Sunday, June 17, 2012

Teaching is an education in Tanzania

Expat John Salberg rose to the challenge of 50 in a class, and pupils who did not understand a word he was saying when he took a job teaching in Tanzania.

A typical Tanzanian classroom
A classroom in Zanzibar, Tanazania Photo: Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Alamy
As a teacher in a large UK comprehensive, I was starting to fall out of love with my profession. I needed a challenge and an adventure. The list of possibilities was endless; with the world literally open to me, I could choose an exotic location. After a few months, I arrived in a small rural town in the mid-west of Tanzania - not the most exotic place, but certainly an adventure. I was the school’s new English language teacher.
I was prepared for culture shock, but I was not expecting the rollercoaster of experiences and emotions that came my way. My new life was a far cry from suburbia.
My first lesson painted a wonderful reflection of the journey I was embarking on. As I entered the classroom, armed with only two sticks of chalk, I was greeted by 50 smiling faces, standing in unison. “Good morning, sir”. What a pleasant change to having to chase students into class, and being greeted with more flamboyant and colourful prose. My joy was short lived. Within minutes, the smiles had turned to frowns and looks of confusion.
In Tanzania, all secondary education is taught using the medium of English, but in primary schools, Swahili is spoken. The teaching of English begins at primary school, but that also requires first, a teacher to be present at the school, and secondly, a teacher who speaks English. To put this in perspective, the ratio of teachers to students in primary schools is 1:52 compared with the UK’s 1:18.
So what of my class of 50 smiles and keen eyes? Ten fortunate students had been to a private English medium school and were on their way to fluency. The majority had a very basic understanding, and 15 or so exhibited severe panic when I said “hello”. This makes keeping Ofsted happy by preparing work for different abilities seem like a walk in the park.

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