Since coming back to Ed Damer after the Eid break, I have had a packed timetable. I go to several schools, both boys and girls and have been very struck by the contrasts between them.
Contrary to Western preconceptions, even though this is a strongly Islamic area, the standards in the two girls’ schools are very much higher than in the boys’ schools and the students are much more ambitious. The teachers encourage their aspirations and are keen to help. One school has had an English Society for extra conversation for several years and tries to make the curriculum as interesting as possible. The other school is moving in the same direction. The girls at both these schools are very forthright about their desire to go to university and have a career. They consider speaking English to be an important aspect of this. If they see me outside class, they ‘pounce’ so they can get a bit of extra English practice.
By contrast, boys’ schools tend to lack motivation. The classes are dull and the students noticeably become less interested as they go through school. In one school I was told that part of the problem is that many of the boys come from poor families and have to work after school every day. In another school (where after-school work is less of a problem) the situation is similar, so this is not the whole picture. By the last year, some boys have become quite oppositional. I think a lot of the problem is a teaching method that does not have any ‘kinaesthetic’ aspects. The boys are made to sit for hours in the same overcrowded classroom, while the teacher drones on, reading without understanding from very boring textbooks (see my last blog post). In the classes where I get them to do physical activities (for example, Simon Says) and catching a ball to answer a question, the boys cheer up and really start to participate. When I have suggested starting an English club however, the teachers have claimed a lack of time. I think this shows an attitude from the teachers, which bears a lot of the responsibility for the low morale of the boys.
Having come to this very negative opinion of Sudanese boys' school, I was invited to a boys' technical school. I arrived with very low expectations. Technical schools are at the bottom of the heap educationally as the boys all failed their end of basic school exams (the equivalent of the old ‘11 plus’ in the UK). They have an academic timetable but also construction skills, carpentry, metal work etc. Technical schools receive less funding from the Ministry of Education. The expectation is that the boys will go into trades rather than university. People are generally very dismissive both of the boys and of the technical schools. However, at this particular school I found an English teacher who is very charismatic and is clearly a favourite with his pupils. He uses a comic approach, and often interacts with the boys rather than just talking ‘at’ them. He is very sensitive to whether they understand or not, and goes to great lengths to help them. What a difference that makes! The boys do have a lower level of English than at my girls’ schools, but really try hard. Last week, they came to find me when they were having a building lesson, so I could tell them the names of their equipment in English. To me, this shows motivation. The teacher proudly told me that for the last four years, even if the boys failed their other academic subjects, they passed English.As an SVP volunteer, my task is to make changes to the way English is taught in Sudan. It is a massive task but it is great to see that it is possible.