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Preschoolers get lessons from older children to prepare them for school

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Plan field worker with some of the children that attend the child-to-child education centre

Evening the odds

If you don’t receive adequate mental stimulation in your first few years, either at home or in playschool, beginning primary school can be a bit like turning up for a race which started without you.

In Aileu district, about two hours’ drive from the capital Dili, 95 per cent of children have no access to pre-school facilities, and many do not have stimulating toys or practise reading or counting at home.

With little or no experience of learning, these children often cannot keep up when they go to school, and half of them drop out within the first three years.

“It's a huge leap to make for a child to go from home to a primary school if they have never had any intellectual stimulation when they were very young,” explains Léonie Venroij, Plan Timor-Leste’s advisor for early childhood care and development (ECCD).

Plan aims to reduce this, by helping primary schoolchildren hold classes for younger children, passing on some of the lessons they are already learning at school, and preparing them for their own schooldays.

Passing on learning

Across Aileu district, primary school students get together with younger children in their village and teach them what they have learned at school. Or sometimes, the younger children visit the primary school to get a taste of what is in store for them.

The programme currently covers around 250 children, and is set to expand to other districts.

In a community in the subdistrict of Remexio, more than 60 children gather once a month in a pavilion constructed from materials donated by Plan, to take “classes” from others only a few years older. “Children learn fast from their peers,” Venroij says.

They learn about personal hygiene, the alphabet, mathematics, drawing, singing and reading stories, as well as playing games and socialising.

“Whatever the primary school children learn at school they pass on to the younger ones,” says Florindo Araujo Gonçalves, a Plan community development facilitator. “It helps the pre-schoolers prepare for school.”

It's also good for the brains of the primary school children, he says, and the young teachers seem to agree. “From everything I've learned, I prefer to teach counting,” said one of the primary school helpers.

Teta, 12, says she particularly enjoys teaching drawing and telling stories. “My favorite story is about Leki Busi," she adds, referring to the story of a poor Timorese child in a book provided by Plan specifically for the child-to-child sessions.