Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thoughts on School

I’m learning a lot about the education system here in Kenya, and it’s been really interesting (me being a teacher and all!). The system is quite different, and I must say, Kenyan children work waaaaay harder than kids in Canada. I’ve been stunned to learn about the schedules and workloads of kids in high school (and even elementary/primary). Wow. Kids back at home have NO idea! (If you’d like to read more of what I’ve learned about the Kenyan system, click the link at the bottom of this post)

As I have been observing in the class in Mitumba, I am realizing the challenge that is before me when I go up to Korr. Education here is done mostly by rote/memorization as opposed to understanding and analysis. I definitely want to teach in a more Canadian style and encourage the students to think critically, give their own opinions, and to engage in discussions. But I also know that there is a lot of material to cover that the children must know, or they will not pass their exams. And I’m definitely trying to think creatively in the absence of many, many of the resources I am used to! I’m not sure what kid of resources are in Korr, but I know they will be scant. My time in Mitumba has been good even just to see some of what the teachers there are doing. One really great idea I have seen are posters that are in the preschool/kindergarten class. Paper is not durable and gets dirty very fast there. So instead, the teacher has taken plastic – a kind of woven sack – and used oil paints to make her charts – letters, numbers, days of the week, etc. On some of the charts, she has taken yarn and embroidered around the outside of the words, which add colour and texture, too. Because the charts are plastic, they last a long time, and can be washed when they get dirty! It’s ingenious!

As I’ve been learning about the system here, it’s been interesting to draw parallels to the education system back at home – to compare and contrast values, methods, and even politics. I’m looking forward to learning how to find a balance between bringing what I know about good teaching practice and fitting into the Kenyan system, which obviously I can not change! I already have some ideas for running teacher’s workshops in Korr once I get there. It’s funny, before leaving, I thought, “What can I possibly teach? I’m just a baby teacher myself!” But now I see that there are so many areas in which I’m excited to be able to teach teachers. One example is in teaching composition – in one class I have seen, the children (class 4) were given the topic of “My Best Friend” and left to write two paragraphs. When they were done, the teacher takes them, corrects all the mistakes, deducts a mark or a half mark for each mistake, and gives the student a mark out of twenty. AK! He knows no better, so I can’t blame him at all, but suddenly my mind lit up with things I could teach him – rubrics! Six traits! Teaching one part of writing and marking only for that! Setting kids up for success! The list goes on and on, and that’s only one part of one subject! I can’t wait to get to a more permanent placement where I can begin gather ideas and teaching both kids and other teachers. (Though don’t get me wrong, they will have much to teach me as well! The last thing I want to do is come in as a mzungu and have an “I know everything” attitude and “Here, let me change you!” Yikes!) One step at a time!

If you’d like to read more about the Kenyan education system, click here for another post.

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