to be able to turn around an essentially negative situation into a more positive one by providing new professional development possibilities. The team will continue to focus on the importance of motivation (both teachers and learners) and continuous learning as core principles. Huge project requires huge amount of work energy and passion.
We have been through so much with this project. Our initial response to this unique opportunity was excitement and eager anticipation. On arrival the heat and the time difference hit us hard and, still reeling from this, we were overwhelmed by the stark reality of the school and its surroundings. Nevertheless, the project was enormously successful and inspired by the enthusiasm of the staff, we are hopeful for the future and looking forward to working closely with them. This type of project is fundamental for the community. Theirs and ours. Its impact is global.