Iclal Lawrence was one of four teachers from Tollgate primary to visit Green Village school, in Dhaka, last month to learn more about life and education in Bangladesh. What she saw on her trip has given her valuable insights that she can use in her own lessons, says the international project co-ordinator.
At Green Village school, where pupils sit on the floor because there are no desks or chairs, she admired the teachers' ability to make the most of scant resources and the way they captured the attention of their pupils through imaginative use of art, craft, song and dance. She was also impressed by the commitment of the Dhaka children's families to their school's success and the teachers' desire to equip their charges with skills for life outside the classroom.
"It was a real eye-opener for all of us," says Mrs Lawrence. "They make so much of so little. They make full use of the materials that are available in the area - the children did some beautiful clay models of local animals, for example -and there is lots of volunteering and community involvement to help the children learn more. These are all things that we can do at our school."
During five days at the school, Mrs Lawrence and her colleagues taught lessons and watched the Bangladeshi children, aged six to 12, practising their English in simple linguistic exercises, making pottery, performing songs and dances and creating different forms of art work. They also showed the Dhaka children video messages and letters prepared by their peers in London and photographs taken during a previous teacher's visit - all of which produced an excited response. There were visits to the slum and village areas where the children's families live, allowing the Tollgate teachers to gain a better idea of what daily life in Bangladesh - previously experienced by many of their pupils in London pupils -is like.
One thing that struck Mrs Lawrence was the low literacy level of many of the families. "We pride ourselves on translating letters to parents into their language but forget that they might not understand it," she says.
"Unless we know more about the children and their background we can't help properly."
Vikki King, another Tollgate teacher, agrees: "When our Bangladeshi children talk about Bangladesh, their eyes light up and they are happy. Now that we have been we can see what it is that they are connecting with and that will be very useful to us when we are teaching."