A classroom with walls made of clay, three students to a small wooden desk that gives them splinters, and one teacher for 60 students.
A classroom surrounded by brick walls and bright windows, a student with their own desk and chair, and a teacher for 25 students.
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.
An all-girl high school in Kenya teaches girls biology, English, math, and other subjects which we would consider “normal” in our Ontario curriculum.
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.
I 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 their 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.
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.