Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Sabina Permaculture Garden at the heart of school and community life.

Contributed by Prue Gill, a great friend of the teachers and children at Sabina Primary Boarding School. Prue's experience is as an elementary, secondary, and tertiary teacher in Australia, and as a Board Member of the Stephanie Alexander Foundation, which brings Kitchen Garden Programs into Australian primary schools. Prue's passion for teaching and teachers, for children, and for gardening and good food, have intersected at Sabina. We thank you Prue, and can't wait to see you again soon in Uganda!

"Recently I had the good fortune to return to Sabina Boarding School to spend some time with teachers talking about the implementation of the Permaculture Curriculum that a group of teachers at the school have devised. This curriculum is aimed particularly for children in Primary years 4, 5 and 6, but it will influence what happens in all classes at the school, and in the kitchen of the home.

The aim of the curriculum is to balance the good work that has been done at Sabina on developing the academic side of school learning, with an equal emphasis on developing valuable vocational and life skills for the children. The hope is that every child who comes to this school will be able to live a meaningful life, and produce food, even in the absence of ‘professional employment’.

We also aim to share the benefits of the garden with the whole school community, including the families and guardians of children who attend the school. We want to produce a varied array of fruits and vegetables for all to share, to spread skills and love for permaculture principles and ethics, and also to use the garden as a site for hands on learning across the academic disciplines. Much of the valuable work in producing food for the kitchen is now being done by children, led of course by the wonderful James Kalokola and Anna Kisakye Nakibinge, the students of the Permaculture Club and the class teachers.

It is inspiring to see how teachers at the school have embraced the garden, appreciating its beauty as well as its productivity. In the time that I was there, we explored the opportunities a garden creates to think imaginatively about teaching and learning, and we came up with a concept that places the garden at the heart of the education offered by Sabina school.

Using the beautiful garden as central to learning, we talked of it as the basis for:

· Educating children in life skills – useful knowledge

· Food and water security – leading to healthy communities

· Educating children to shape their future – democratic citizenship

· Global responsibility and sustainability – caring for our planet

· Disciplinary and academic development - including literacy and numeracy and the skills required to perform well in national testing, as well as science, agriculture, the arts, the humanities

· Thematic and interdisciplinary learning – including problem solving and integration of theory and practice

· Opportunities for children with a range of learning styles – hands on learning, co-operative learning, differentiated tasks

· Improved diet and well being of children - hence optimising potential to learn

· Building positive links with the community through opportunities for sharing produce, running short courses for parents and guardians, inviting others in – including local and district schools

Teachers are now working on the many ways they will integrate permaculture and national curriculums. Think for example of the ‘problem’ of the chickens. The home has 70 hens which are laying about 60 eggs a day. Children are given an egg a week, other eggs are used in the kitchen, and surplus eggs are being sold in the village of Ssanje. This earns a little money that is put back into the garden. But chicken food is expensive, and we need to know whether our chicken project is cost effective? Here is a research question that can be given to senior primary students to work on together.Such research would involve counting eggs, developing a system of record keeping, drawing graphs, costing the regular expenses of chickens, charting the income from eggs, even ‘accounting’ in some way for the improved well being of children. It could require a written report at the end, maybe with illustrations.

The audience for the report would be diverse - James as manager of the FWS project, Margaret Kasekende as CEO of Children of Uganda, perhaps even the Children of Uganda Board. Such a research project would offer opportunity for learners of all kinds to draw some conclusions about a question that is very important for the organisation. It would put literacy and numeracy skills to good use, and children might even be involved in presenting the data orally in a formal way.

Our next step is to develop a beautiful poster which encapsulates this idea of the place of the garden in the life of the school and community. This can be placed in each classroom, in the kitchen, and shared with other community members and schools. It will act as a visual representation of our philosophy, and something to be proud of."