April 20, 2008


How to teach a teacher to manage a class of 69 twelve year olds and to teach well at the same time? This is just one of the questions I confronted during three mornings of seminars last week. My job was to inspire, encourage and envision 24 Mozambican primary school teachers.

With classes of up to 70 students, very little room and few resources, the children do little but sit shoulder-to-shoulder on their wooden benches, hour after hour, repeating new learning parrot-fashion and copying from the board. The teachers have their routine down pat: “Sit. Stay. Be quiet” while banging a rod on the desk. The occasional ear-tugging is the back-up strategy. [One of the Year 1 classes, above, has only 36 students which is small by Mozambican standards. Their teacher is Professor Jossefa.]

I dare not judge. The largest class I’ve ever taught is 28. Back home in Australia, my classrooms had running water, air conditioning and glass in the windows. The students always had coloured pencils, paints, story books to read and room to move. Most had at least one parent or caregiver willing to read with them each evening. The teachers I worked with had finished high school and been to university.

Life in a developing nation is just that – developing. I can judge by the standards I have learned to work to in the prosperous “developed nation” from which I come. Or, I can lay aside all that is familiar and allow God to renew my thinking about such topics as education.

Education is all about finding the level of skill or knowledge in one’s students in a particular area and raising it, one small step at a time. My role here is to do the same with the teachers. And my first goal? To raise the bar of expectations the teachers have about their own jobs, and to stir up some joy. To give the teachers permission to enjoy their work and their students, as they begin to believe that a nation can be changed by quality education. And to encourage them to dream.

The teachers were given opportunity to review the basics of teaching strategies and behaviour management. I used dried beans as rewards for hard work and thoughtful input until one participant pointed out that many of them could not afford to give away even a few beans a day. Strike 1. I referred to the teachers “getting out of bed to come to work each day”, only to realise later that some of the teachers do not own a bed. Strike 2. I gave them name tags to wear only to discover that many of them did not know how to peel off the back or where to stick them. Strike 3. Ah, the great cultural divide!

The teachers are not the only ones learning slowly, one step at a time.

They were also taught to throw a frisbee and to do jigsaw puzzles. Some learned that envelopes need licking to stick, that a biro has to be pushed on the end to work and that blu tac is used to attach things to walls.

With time and thought and much prayer, I must translate my knowledge not only into a new language, but also into a form that is relevant to teachers who have only chalk and a blackboard to teach with each day and, on the whole, very limited education themselves.

Next holidays, there will be more seminars. And more games and resources and theory and strategising about how to teach 69 students all at once. Please pray for the teachers here and for their students. Developing nations, to develop, need good education. Good education comes only with great teachers. And this is my dream for them.