Comenius Trip to Gozo (March 31st-April 4th 2014)

Joan-Marie Healy, Clare Dornan and Alice O’Donnell, St Cronan’s School, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

 

 

Monday

We arrived on Gozo on Monday March 31st after a long journey. Our tiredness vanished when we saw the sun! This was a welcome sight for the Irish indeed. We were met at the airport and brought by taxi and ferry to our hotel at the harbour in Xlendi. Our initial impressions of Malta were that it was very built up and tourist oriented. Gozo seemed very different. The pace of life was relaxed, Xlendi was a lot smaller than we had expected, everything was within walking distance and the island has a well developed bus transport system. The scenery on Gozo at that time of year is similar in some ways to the scenery of the west of Ireland: lots of small fields and hedges although we don’t have cactus hedges in Ireland! Agriculture plays a strong part in the life of Gozo and we were told that a large proportion of the people will have a small plot to grow tomatoes for example even when their job is not connected to agriculture.

We were met by Maria Curmi on the first evening and we also go to meet our Dutch colleagues with whom we would spend the next few days. Two of them, Willi and Frances ,had visited us in Bray along with Anton, but it was our first time to meet Els. We had a lovely meal and a chance to chat about the plan for the week. Our activities were planned by Maria and thanks to her we had a wonderful trip. Special thanks to her and to our Dutch and Gozitan colleagues for making our time on Gozo so enjoyable.

          

 

Tuesday

Our first visit to the school was exciting for all of us. We were looking forward to meeting the teachers who had visited our school and we got the sense that our arrival was very exciting for the whole school community. We met the Principal, Mr Daniel Cassar and other members of the staff. We had lovely coffee and local homemade pastry specialities which were very tempting. Sannat school is a Catholic school, as are most of the schools on Gozo. There was a display to Our Lady in the entrance area. The school is quite bit and airy, there are several rooms upstairs which are not in use as classrooms so they can be sued to Arts based activities. The school is open in the evening for art classes which are open to parents and other members of the local community. The arts seem to occupy a very important role in education in Malta and subject experts are involved in teaching music, drama and art to the pupils. We were able to observe ones such art class on the Wednesday. This system differs from the Irish system where teachers are involved in teaching all subjects . What was most evident was the fact that class sizes are very small, a lot smaller than our classes in Bray. The largest class in Sannat was a lot smaller than our smallest class. This allows for more group work and more time spent teaching instead of on class management .themselves.

Each class had prepared something connected with the participating countries, we saw displays of Irish dancing, informative powerpoint presentations as well as a living history show in one class. It was obvious that the children had learnt a lot and were eager to share their knowledge with us. We had our first trip that afternoon and were most impressed with the sights of Ramla and Marsalforn Bay .

 

We also visited  Dwejra and  the Azure window and had dinner with our colleagues from the Netherlands that night at the Boathouse Xlendi . This was the first of several dinners there.

Wednesday

On arrival at Sannat Primary School, we were met by Maria Curmi (project coordinator in the school) and Daniel Cassar, School Principal.   The school was a hive of excitement, with the children preparing for a performance. Colourful costumes and props festooned the corridors and classrooms. The hallways and corridors were decorated with projects by the children about each of the countries in the Comenius project.

We were taken to the hallway, where we were treated to a performance by all of the children in the school.  It opened with a short drama about a racial incident in a restaurant and how the parties involved overcame the problem.  This was followed by each class performing a Eurovision song from each of the European countries in the projects.  Lots of effort and detail was put into costumes and props.   We got lots of ideas that we could bring back to our schools.  In keeping with the ideas behind the project, all the teachers from Sannat as well as the visiting teachers, took to the stage and performed “Love Shine a Light” for all the children and parents, giving a very important message.

 It was lovely to see all the work that the children had done on Xenophobia.  We discussed the cultural integration of children within the school.   The opportunity to discuss the work the children did with the other teachers, made great contributions to professional development opportunities. That afternoon we boarded a boat for a trip around the little inlets of the famous Blue Lagoon and Como island. We had seen pictures of both before our trip and the reality did not disappoint us. Two of us even swam in the famous blue lagoon, just in case we don’t get to go back again!

 

 Thursday

On Thursday we had a change of scene and we visited another school Qula School. This school is very open to the elements, we appreciated it on the nice sunny day that we experienced but it would certainly cause problems during the windy months of winter. Once again we toured the classes, met the famous Mrs. Brown and experienced wonderful hospitality. Mrs Brown is from Scotland and has been teaching English in every class in this school for a few years. She was enthusiastic and energetic and we could see that the class really enjoyed her sense of fun. We also saw a group of pupils making pizza in the kitchen of the nearby tourism college and we were lucky enough to be able to sample the produce.

That afternoon we packed in all of the rest of the sights of Gozo with a trip to Ggantija Temples at Xaghra , an amazing sight which is still being developed as a tourist attraction and we then travelled on to Citadella and the folklore Museum in Victoria. During our visit to Victoria we saw a group of immigrants, possibly from Somalia. There was no sign of any children of African origin in the schools that we visited but, presumably this will soon be the case. We could see the relevance of the topic for our host school.

Earlier on during our visit we had a brief visit to the special unit where staff members were engaged in a staff development day with material being presented on strategies to assist pupils with DCD. The children were at home on that day to facilitate this session.

 

 

 Friday

On Friday morning we had the chance to visit the Special Education unit at Sannat school. The pupils had been collected and brought to the school by bus. Their morning began with circle time. All of the pupils engaged in activities which involved each one of them being greeted by name. Each student responded in whatever way he/she could. Some used technology and pressed a button to say “Good Morning” while others were able to speak enough to be able to do this. Some were excited at having so many visitors while others were less interested in our presence. ICT was used to encourage communication and make the session more lively. The care shown by the teachers and the SNAs in the special unit was exemplary. We really got the sense that each child’s abilities were known and that each was encouraged to progress at his own rate depending on ability. We noticed that several children are included in the mainstream setting with special assistance. The care and attention that they receive is exceptional and there is no doubt that their presence benefits other children in the class too as they develop greater empathy and understanding. This type of experience will probably have a wider impact on the ability of pupils to include, understand and identify with pupils from other cultural backgrounds.

The unit is equipped with many facilities including two sensory rooms. The rooms are generally used for individual sessions. Pupils are timetabled to use the rooms for one session per week and these facilities are also used by other schools on Gozo. This is the only school with such a facility on Gozo but other schools have similar facilities on Malta. One of the rooms involved a range of touch sensitive lights. This facility is used to maximise the participation of pupils whose ability to speak may be limited and the work that happens in this setting is integrated with weekly planning e.g. a story used in class might be developed /explored in more depth in the sensory room.

We also visited the art room and saw a child who was having a one to one session with the teacher. We spoke to her and discovered that she has a strong interest in Art therapy and would like to pursue further training in this area. Unfortunately such training is not available yet in Malta so it would not be a feasible option for the teacher concerned due to family reasons. We agreed that it would be great to bring our colleagues from Gozo to visit a special school in Bray as part of their programme next year.

 

Throughout our visit we noticed that several children are included in the mainstream setting with special assistance. The care and attention that they receive is exceptional and there is no doubt that their presence benefits other children in the class too as they develop greater empathy and understanding. This type of experience will probably have a wider impact on the ability of pupils to include, understand and identify with pupils from other cultural backgrounds.

Our visit to Gozo left all of us with a strong desire to return at some point in the future. It allowed us to develop professionally by comparing and contrasting education in Gozo with the system that we follow in Ireland. We look forward to continued collaboration and sharing of good practice with our European colleagues and are very grateful for the opportunity to be part of this Comenius project.