The United Nation guidelines
In my reflection about the (#Impact and Ethics report), I was really struck by thoughts of how much impact quality education has on communities and nations around the world. Education is the most powerful weapon we have as human beings. A sentence that perfectly expounds the great power of this weapon is: “You can give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Quality education has been a highly debated concept in the past years, especially before UNSDG # 4, Quality Education, was introduced. Now, the international community tends to have a fairly uniform interpretation of this concept. From The World Declaration on Education, 1990, and the following UNESCO resolution, Quality education can be defined as education “that provides all learners with capabilities they require to become economically productive, develop sustainable livelihoods, contribute to peaceful and democratic societies and enhance individual well-being.” (source: VVOB education for development)
The importance of being educated can be clearly seen when we consider the difference that educational background, or lack thereof, has on long term socioeconomic opportunities. Oppressive socioeconomic disparities are often due to the lack of quality educational opportunities. Thus free access to education can make an enormous difference on the quality of life of an entire community.
In this specific social context, sustainable volunteer work tends to set the basis for long term cooperation with the local educational system, while following the UN guidelines for sustainable development. For this reasons, this kind of external help aims to have a positive long-term impact on the population without compromising its beliefs, and its environment, or underestimating the importance of cultural sensitivities. A community has to be given the chance to improve itself from within, and create robust roots for an ongoing educational development .
The collaboration with local partners is usually a useful instrument to expand learning opportunities. Effective partnerships in the local community becomes particularly beneficial when dislocated hubs are available. This is an efficacious and powerful way not only to build up connections among the neighborhood, but also to reach out to rural communities.
Volunteer organizations and local partners can work on collaborative agreements, where partners, for instance, will provide locations and promote the availability of free classes, while the volunteer organization will provide free classes and workshops for the local community each utilizing their own resources for the greater benefit of the community. GVI Luang Prabang is a practical example working along with many local partners to deliver free English classes to children, Monks, and teenagers, male and female, by partnering with local educational institutions and providing extracurricular English classes.
Local teachers and volunteer organizations
Another important element that can not be left out of consideration, with regard to a volunteer teaching project, is the local teachers’ community. Public and private schools hire local teachers and pay them a monthly salary. When a volunteer association appears on the scene, the biggest risk is the creation of a competitive environment between free study opportunities and local schools. This is what needs to be avoided. A sustainable project aims to support local teachers as well as public education in order to empower them, and promote the development of quality education from within the community. A solid collaboration can be built between the external education support and the local institutions. Paid teachers, along with volunteers, can develop an innovative teaching curriculum without breaking the general governmental guidelines. Local teachers are also a great resource in this specific environment, as they boast a considerable experience in the field of education in their own country. Public institutions and local teachers are able to work collaboratively with volunteers to determine the most advantagous teaching style, keeping in mind local culture, as well as new and effective teaching methods from around the world.
The GVI Luang Prabang work
The GVI Laos team, volunteers, and Lao students have been collaborating over the past ten years to create a sustainable environment where equal access to education, educational opportunities, and gender equality are the core values. We are trying our best to move a step ahead toward the UN Sustainable Development Goal #4, Quality Education, as well as many others.
A number of Lao students, of different ages and coming from different ethnic groups, traditions, and backgrounds, have already proved to be exceptional teachers and leaders in the community. Their hard work and their incredible dedication is a great inspiration for everyone.
Some of the students who joined our vocational workshops and English classes were, and currently are, able to collaborate with the GVI team as National Scholars. Their internship includes TEFL training, teaching, translating, lesson planning, in addition to the development of skills such as team work, time management, interpersonal skills, and effective communication.
This National Scholar Program helps not only increasing the number of trained teachers, but also the personal and professional development of the interns, who gain experience in a Lao-international context. This is directly working towards the UN SDG indicator 4.4 “By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and Entrepreneurship”
Working alongside local communities, and gaining their consent through a mutually respectful collaboration, are crucial elements to keep in mind when working on a volunteer education project. Compromises are fundamental in order to avoid being culturally invasive, and to respect the local education system.