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If the Walls Could Talk

 Butove Talking Walls

Imagine being a teacher, with scant teaching materials, standing before a classroom full of 150 7-year-olds.

This is the norm in 10 primary schools in the Mbale area of eastern Uganda. How much learning can possibly take place when all there is to work with is the four walls?

Quite a lot, actually, with some creative use of space. Starting two years ago, with ChildFund working in consultation with the Ugandan department of education, teachers in these schools began to turn the very classrooms into teaching aids — by posting subject matter directly onto the walls. Artists were hired to start with, but teachers and students later took on the designs and artwork themselves.

Now, instead of a teacher trying to engage a handful of the dozens of students crowded into a room, he can direct the class’s attention to images, charts, letters and numbers that are on the walls for everyone to see. From one end of the room to another, children wait eagerly for the teacher to call on any one of them, perhaps to identify a fish or a teakettle, or to put together the letters that form their names.

Or, while the teacher works with a small group, pupils may lead other small groups in quizzes, object identification and matching activities. Students learn independently as well, musing on the pictures and charts to make connections on their own.

Baluka, a third grader at one of the schools, says that the “talking walls” have made learning easier because students can see and read for themselves rather than trying to learn solely from what the teacher says. Other students report improvement in performance — and that they actually like attending class.

Ms. Sabano, a first-grade teacher, remarks on the child-to-child learning that the talking walls inspire. “Slow learners are taught by fellow learners, and it creates confidence in pupils.”

Mr. Kamwada, a second-grade teacher, praises the sharpened observation skills he sees in his students. Mr. Mwima, who teaches third grade, sees greater motivation and lower absenteeism.

The hodgepodge of pictures, numerals and letters adorning the walls has transformed these classrooms into much more child-friendly spaces, so it’s no wonder that even more children have come from nearby schools.

Before, many students would leave first grade not knowing how to read and write. Now the 10 Mbale schools can cite improvements in attendance, learning, quality and retention. ChildFund has helped teachers and students expand the capacity of a mere four walls.