Roger Mitchell writes:
New experiences for the six teachers from Sierra Leone who have been working in their partner schools for the last week include not only the amazing facilities enjoyed by British schoolchildren but the vicissitudes of the English weather – from warm sunshine to massive thunderstorms.
Beyond the classroom the visitors were introduced to and much enjoyed some of Hastings’ cultural and traditional attractions. Crazy Golf, Fish and Chips, Morris Dancing and a historical tour of the Old Town taking in the Fish Festival were all part of their programme.
The serious business of the visit was, of course, introducing Hastings pupils to a very different culture at first hand from those who live it. Finding out something of what it is to grow up in a country under such different conditions is an important part of preparing them to become global citizens who seek to understand and respect others whatever their background. Amirah, a teacher from St Mary Magdalen School in Bexhill said, “Having an African teacher with me in class really brought our learning about Africa alive”. Staff at the same school found that, “The visit has made an impact not only on the school but on the community and Parish that we serve”.
For the visiting teachers themselves it has been a time to study different approaches to learning and the opportunity to reflect on their own practice. One day was spent in a workshop led by Isabel Hodger, one of the Sierra Leone Friendship Link’s Education Schools Liaison Officers. She shared experience gained as a County Mathematics Adviser and Primary Headteacher, as well as years working in education in Ethiopia. Questions such as “what makes a good teacher?” and “what makes a good school?” led to lively discussion and targets for future action. Time was also devoted to thinking through techniques for teaching mathematics in large classes with minimal facilities.
All schools in the twelve partnerships are currently working together on the theme “Zero Waste”. Issues such as waste reduction and management, the reuse of materials and finding ways of limiting energy usage are receiving much more attention as a result.
Bernadette from Edest Preparatory School in Jui remarked, “I was really impressed by the confidence of the children involved in Pupil Voice”, while Patricia from Jui Upper Primary noticed how well children were able to use their times-tables. Sia Mbaya, the Head of Huntingdon Secondary School in Allen Town, was somewhat encouraged to find children to be the same the world over, “just as naughty sometimes in the UK as in Sierra Leone, but lovely nonetheless!”, she said.
The teachers were delighted to be welcomed at the Town Hall by the Mayor, Cllr. Nigel Sinden and his Deputy, Cllr. James Bacon. A chance to sense something of the long and proud history of the Borough of Hastings and its Mayoralty greatly impressed them.
Schools in Hastings UK are now keenly anticipating next February, when a number of teachers will be travelling to spend time with their partners in the Hastings area of Sierra Leone. During this visit teachers will be able to discuss with each other how their experiences and intentions from Isabel’s workshops are being realised in their classrooms
The Link is really grateful to the British Council whose grants and inspirational training materials make these exchanges possible and valuable. This year, all the partnerships that applied were awarded grants, a tribute to the hard work and planning by the teachers concerned.
Roger Mitchell, who helps to coordinate these links said, “I wish we could do more to impress our pupils in the UK to pursue education with the passion we see in many Sierra Leonean children and to appreciate more the amazing privileges we enjoy in the UK”. There were signs of hope when a boy said, “speaking with African teachers made me realise how lucky we are, with all the equipment and books that we have”.