After 9 weeks of reading and writing about teachers from across the world as a part of the #TeacherTuesday blog project, I have had the chance to get a glimpse of some of the challenges and success stories when it comes to education. The idea of #TeacherTuesday was to profile the stories of teachers from Kenya, Honduras, Bangladesh, Australia, Afghanistan, Syria, Malawi, the Netherlands and South Africa while addressing some of the findings from the Education for All Global Monitoring report.
Each story was unique and each teacher gave me a sense that there are people who are invested in making the education of children across the world as meaningful as possible given the environment they are within. Each story was also an opportunity for me to grapple with the questions I have about education, some remain unanswered.
Esnart from Malawi was the first teacher I wrote about. Her story made me realised that there are teachers who work within limitations but inspire a generation of teachers as Esnart was inspired by one of her teachers during her school years and thus she became a teacher. The irony is that her students have no desire of becoming teachers in spite of the obvious challenges in Malawi that are directly linked to the shortage of teachers. I find it ironic that now more than ever we need teachers but there are dwindling numbers and a lack of interest in the profession.
Lessons from Honduras made me realise a little more that South Africa is not special in its challenges with language policy in schools. Inclusion and exclusion happens on many levels in our schools and without a clear plan to negotiate the language issue in our school, transformative education is simply an ideal. Teaching children in a language seems to be a no-brainer. But even countries like Australia get it wrong and children from Aboriginal communities lag behind in literacy and numeracy when compared to children in Australia who are taught in their mother tongue.
Education in Afghanistan, and any country recovering from a violent past, is in a precarious position. Especially if one is a born a girl. The gender disparity in education in developing countries makes me realise more and more that there’s a case for feminism: for as long as the education of a boy matters more in some countries, then men and women will never be equal in such contexts. And given how porous our borders are in a fast-changing world, the problem of gender inequality in Afghanistan can easily spill over and become my problem, even though I am all the way in South Africa. If young boys in Afghanistan (and across other nations where gender inequality persists) that is a problem that can create problems for future generations.
Displacement is one of the silent side-effects of war and conflict and often we take it for granted. Wars are reported on a grand scale of the number of deaths, the negotiations that take place in fancy and remote buildings. We seldom hear about the lives that are being disrupted. We know intuitively while reading or hearing about war that the lives of those who manage to survive will never be the same again. This is the case with educationin Syria where refugee camps have been set up to ensure that the education of children affected by war can continue, within great limitations imposed by a context such as a refugee camp.
Education has meant different things for each generation. When formal education began to take shape it was for the purpose of highlighting the different classes that exist in a given society and quality education was often reserved for the upper classes. Education has now become a means to an end that will end the class struggle that still exists. In Kenya, education is a means to improve the lives of those who live in abject poverty. Without an escape from poverty children in the slums of Kibera will be stuck in the poverty trap that comes with being poor and receiving a poor education.
It is interesting to note that there isn’t one single story to tell when we consider developing countries across the world. While most of the children in Africa don’t get a quality education unless they are in privileged pockets of the continent, countries such as India and Bangladesh are using technology in ways that enhance access to education especially for poor communities. Attempts such as floating schools cannot be replicated everywhere but the can definitely be used as inspiration for what is possible when education is made a priority despite the limitations that exist in poor areas.
But there are also countries who seem to be getting education right. Developed countries such as the Netherlands have different problems: professional development of teachers. Teaching is a competitive and highly sought after profession which means that teachers are regarded differently. The small gap between the rich and the poor makes education more meaningful as education has a different value in such a country because it is not simply a means to an end.
Reflections and lessons from across the world can help us gain perspective for solving our education challenges especially in South Africa. There is nothing new under the sun and in South Africa it would be in our best interest to keep our eyes open and consider what is happening in other countries, as the lessons are both here and abroad.