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Old School, New School

15 retired teachers from Ireland embark on a trip of a lifetime, as they travel to West Africa to bring over 500 years of teaching experience into the classrooms of The Gambia.

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Documentary maker: Sarah Blake

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Old School, New School

The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country on the African mainland and one of its poorest countries. In 1997, the government of The Gambia introduced free primary education for all. The implementation of this policy has resulted in an education system that is struggling to deal with increased numbers; teachers face huge challenges in relation to resources, conditions and training.

In some schools, due to very large pupil numbers and shortage of classrooms, a double teaching shift system is in operation. The average class size is 45 - 50 pupils. School buildings lack basic amenities and there are grave concerns about the poor educational outcomes for The Gambia's young people.

However, there are sparkles of hope. The Gambia Ireland Volunteers in Education (GIVE) is a project which was set up in 2009 to develop a working partnership between Gambian teachers and retired Irish teachers in the primary school sector. It was established by retired school principal Joe Griffin, who
had travelled to The Gambia and saw the need for teacher training. He felt that retired teachers here in Ireland still had a lot to offer, and could help address this problem.

In January 2012, 15 retired teachers embarked on a six week trip to The Gambia, bringing with them over 500 years of teaching experience. The aim was to offer mentorship and training to Gambian teachers, to help improve the overall standard of teaching, and bring the lessons they have learned through their lives as educators in Ireland into the classrooms of The Gambia.

We follow them through this journey of how 'old school' teachers, from what is widely considered to be one of the best
education systems in the West, help shape the 'new school' teachers in the developing world.

The GIVE volunteers work with their Gambian colleagues in nursery schools, primary schools and skill centres. They deliver workshops in the areas of English language, reading skills, maths, classroom management, lesson planning, and guidance in the use of local resources – such as bottle tops, shells and sand – as educational aids.

It'san opportunity for the retired teachers from Ireland to pass on their skills and years of experience, while at the same time experience different cultural activities, and see how the average Gambian lives. The project does not fundraise; the teachers from Ireland self-funded the trip.

For the Gambian teachers, it is an opportunity to be assisted in the onerous task of teaching large groups of children in severely disadvantaged circumstances, along with learning new teaching techniques and skills. While 'education for all' is a positive step in the development of The Gambia, this documentary shows the challenges in implementing such an ambitious policy. Above all, it’s a story of old life and new life, of hope, experience and a shared education.

‘Old School, New School’ was funded by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.

For more information on the Gambia Ireland Volunteers in Education visit or email

(RTÉ is not responsible for the content of external sites)

Narrated and produced by Sarah Blake.

Additional recordings by Jim Henry.

Sound Supervision by Anton Timoney.

First broadcast 14th April 2012.

'Documentary on One is the home of Irish radio documentaries and the largest library of documentary podcasts available anywhere in the world. We tell stories in sound, mostly Irish ones, and each documentary tells its own story'


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