Globalisation and Student Learning in Tanzania

Student Debate at Katoke, 2011

In July 2011 I had the privilege of travelling to the Katoke-Lweru Secondary School, on the western coast of Lake Victoria,Tanzania. I went with other educators and my family, to conduct professional development with and for principals and teachers of East Africa. As part of our visit we took part in a debate on globalisation with the senior students of Katoke-Lweru Secondary School.

Numerous citizens in the Katoke-Lweru region experience poverty. Wolfgang Sachs noted in 1992 that ‘poverty’ should be renamed as either frugality, scarcity or destitution. A frugal life is a positive and respectful one, where the person chooses to be poor. Scarcity results from flood, fire or other disaster. It brings about poor conditions for a time, but a plentiful harvest or economic turn for the good can end the troubles. It is the grind of destitution, relentless systematised powerlessness, that destroys people.

In the Katoke region some people experience destitution. Their harvests are small and the prices they receive for them are low. Regular meals are not guaranteed, medical care is limited, education is relatively costly.

I should not have been surprised that the topic for our debate was Is globalisation harmful to the younger generation? These teenagers live in a community that wonders why their hard work does not reap rewards. They also see the possibilities that open markets bring. I should also have not doubted the capacity of these students to consume and construct knowledge. It was clear from the discussion in the debate that these young people want to participate fully in the new global community. They are self-disciplined and they argue with clarity and feeling.

Education is certainly essential to the future of this region and the principal and staff at Katoke are doing an outstanding job. It is, however, very difficult for these Tanzanians to improve their economic standing. Even though Katoke is one of the best resourced schools in the area, the strange structure and order of subjects in the state curricula, the fact that students change from learning  in Kiswahili in Year 6 to learning in English in Year 7, and the limited access they have to resources, all counts against them.

At the present time, only a few are able to matriculate to University.

PLC Sydney students are seeking to develop positive and reciprocal relationships with the students of Katoke. We hope to send our first team of parents and students there in 2013. The task of building a school that changes the outcomes not only for the students who attend it, but for local citizens, is a long and arduous one. It will be years before significant numbers of graduates  return with their skills to the western shores of Lake Victoria. Associate Professor Alan Watson received the Order of Australia last week because of his work alongside local educators such as Pastor Habimana, and principal Mr Sid Moir in establishing Katoke. He is the change he is seeking to see in the world. Katoke is a project shared by churches, universities and citizens in both Tanzania and Australia. It is a young and vibrant school, and Associate Professor Watson is a worthy recipient of the honour he received on 26th January, 2012.


Some thoughts about Rhyme and Narrative for Younger Children

In Linda Lear’s biography of Beatrix Potter she notes that the Victorian naturalist and children’s book author spent a significant amount of time memorising literature (p.95). In 1894 whilst on holidays she committed four acts of Henry XIII to memory. That same year she learned six other Shakespearean plays by heart as well as sections of the Old Testament.

We might think at the start of the 21st Century that to be relatively wealthy in Victorian England must have been deathly dull, cluttered and stimulated as we are by twitters and blogs and messages. Yet is this the case?

There is something enlivening and joyous about words.

There are still those who commit long passages to memory, be it The Gospel of Luke, or a section from a Shakespearean play, or a Monty Python skit.

How do we enable our children to really enjoy language? Language is a fascinating thing, and the person who loves both rhetoric and literature carries with her a gift that enriches her life and the lives of the people with whom she communicates. Learning occurs in tiny little increments. Links form in the brain. As our children listen to writing that is witty or poignant they imbibe the structures of the language. Language is taught and caught. It can help them to write with thought and feeling, to enjoy the nuance in life.

Many have suggested that early exposure to rhyme and rhythm, to alliteration and assonance and juxtaposition, is important. Australian poet Les Murray claims that poetry is ‘the only whole thinking’ (Poetry and Religion). Children love to sit up in bed and hear a story well read. The parent who is able to capture the lilt and rhythm of a few sentences soon finds the child echoing his style. We all know that children love good picture books. It is also important to expose them to poetry early.

And don’t worry if the child doesn’t understand all of the words you are reading. Can you remember a time when you learnt a line off by heart but didn’t understand it? It can encourage the child to let the words roll around in her mind, to ponder their meaning, to guess how best to pause before them and how to pronounce them with emphasis.

Every person will have their favourite poet. The ones we love best are the ones best to share. If you are new to poetry might I suggest the following poems. They are, I confess, some of the ones I love and have recited to my children.

Tennyson: The Lady of Shalott

Frost: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Hilaire Belloc: Matilda

Blake: The Tyger

Hopkins: God’s Grandeur; The Windhover, Spring, Pied Beauty

Murray: Broad Bean Sermon

Chesterton: The Donkey

I chose to read a mix of grown-up and children’s poetry to our girls. They still love these poems. There are many websites featuring anthologies for children.