Helping build a better future

School links thrive on personal contact, so teachers who visit Uganda and South Africa under the Global Teachers Millennium Awards Scheme are well-placed to nurture long-term friendships between schools in the north and south.

The three-year award scheme, now in its second year, run by Link Community Development, gives UK teachers the chance to spend five weeks of their summer holidays in rural schools in Uganda or South Africa. On return, they use their experiences to develop teaching materials and promote development education projects in their schools and communities. That's the theory, the reality for many is a life-changing experience that has an impact on them personally and professionally.

This summer, 32 global teachers visited junior and senior secondary schools in one of the most deprived areas of South Africa's Eastern Cape, where 24 per cent of schools have no water supply and 61 per cent have no phone. The region is part of the former Transkei homeland, with high unemployment and a legacy of poorly funded public services. Link Community Development works with the district education department to improve the quality of teaching and encourage local communities to take a more active role in school management. Self-help is at the heart of the Phakama project, says Koleka Ntantiso, the programme coordinator. Link gives schools a series of incentive grants once they have put together a management plan and organised their own community-based fundraising. The visiting teachers help with planning, training, and curriculum development. They live with families in the villages, often with the head-teacher or local chief.

Sarah May, a science teacher from The John Kitto community college, Plymouth, was posted to Tandanani senior secondary school, where there is only electricity in the principal's office, no library, phone or staff room, and only three of the six classrooms are in use. The 106 students are aged 14 to around 30 and the matriculation pass rate is two per cent. Although some days can be frustrating, Sarah May says it is a "completely unique experience". She has concentrated on introducing a wider range of teaching and learning styles, and making links with the feeder primary school. She is also helping with the science syllabus and devising practicals that require minumum equipment.

Her hosts run a small farm and shop, and like all global teachers, she's been overwhelmed by the warmth of welcome and hospitality. She loves the tranquillity of Tandanani; the long views over the dry veld, and the "amazing" sunrises and sunsets.

A couple of hours' drive west, one of last year's global teachers has returned with a team of tutors from the East Manchester Vocational Learning Centre. They were inspired to take action when they saw a video of Gcisa senior secondary school, filmed by Jenni Elliot, a special needs teacher at Medlock Valley High School, which adjoins the centre. They raised pound;12,000 for travel and tools and spent three weeks at Gcisa teaching bricklaying, decorating and joinery; skills which are desperately needed in the community. The students repaired desks and chairs, and renovated classrooms. They also fixed potholes and broken windows in a local primary school. The UK team left a well-equipped workshop, a sense of achievement, and new opportunities in an area of high unemployment.

Sarah Hampton, a maths teacher from Netherhall community school in Cambridge, is the second global teacher at Thomas Ntaba school and, like her predecessor, is working on introducing more interactive teaching styles, using role play and games which encourage children to practise English. She is also producing resources for Aids education. The school has a computer and she has taught the staff how to use Excel. She hopes to organise a modem link before she leaves, using a solar powered pay phone. Her Netherhall pupils are already very interested, she says, "It's been a real education for them as well."

Allan Strange, head of Wellesley Park primary school, Wellington, has also been giving IT training at Idyoki public school, a primary serving farming communities near Ugie, in the north-west of the province. He says he's experienced "a commitment he's never seen before" and is impressed by the enthusiasm of teachers at workshops on multi-sensory learning techniques and teaching English as a second language. The national curriculum has made UK schools seem "very grey", he says. Like many global teachers, he felt the need for a new challenge.

Richard Samela junior secondary school has no staffroom or electricity. The wind whistles through the broken windows and doors, the desks and chairs are broken and children kneel on the dirt floor to write. Their global teacher is Caroline Reynolds, from a school in special measures in Avonmouth, who has made a point of telling her South African colleagues that England is not paved with gold. One of the most rewarding aspects of the scheme, she says, is working with teachers who "believe in education for all and want to make a difference".

This year, Link has placed clusters of global teachers within reach of each other, so they meet regularly to compare notes, socialise and provide mutual support. The extent to which they have been exposed to the violence of South African society has come as a shock to some and the frequency of funerals in the villages has also caused distress. Others have found the restrictions on their personal liberty hard to come to terms with: their hosts are reluctant to let them to go anywhere unescorted.

However, Link is praised for its support and briefings, both in the UK and in South Africa where the team is 80 per cent South African, a fact which has contributed greatly to the effectiveness of their programmes, says chief executive officer, Steven Blunden.

MC

The closing date for the last round of the Global Teachers Millennium Awards Scheme is December 20. Further details on www.lcd.org.uk

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