One of the undoubted dangers of writing about Africa is the potential perpetuation of the ‘single story’, that is, that Africa is more a country than a continent. A great deal of media portrays Africa as a single place with lots of the same problems. This could not be further from the truth, Africa is a continent as complex as any other in the World, perhaps even more so.
Kenya, for example, is excelling in many respects. Kenya’s capital Nairobi is home to the IHub, an institute set up by the University of Cape Town and the Carnegie Foundation to expedite the growth of technology in Kenya by linking scientists in Nairobi to their peers internationally.
Africa’s biggest urban slum is mere miles from this beacon of progress.
Kibera is enormous, home to over 1 million people who generally live in poverty without power or sanitation. However, referring back to the ‘one story’ perpetuation, the immediate assumption may be that Kibera is void of hope but that once again, that isn’t true.
Kibera has a sense of community and group spirit that bonds its citizens together and is helping it flourish. The Economist referred to Kibera as a ‘Boomtown Slum’ in a 2012 article.
One of the true paragons of that sense of community is Margaret, a teacher in Kibera, the following is a routine of Margaret’s day taken from this article:
• “I wake up at 4am, I get the bus in the morning and travel for two hours to my school. I have my regular duties to perform. I’m a class teacher of grade six with 85 children in a class. It starts at 8am, but we normally come early to mark the books. I also take care of the feeding programme so have to measure the food for the day. I have to mark my work. It’s normally a packed day. Today when you called I was issuing textbooks to all the different children. There is a lot of counting to be done and a lot of different activities.”
• “We end at 3.10pm and then the children have prep until 5pm. Between 6pm and 7pm we give an extra hour to some children that can’t do their homework at home because there’s no electricity or space at home. I leave at around 6.30pm. We have to make sure that we clear the compound. Sometime leave at 7pm. Imagine! But when I’m doing it I don’t mind. We work for the children. Five days a week.”
• “There is a persistent shortage of teachers. The government has its own way of doing things, but we are getting forgotten by policies. I am praying the government trains more teachers so we break the large classes into small classes of 50 so we produce the best children from the slum.”
• “The children share books, one to three children per book. The government sends the books but they get destroyed in their bags and sometimes the children sell their books at 50 to 100 shillings to buy food in the slum. 100 shillings, it’s about US$1.5. Children go out campaigning to get other children to come to school.”
• “There is a big difference between rural and urban school because they’re not densely populated. The way we do things in urban areas is different. In rural areas teacher to student ratio is 1 to 40, here is 1 to 70/100.”
• “There is no training for how to teach in slum schools! We’re given training to teach anywhere where there are children — not even in a school! Even if there is no school but there are children, you teach under a tree!”
As Margaret points out, the local and national government does have policies and legislation in place including the fact that every child is free to attend school and that no child can be turned away from a place of education. Of course these may be effective at a national level but in an locale as densely populated as Kibera, it results in overcrowded classrooms that don’t have enough resources.
Due to the lack of resources/infrastructure in Kibera, there is no formal structure for teachers to be employed/nominated and they are largely self-appointed. This is echoed by what Margaret says about children going out, campaigning for and recruiting other children into school, with Kibera being left behind at a national level, they are taking a pro-active stance and attempting to resolve issues for themselves.
Margaret mentions that her school provides meals for pupils which she has said ‘noticeably improves concentration and quality of learning’.
Kibera faces many of the same issues as other developing communities in Africa, inequality, lack of resources etc. but it is the community spirit of its children and exemplum like Margaret that are sustaining its educational structures and highlighting how highly regarded and important education is to its residents.
For many children, school is a safe, happy environment that means education and friendship. It is generally accepted that a happy school environment is contusive to quality education and learning. However, for many children in Syria, school has come to symbolise a place of fear after their places of learning were destroyed by direct attacks and bombings.
This week’s teacher is Mohammed, who teaches in Zaatari refugee camp in Syria. Mohammed has a university degree and 12 years teaching experience. The school and village he taught in was destroyed by conflict between groups, Mohammed described how ‘They bombed the whole village that time and they destroyed the school because it was in the area’, after this, Mohammed went to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.
Zaatari houses 25,000 children who are of school age, some of whom have missed up to 3 years of education because of conflict in their native countries. Sadly, this is a trend for children from countries affected by conflict, half of the 57 million children globally who are out of education come from countries affected by conflict. When conflict arises, education is often overlooked and pushed aside.
Mohammed says ‘Zaatari is a massive, massive place. It takes a couple of hours to walk across the camp.’ Naturally, providing resources for a camp this size is a struggle and that is Mohammed’s primary concern regarding education within the camp ‘Our main problems are the shortage of text books, we need boards and markers…The school doesn’t look like a school. I want a yard where children can play. We want our school to look like other schools.’
Being able to play and having sufficient resources would help the children who have been affected by conflict would not doubt ease the trauma and psychological damage that they have suffered. Mohammed points out that there are ‘many aggressive students because of the situations they faced during the crisis’. There are centres established to help children deal with the trauma they have suffered but Mohammed has said ‘we still need more support’.
Mohammed hopes to himself and his children back to Syria soon but has stated that if they are staying in the refugee camp for the foreseeable future then more aid is needed to improve conditions.
This week’s Teacher Tuesday saw Nahida, a headteacher from Kabul, Afghanistan explaining the difficulties education in her country faced under the Taliban government and the knock-on effect the previous government’s policy has had on primary education and teaching gaps, especially among women.
At present, Afghanistan has the greatest gender disparity for lower secondary education completion. The issue of gender is only exacerbated by the divide between young people living in urban/rural areas, this is sadly typical of education in developing countries.
Nahida herself graduated from Kabul University in the late 1980’s and became a teacher. When the Taliban government came to power in 1996, they closed girls for schools and prevented female teachers, like Nahida, from teaching.
Rather than simply accepting this injustice, Nahida bravely opposed government policy and started a home-school for girls. This was, of course, done unofficially and in secret because of the great risk to Nahida, her pupils and their parents.
After the Taliban government fell in 2001, Nahida returned to her primary school to find it a shell of its former structure. Nahida and her fellow teachers cleaned the classrooms and rebuilt the structures with mud and stones.
Nahida found it difficult to get young girls to return to school, the cultural effect that previous government had left in place had done a lot of damage and Nahida described girls’ return to her school as ‘slow’. She targeted families and mosques to ensure as many young people were brought into school as possible.
Of, course, where there is a lack of female completion of secondary school, there will inevitably be a lack of female teachers. Completing secondary education is the minimum requirement for becoming a teacher in Afghanistan and Afghanistan sorely needs female teachers to act as role-models for their young pupils, to encourage and nurture them and to show education does work.
However, it is not simply the legacy of Afghanistan’s previous government that is causing these deficiencies, there is also the issue of conflict and insurgency in the country. If insurgents attack a school, regardless of where it is in the country, parents will keep their children home for days, fearing for their lives. This is more likely in rural communities where there is less security and policing for residents and children.
However, despite the difficulties and the threats, Nahida continues to work tirelessly to deliver female education in Afghanistan. She is a paragon who, for 25 years, has continued teaching because she knows the power and the value of education. Education transforms lives and provides people with the skills they need to provide for themselves.
Week 2 of #TeacherTuesday saw Natalee from Honduras discussing the issue of multilingualism in the classroom and the effects of language and learning styles not being catered for.
Honduras has the greatest divide in basic reading achievement in children in Central and South America. The cause of this divide is primarily due to language barriers and restrictions. The main language spoken on the mainland of Honduras is Spanish while English is primarily spoken on its outlying Bay Islands.
Natalee teaches on the Bay Islands and points out that language and ethnicity are deeply intertwined, it is not merely a language barrier that exists in this teaching environment but also culture and religion. ‘Some chant, some are more evangelistic, some appreciate connections with the ground and Earth’ Natalee incorporates the latter into her lesson plans by counting seeds in maths or studying local coral reefs in science.
Natalee says ‘A multicultural, multilingual classroom needs multiple modes of teaching.’ Teachers need to respond to the children making up their classroom and integrate that response into their teaching methods, she told us; in other words, ‘placing the child at the centre of the process.’
With this pupil-centric, inclusive methodology, Natalee succeeds in encouraging diversity among her students and dispelling myths that ‘if you speak a particular language, you are less important than others’, with a tolerant and inclusive approach to culture, language barriers can be overcome through participation and co-operation.
94% of majority language-speaking children were able to attain basic literacy while only 62% of minority language children achieved the same minimum level. Unfortunately, dropout rates are also correlated with minority languages and poverty. Poor students who speak a minority language were among the lowest scorers in means-standard testing and 84% of the richest young people will go on to finish secondary education compared with only 10% of the poorest.
2015 is Honduras’ ‘Año de la Inclusión’, year of inclusion. It is evident that inclusivity and harmony are vital if we are to see teachers helping pupils overcome cultural and language barriers and deliver quality education for every child around the world.