A lesson in understanding
GLOBAL LEARNING: A two-year multilateral project carried out in Estonia has been credited with helping local students develop a better cultural awareness.
TALLINN - A well-known VK Private School in Tallinn, which was given a 10,000 euro grant as part of a multilateral project to produce a collection of national and regional traditional ethnic myths and legends, will soon conclude the two-year project.
The "Sharing Legends" project, sponsored by the Comenius program partnered Estonia, Cyprus and Greece, and will end in July.
The Comenius program focuses on the first phase of education, from pre-school and primary to secondary schools and involves all relevant members of the education community including pupils, teachers, local authorities, parents' associations, non-government organizations, teacher training institutes and universities.
The program aims to improve the initial or in-service training of teachers and other people working in the school education sector.
The Comenius program was developed to improve the mobility of pupils and educational staff; to increase and enhance the partnership between schools in EU member states and to have at least three million pupils taking part in joint educational activities by 2010.
One of the goals is also to enhance the quality and European dimension of teacher training and to improve pedagogical approaches and school management.
It also aims to encourage language learning; teaching techniques; promote learning; support entrepreneurship and reinforce creativity and innovation.
According to Tatjana Jevtejeva, a teacher at the VK Private School who is also the project coordinator, the Tallinn program involves mostly children from 4th, 5th and 6th grades ( aged from 10 to 13). However, some activities have been planned for younger children as well.
"We aim to enable our pupils to become familiar with the cultural storytelling history of Cyprus and Greece. We hope that this project will go further and apart from familiarizing the pupils with stories and cultures from our partner countries, it will also allow our pupils and even teachers to find friends in Greece and Cyprus," said Jevtejeva.
She said the project required close cooperation between children and teachers, with cross cultural communication helping children learn to "recognize the similarities that exist between our countries and value the skills that their partners possess."
The grant amount contributed to project costs to both local activities, as well as trips for teachers to Nicosia, Cyprus and Athens, Greece.
Throughout the project children exchanged letters and postcards with their peers from Greece and Cyprus.
In the first stages of the project sixth grade students prepared a video performance of a play in English which was shown in partner schools.
Estonian students were also familiarized with Cyprus and Greek culture and were asked to learn traditional dances and prepare a power point presentation about the history, geography and culture of the partner countries.
The end of the first year of the project in May 2008 was marked by an "Honor Roll" celebration. The event allowed students to participate in a wide range of activities connected with the project and partner countries.
Activities included country studies, geography, Greek marathon, painting, Greek alphabet, history studies, as well as legend and myth storytelling.
The project's second year was devoted to the teaching of legends.
Students were asked to select their favorite Estonian myth and discuss the heroes, illustrations and storytelling traditions with students in partner schools.
The children shared the legends with their partners, taking a major character from each one and creating a multicultural story using the characters indigenous to each region.
The final phase is to help students get to know the legends of Cyprus and Greece and to teach the children to prepare a storytelling of the legends.
Jevtejeva explained that one of the greatest advantages of the project is that students soon learnt that Cyprus and Greece are not simply the countries where people take summer holidays, but countries of great culture and diversity.
"While children were making pen-pals, the teachers were lucky to make really close friends in Greece and Nicosia. Our teachers have visited Agiou Andreas Primary School in Nicosia and Arsakeio Primary School in Athens. There we spent a lot of time with kids and teachers, attended many lessons, we told the kids about Estonia and answered a lot of questions. We learned a lot of new things about the educational systems of Greece and Cyprus and compared it with the Estonian one," Jevtejeva said.
"In the evenings (when school was over) we discussed our future work on the project. We also had some spare time for sightseeing. Time spent in Nicosia and Greece with our colleagues was really precious for us as we talked not only about school life but we also had nice friend chats with our new friends," she said.
Comenius is part of the Lifelong Learning Program (LLP) that provides opportunities for schools and colleges to introduce or strengthen the European dimension in their curriculum.
It seeks to develop knowledge and understanding among young people and educational staff on the diversity of European cultures, languages and values. The program also aims to help young people acquire basic life skills necessary for their personal development, future employment and active citizenship.
In October 2008 VK Private School also hosted teachers from Nicosia and Athens.
During that time the school organized a special program for the guests, including a Teachers' Day celebration, meeting with children and parents and Estonian cultural events.
Jevtejeva said her teaching colleagues left Tallinn with the warmest feelings along with a package full of letters for children in Cyprus and Greece.
"Both the children and teachers are very grateful to Comenius for giving a chance to make new friends in Nicosia, Cyprus and Athens, Greece and to gain the feeling of belonging to one European family. We are very thankful to Comenius for choosing us and for giving our children a chance to have a happy childhood," said Jevtejeva.
"I really hope that the friendship we gained while working together will not end with the final project report."