On Friday one of my good friends from elementary school came over to show me pictures from her most recent trip to Africa. She'd been in Kenya in the Peace Corps a few years ago and she went back this year to see more of the continent and visit her old village.
My slight education obessession came through when the pictures I had the most questions about where not the amazing close-up shots she had of elephants, zebras, lions, and gorillas, but of the two schools she visited.
I love looking at pictures of schools from other countries. I love getting a better understanding of where our students come from when they enter our US schools for the first time. What they consider the norm can be so different than what we expect. It's so important for us as teachers to remember where our students come from.
One school was built from what looked like small trees. The walls were walls in name only- they most likely didn't keep wind, rain, or anything else for that matter out. It looked as though the straw-pig and the stick-pig got together to build a school.The children sat on wooden benches that were clearly made from tree stumps that hadn't been moved when the trees themselves were cut down. The teacher was teaching with a baby hanging off her back in a sling. (OK, I know I complained about going back to work after 3 months but at least I didn't have to do it with the baby. And the baby looked pretty small so there is a good chance it was younger than 3 months.) The children looked happy and I was in awe staring at the picture knowing that some of my students at the think-tank who'd recently immigrated from Africa attended schools like that.
The other school in her old village in Kenya appeared to be in a more secure structure. The children sat in real desks and a number line hung from the ceiling- each number written on the back of a margarine tub top (which, by the way, is a brilliant idea- brightly colored red and yellow number line- if it was in America it would be on Pinterest so fast...). The students there also looked happy and engaged.
One school was self-sustaining and one relied heavily on outside support. The group she was with had brought a white board for the students at the heavily supported, which is great, she pointed out, until the dry erase markers dry up and then the board becomes completely and utterly useless. If you'd asked me to guess which school was self-sustaining I would have thought it was the first school, but no, it was the one with a more secure building, and teachers who obviously were being as creative as they can with what they had.
It was eye opening to see the difference between the schools and to think about how we need to support those we help- helping schools and people become self-sustaining is more meaningful than creating environments where people continue to rely on outside support.
I clearly was not there myself and I do not have all the facts, but it was fascinating to listen to her discuss the differences in the two schools. The schools served very different populations as well, which cannot be overlooked. The past two days I've found myself thinking about the vast differences in the pictures and what they represent.