Buildling a Strong Foundation For Zanzibar

Travel Letters from Volunteers Matilde Nørgaard October 2015

"I wonder if there is a printer ….?" It was one of my many considerations when I decided to take a break from the Danish school for half a year at a school in Zanzibar.
When I first arrived at school, It appeared to me that there  are some issues. Why are there no doors in the class rooms? And how would i ever be able to survey 65 students at a time - especially when they wear school uniforms and head scarves and all looked alike? And when I stood by the black board for the first time, it dawned on me that nothing is understood. And it was not just because it is math I teach.

I was slightly flabbergasted when a student came and said thank you for the lessons,came the courage right back.Students stood in line to get help and I had to figure out how I could still open the world of mathematics for them without being able to tell them.
Although the conditions are modest in Zanzibar the ambitions is high. The test students must pass in 6th grade would challenge most 9th grade students in Denmark. Unfortunately challenges also the local teachers, which means that they also find it difficult to learn the basic mathematical rules to students. And if you cannot distinguish between plus and minus, it becomes incredibly difficult to have to find out the last angle in a triangle.

I therefore decided that I had to take a few steps back, and give them an understanding first I had to distinguish between "nice to know" and "Need to know" - and that there might be a difference between what was important to know in Denmark and in Zanzibar.

My first instinct was that the students could learn about space, if they had ruler in their hands. I bought a stack of rulers, and put them to measure the triangles, tables and whatever else they could measure. The pupils were completely engulfed, and, by means of pointing and showing, giving them an understanding of what is a cm and how to find eight of them. And as excited students were and so sweet to gather them in, so I got them all back again.

Then I bought a bag of chickpeas, which students could use to divide by. The girls pointed out well enough that they had to eat, and one should not play with food.But they agreed nevertheless to use them to divide by, and students quickly understood the idea of ​​dividing them into groups.

If the students really understand the principles can be hard to find out for real when we do not speak the same language. The feeling that one is fumbling in the dark, and the feeling of hopelessness can quickly arise. And despite all its good intentions, it must be true that you cannot be all the things you really wanted to be.But one can. And the bright side is there after each hour.

A proud smile when a quiet student suddenly can count minus. Students stay there longer to learn to multiply in large numbers. When we managed to get the students to explain the relationship to the other students. And last but not least,they are colleagues. Their understanding of learning is very different from my own. Their approach is often different than mine, and the cultural difference is huge. One might think that the morale was low, but often I sense the perplexity`s problem. They have difficulty understanding how to approach things and understanding the substances they have to learn.There is therefore also a major task to help them along the way and to give them ideas that they can hold on to.

Nurturing from their side is great, and I have had the pleasure of attending both EID fest, weddings and shopping at the market with them.The helpfulness and cordiality,they have at least mastered.

“ And then I could just print around the corner”.