An immersive learning experience brought Ryerson students to a country with a pre-primary education system in transition. This summer, three master’s candidates and one undergraduate student from Ryerson’s Early Childhood Studies program spent five weeks in Nigeria working with the Early Childhood Development Initiative, external link (ECDI).
“We wanted to make sure that the collaboration between ECDI and Ryerson was one that would work both ways,” said Kathleen Peets, Early Childhood Studies professor. “There would be contribution to the work that ECDI is doing, and opportunities for students.”
ECDI is an agency that supports early learning in Nigeria. Patricia Falope, the agency’s CEO, is a graduate of Ryerson’s Early Childhood Studies master’s program. The partnership was hatched when Falope approached Ryerson to see if the School of Early Childhood Studies could help develop and research a Nigerian-based Early Learning Centre. The trip was also sparked by a major innovation in the Nigerian education system: its first curriculum for pre-primary education
“One of the biggest transitions was to leave some of our learning behind and really just listen,” said Peets. “It was to open our eyes, open our ears, listen, observe, and learn from people there. It’s one thing to have information in theory, and it’s another thing to really meet people and understand their daily lives and what they value.”
“Coming into a completely different society with completely different values and expectations for child development was challenging,” said Falope. “All of the students worked very respectfully. They were culturally appropriate, asked appropriate questions, and were open to all of the learning opportunities.”
Students worked at two centres for infants and toddlers, one government-funded, the other privately owned. “At the beginning there was an observation stage where we were meeting and talking with teachers and caregivers,” said Peets. “And then, throughout the five weeks, gradually collaborating with them and integrating.” Students gained first-hand early childhood experience, while master’s students had the opportunity for immersive research-based learning for their major research projects.
“I learned that childhood culture is pretty much the same wherever you are,” said Jenna Santyr, an Early Childhood Development master’s candidate who specializes in children’s storytelling. “Kids tell the same types of stories and engage in the same types of play and have the same range of imagination regardless of where they grow up.
“I think I had different expectations when I went,” she continued. “Specifically, I thought the stories the children would tell would be quite different than the stories I heard in Canada. That really wasn’t the case. They talked about Spider-Man, Superman, Frozen—all of the same pop culture that kids in Toronto talk about.”
The recent developments in Nigeria’s education system gave students a chance to see change in action. “It’s a country that’s changing in so many ways,” said Peets. “All the people we’ve spoken with who are stakeholders in a real position to make decisions with the Ministry of Education were extremely positive, and had so much energy and so many ideas about how they wanted to see their educational system changed.
“For our students to actually speak with these decision-makers in a country that’s changing so much, it’s a privilege to be a tiny part of that change.”
Falope added, “The research that was collected is contributing immensely to ECDI’s work. In the integrating of strategies and the work with the educators, there was a wonderful synergy that produced results in how the children are learning.”
For more information on Early Childhood Studies, go to www.ryerson.ca/ecs/index.html. This fall, Social Innovation Ryerson will host a Social Innovation Community Transformation Cafe, date to be announced.