James Alexandroff is the settlor and trustee of the Perivoli Foundation, a UK registered charity that funds a nursery school teacher trainer programme in Sub-Saharan Africa called Perivoli Schools Trust.
The Trust has already trained over 10,000 nursery school teachers over the past seven years in three countries, Namibia, Malawi and Zambia, and is currently launching in Uganda and Botswana. It will target 200,000 more teachers across nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa over the coming decades. It has already reached about 250,000 pre-school children in the two to seven age bracket, with 5 million being the target.
“I describe it as Blue Peter on steroids,” says James. “We employ trainers to show the nursery school teachers how to make games and educational activities out of recyclable waste materials. They tend to have no money or training themselves, so this helps them to create play activities at no cost.
“It has to be affordable,” James adds. “There’s no point in providing Lego and such like as that tends to walk out of the door. Our approach costs about USD 3 per child per annum.”
The teachers are shown how to use things like yoghurt cartons, bottle tops, loo rolls, pieces of cardboard, discarded garments and tin cans to make stimulating activities from a toy shop to matching puzzles, counting games and dressing up corners.
“The core aim of the Perivoli Schools Trust programme is to address very high dropout rates that children face once they reach state-funded primary school,” added James.
“Children who are not stimulated through play in their early years find it very hard to cope with formal education when they reach primary school.
“It is especially challenging for girls, who tend to fall pregnant once they reach puberty at 13 or 14 if they struggle at school. Studies show that a girl who can read has two children on average, whereas a girl who can’t has five. Our goal is to get the girls to read before they leave nursery school.”
The Trust employs Perivoli Trainers, almost 200 from next year, who deliver 16 training modules to up to 25 nursery school teachers at a time over a two year period.
The Trainers run support groups, where the teachers exchange ideas for games to make; and they also visit them in their classrooms once a month in the first year and once every second month in the second year to help with the implementation of the programme. The idea is for each classroom to end up with twelve so-called Perivoli Corners of play activities which the children can take themselves off to as they wish.
At the end of the course, the nursery school teachers are awarded with Perivoli Certificates in what is often a moving graduation ceremony where they dress up in gowns and mortar boards, with this often being the first formal recognition of their lives.
“There’s also an important digital backbone to the programme,” James explains.
“Each Perivoli Trainer is issued with a tablet computer and is required to collect data, only after obtaining the necessary written consents, on the teachers, the nursery schools, the children and the pace at which the 12 Perivoli Corners are implemented.
“This allows the Trainer Coordinators to direct the Trainers at the teachers which need the most help and to measure their performance. With each tablet equipped with a geo-location sensor, Trainer Coordinators can check that the visits are taking place. The programme only employs local people who seem to really buy into it, as do the nursery school teachers.
“I have made over a hundred visits to nursery schools across the region,” adds James. “And based on what I’m seeing I have no doubt that the programme makes a huge difference to the lives of the teachers and the children. It’s very uplifting to see the way in which it unlocks their creativity. But we have to validate that, so we are undertaking an exercise to track some of the children through primary schools to measure outcomes.
“It’s a race against time. We have to hope that with better education, people in the region will be able to make wiser life choices, pick better leaders in their communities and crucially attract more investment into more value adding activities to drive up productivity which is, after all, the driver of standards of living and, up to a certain level of income, happiness.”