Schools Reflecting Society and Their Times: Experience in Kenya

A classroom with walls made of clay, three students to a small wooden desk that gives them splinters, and one teacher for 60 students. Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 6.34.45 PM

A classroom surrounded by brick walls and bright windows, a student with their own desk and chair, and a teacher for 25 students.

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Which classroom would you prefer to teach in? Which classroom have you taught in? These classrooms are both a reality for teachers, but these teachers live in different cities… countries… continents…

I have experienced both classrooms. As those who know me are aware, I have visited schools in a variety of countries including: Kenya, China, Ecuador, India and of course,  Canada. Each of these countries has their own unique school system, with their own classroom structure and their own goals. Some understand the importance of education, others are still learning.

  Schools are a reflection of their society and their times. Each school system, each country, teaches what they believe to be important. For some countries this may look similar, for others it may look vastly different.

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An all-girl high school in Kenya teaches girls biology, English, math, and other subjects which we would consider “normal” in our Ontario curriculum.

 

 

DCIM101GOPROGOPR3827.But the school also teaches proper farming and irrigation techniques which girls then pass on and teach their parents. The school also segregates time for students to learn about their traditional Kipsigi or Maasai culture from their mothers each week. Two “subjects” which are not traditional in our Ontario Education system

What we educate our students about correlates with what we value in our current society and our current community.

As a community grows, their schools grow with it. In Ontario, this may look a school with an increasing population, receiving more monetary funds to improve their school with the newest technologies. Or, a school whose extra-curricular activities are focused more on community issues and interests at hand. While it may be more challenging to see a well-developed school change on a continuum, it is much easier to look at schools around the world, which reflect our own history.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 6.59.43 PMI bring a personal experience here to reflect the changes of a school in a local Kenya community. The community of Irkaat is a community I visited which is partnered with a charitable organization called We. The school has been partnered with the organization since 2013.

As the organization has worked with the community to improve infrastructure and general education (not just traditional schooling), there have been vast changes within theirDCIM101GOPROGOPR3956. primary school. School was not a priority for most families. Nor, were the community built, clay classrooms, appealing to those who wanted to go to school. As the community began to learn the importance of education and was educated about alternative income options their education system began to grow. In January of 2015 the school opened their FIRST grade 8 classroom, and for the first time in history they would have grade eight students write the national exam that is mandatory for high school placements.

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In the past few years the community went from having a school of approximately 450 students that could only complete up to grade 7 to over 600 students that can now finish grade 8 in classrooms that have concrete walls and windows to help keep them focused. This is accompanied with a community that is making strides in getting more access to health care and clean water, Irkaat is only looking to grow stronger. So, as the community continues to grow their education system will to.

When talking about society and their times, I look at the bigger picture and see every community around the world as its own society. Some societies are very similar but others are very different. What surrounds the school is what will influence the school. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when you look at what a school reflects, and all of these factors are unique to the school’s community.

 

 

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Free the Children

As the world becomes more diverse and connected I believe it is important to start teaching from a global perspective. As a future primary/junior teacher I hope to incorporate both a global and multicultural literacy to my classroom. Both of these literacies link back to global education. Global literacy involves creating “settings that foster students’ understanding of the intersection between their lives and global issues and their sense of responsibility as local and global citizens” (Nair et al., 2012, p. 56). While multicultural literacy “consists of the skills and ability to identify the creators of knowledge and their interests, to uncover the assumptions of knowledge from diverse ethnic and cultural perspectives, and to use knowledge to guide action that will create a humane and just world” (Banks, 2003, p. 3). With these definitions in mind, I would use the following website in my classroom to help my students develop each literacy and become global citizens

The Free the Children (FTC) website contains a variety of information for global educators. FTC is an international charity that works towards empowering youth to become agents of change in both a national and international context. The FTC website hosts a variety of resources that teachers can use, such as a weekly social issue based column, lesson plans and kits. The Junior World Changers Kit found at found in the “resources, curriculum, and lesson plans” section of “get involved” is oriented towards a younger age group.

JWCThis resource provides the teacher with a full set of lesson plans that can introduce students to social justice issues, citizenship, and becoming engaged in both local and global settings, as well as level appropriate information guides for the countries FTC is involved with. While this resource is something I would use in a primary classroom, it is not something I would recommend for intermediate and higher. If a teacher believes their classroom is too advanced for the Junior World Changers Kit, the FTC website has a “Library of Resources” in which you can find lessons and resources based on the grade, class subject, topic, the country you are teaching in and the language you speak. Although I should mention that currently FTC only has education resources for Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, an educator from other countries could use these resources and revise the lessons towards their curriculum.

I already have a background knowledge of Free the Children and Me to We, which is why I think this resource would be an excellent addition to my classroom. There are things I would tweak, in order to ensure student’s are learning about the important aspects and not the consumer identity, but it is great way to incorporate my past trips and experiences with me to we into the classroom and make my stories more relevant for my students.

Going Glocal

Okay, I have to say this is a great development for me, I actually wanted to write this blog today, for the sole purpose of writing about something I enjoy. For those who do not know me, I am a big global education and participation activist. I guess this interest began with my desire to volunteer internationally. In grade 11 I was provided the opportunity to participate in an International Development trip run by a small program called HOPE (Home, Opportunity, Prosperity & Education). This program began as a recovery program for families who were severely affected by a hurricane in the Dominican Republic.

This family originally lived isolated in the mountains, in an ‘establishment’ comparable to a mud hut with banana tree leaves as the roof, only eating one meal every two to three days. Through conversation with Juan Antonio one day, he expressed his thanks for our group building his house, he left us with these words, as I will leave them with you, “No one has ever done anything for me in my life, which is why this is so important to me. Thank you very much for finding me and coming back to ensure I got a house, and please, never forget me.”
This family originally lived isolated in the mountains, in an ‘establishment’ comparable to a mud hut with banana tree leaves as the roof, only eating one meal every two to three days. Through conversation with Juan Antonio one day, he expressed his thanks for our group building his house, he left us with these words, as I will leave them with you, “No one has ever done anything for me in my life, which is why this is so important to me. Thank you very much for finding me and coming back to ensure I got a house, and please, never forget me.”

HOPE stood for more than just those four words, HOPE providing people with dignity, working towards solidarity, promoting human rights and sharing the common good. It meant making a difference not only in our lives, but in somebody elses. It meant providing people with dignity, working towards solidarity, promoting human rights and sharing the common good. There were certain events and people on my first trip that made the experience unforgettable, and drove me to continue my participation in international trips. After my first trip I participated in 3 other HOPE trips organized by student’s rather than the school between grade twelve and second year of university, building a total of 5 homes for 5 different families. Each of these trips had such profound impacts on myself, and consist of so many inspiring stories from local community members that I could write a blog on each of them (I just might).

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For example: This boy’s name is Geraldo, and when he was younger his foot was run over by a vehicle. His foot never healed properly, so he currently walks on his ankle. Not once did I see him act any different from the other kids, he ran, played soccer, danced never stopped smiling. His injury never stopped him.

My most recent international excursion was during May last year and was probably my most influential experience yet. As I’ve gone through the Brock University Con Ed program I have really learned a lot about myself as well as children and youth. In May, I went on a 3 week trip to Kenya, to participate in a community development program through Me to We.  This was the moment I was able to connect my education to my interests and future goals.

Bringing Global and Multicultural Literacy into my Personal Standpoint

During the three weeks I was there, we had the opportunity to build the foundation for the first vocational school built by the Adopt a Village campaign, while also exploring the 5 pillars of community development (education, clean water, health care, food security & alternative income), as well as our personal leadership styles.  It was during our reflections and discussions that I began developing my personal standpoint on theories and praxis of children and youth.

While I acknowledge that each of the 21st century literacies is important to incorporate into the classroom, I have a personal preference towards multicultural and global literacy. The aspect of multicultural literacy that really resonates with me, which I would love to incorporate into my classroom comes from Banks (2003) definition of multicultural literacy which aims to use the knowledge from multiple cultural perspectives to guide action in making a difference in the world we live in. I don’t want to go to into detail on how global literacy and multicultural literacy are integrated, because I have a paper for my 4P27 class which I want to focus on this, and I don’t want to be charged with plagiarism ;). But global literacy also discusses the recognition of different perspectives from multiple cultural groups around the globe. I believe I can use my previous experience to give my student’s a practical example of how it relates to our lives. I want my classroom to become GLOCAL. I want my students to be aware of both the global and the local perspectives and issues around the world, while making connections between them.

One of the Free the Children classrooms built for the elementary school in Enelerai, Kenya
One of the Free the Children classrooms built for the elementary school in Enelerai, Kenya

One resource I am very excited to explore further and implement into my classroom is the Free the Children “Junior World Changer Kit”. It contains a whole set of lessons and the foundation behind them, that teachers can incorporate into their classroom, that can connect to the curriculum. I would love to further explore and analyze these documents in the future prior to becoming a registered teacher.

I wanted to get into my knowledge and understanding of human rights, specifically child rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but I think that will be another blog, as this became more of a lengthy introduction to my background as a future teacher. I am excited to continue sharing my past and present journey’s with you all!

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Reference:

Banks, J. (2003) Teaching for Multicultural Literacy, Global Citizenship, and Social Justice. 2003 Charles Fowler Colloquium on Innovation in Arts Education. University of Maryland, College Park