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Gambia Hosts “Best Practices in Education” Conference
By Sharon A. Sperry 02-Mar-16
Providing professional development opportunities to local teachers This past November, over 100 educators gathered on the campus of Banjul American Embassy School (BAES) on the “Smiling Coast” to attend workshops, share ideas, and focus on inquiry-based education. Thanks to a self-help grant from the U.S. Embassy in Banjul, The Gambia, support from CEO Joseph Yorio of School Specialty, and a commitment to capacity building by the BAES faculty, the very first international education conference was held in The Gambia on November 21, 2015. The BAES Faculty—as part of their professional development plan, commitment to our mission of lifelong learning, and desire to participate in capacity building in The Gambia—were the workshop presenters at this conference. Peace Corps Education Trainers identified two Gambian counterparts who they felt would benefit from attendance at the conference. The trainers and their counterparts came from all over Gambia—by taxi, gele-gele (small bus), and bicycle—to attend the one-day conference. The event opened with a word from the newly appointed ambassador to The Gambia, Ambassador Patricia Alsup. The keynote speaker was Joseph Yorio, CEO of School Specialty, a major supplier of educational products. Following the opening ceremony, all participants were able to attend four one-hour workshop sessions ranging from “As Easy as ABC” to “An Eye for an Eye.” The Banjul American Embassy School faculty needed to plan each session with the knowledge that many of these teachers from the villages often have no chalk, little paper, and no access to technology. BAES faculty wanted to help move their Gambian counterparts away from a basic-level drill-and-practice, question-and-answer format to the development of higher-level questioning and thinking skills. During the job-alike sharing session, the following educational question was presented: What qualities should leaders of the future possess, and how can we as educators help students develop these qualities? The “Best Practices in Education” conference could be described as “a beehive of activity,” “a day of learning and growing together,” and “lots of educational conversations.” However, it was primarily about committed educators coming together to share ideas, meals, and laughter while asking questions that often had no answers. Emails were shared, friendships were forged, and promises to stay in touch were made. This conference was about educators in the smallest country on mainland Africa coming together to work toward improving the quality of education for all children in The Gambia. It was truly a day of learning and growing together. Sharon A. Sperry is Director of Banjul American Embassy School in The Gambia.
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