Liberia: Helping Hands Network Inspires High School Teachers During Refresher Workshop

Helping Hands Network facilitators and participants after the workshop

Louisiana, Montserrado – Sixty-one teachers from selected high schools from across the country have participated in a one-week refresher workshop in Physics and Mathematics conducted by the Helping Hands Network (2HNET), a local non-governmental organization, which works to support education by improving teaching and learning outcome in Liberia. This year’s edition of the Teacher’s Refresher Workshop was conducted in collaboration with the University of Liberia’s (UL) Physics and Mathematics Departments.

The workshop comes just few days to the beginning of the new academic year 2019/2020. 

At the end of training on Saturday, August 17, Dr. Tilman Hartwig, Lead Facilitator, Co-founder and Overseas Coordinator of 2HNET told FrontPageAfrica that since it was a refresher workshop, they focused on the basics of Mathematics and Physics as well as Lesson Planning and Teaching Methods. “We also included Astronomy because this is our special background to fascinate them about the open questions of the Universe.”

On their future plans, Dr. Hartwig acknowledged that six days weren’t enough for all the materials to be passed onto the teachers, who were very eager for more. 

“For the future, we want to decentralize the approach. So instead of just inviting teachers from the seven nearby counties, we would really like to reach out to all the other counties in Liberia,” the 2HNET Overseas Coordinator said. While thanking the International Astronomic Union (IAU) for partially sponsoring the workshop, he mentioned that the organization is envisioning a “training of trainers’ approach.”

Also speaking, Dr. Hartwig’s colleague, Dr. Fabian Ruf, stated that he enjoyed the interaction with the participants and their fascination about simple experiments that they (facilitators) created with local materials that the teachers can find all around themselves and can easily use in their communities and classrooms. 

“For example, I demonstrated to them fundamental characteristics of waves in an easily-reproducible classroom experiment. We also coached them how to measure a distance without actually going there, based on astronomical parallax, and helped them to build a telescope out of simple materials. These hands-on experiments inspired them very much and I am glad to see that they took a lot from this workshop.”

Helping Hands Network team from left to right: Abraham Amaning, Project Associate; Dr. Tilman Hartwig, Co-founder, Helping Hands Network; Ms. Adaeze Ibik, facilitator, Dr. Fabian Ruf, Founder, Essential Education Supplies Project; J. Wilfred Zeon, Co-founder, Helping Hands Network and Dr. Bobby Sebo, Chairman, Department of Physics, UL

Dr.  Ruf, who initiated the Essential Education Supplies Project (EESP) and is also a Facilitator of the workshop, further stated that to improve the impact of the training, they prepared handbooks in which the teachers can find many of the lecture materials to reinforce what they learned during the training. “Since we know that one week isn’t enough time, I hope that we can stay in contact with the teachers and we will be available for any of their follow-up questions.”

The only female facilitator, Ms. Adaeze Ibik, also spoke of how much interest the teachers showed during the lecture time and that at the end they (facilitators) could see that the participants were ready to get back to the classrooms being fully motivated and armed with knowledge. 

There was no female participant among the teachers. Ms. Ibik was quick to express her observation. “Yes, I was saddened but I can’t change the situation. It also rings a bell to me about the situation in Liberia; so, it is my interest that this changes.”

She told the teachers and UL to encourage females to get on board in the Physics and the Mathematics fields. 

Responding to Ms. Ibik’s concerns, Dr. Bobby Sebo, Chairman of the Physics Department, UL, stated that six years ago, the UL through his department, initiated a process of awarding full scholarship to any female having interest in majoring in Physics. 

“When we did this, it took us three years before we got three who registered to major in Physics. And in the last 16 years, we only had one female who graduated from the Physics Department. So, we are still encouraging females who want to major in Physics to come, there is full scholarship for them,” Dr. Sebo assured. 

He expressed his gratitude to 2HNET for partnering with his department to do refresher seminars for high school teachers and hope that they (teachers) will encourage their students having interest in the sciences to venture into Physics, too. 

For his part, J. Wilfred Zeon, Co-founder and Program Manager of 2HNET, said they have been doing this since 2012 and their approach is very clear. According to him, their initiative has impacted over 300 teachers and improved learning outcomes in those institutions that the teachers have come from. 

The certificate that was awarded to participants after the one-week lecture series

Zeon told this newspaper that they work with the teachers to help them on how to present their materials adequately in the classrooms. “Our mission is to help teachers demonstrate competence in the classrooms. It is a marathon that we are committed to.” 

He also stated that alongside the tutoring, they provide some of the very basic materials that are needed in the classrooms for teachers and students. 

“We improve learning spaces. Because you can’t teach the Digestive System when there’re no essential materials to demonstrate that. That makes learning and teaching ineffective. So we started a project that looks at that. We want to use simple, locally and less expensive materials to improve teaching. We also do outreaches to increase female enrollment in the sciences. 

James F. Yarkpawolo, a participant from the Nathaniel Varney Massaquoi High School in Gbarnga, Bong County, spoke of how educative the one-week lecture series were. 

“The workshop was very interesting. When it comes to what I gathered from the workshop is how to use practical teachings in the classroom,” Yarkpawolo stated. He said it was his first time to know how to visualize how waves work and that he will demonstrate this to his students. He furthered that he also learned how to illustrate physics using simple water-based experiments.