Taking inspiration from Uganda

Global teacher Marie Thomas is using African artefacts to transform multicultural teaching in Bradford

Children at Westbourne primary school in Bradford have a special clap for when they have had a good lesson: it ends with the palm of one hand sliding off the other and shooting skywards in a joyful salute.

It's something they've learned from teacher Marie Thomas and she in turn learned it from children she worked with at Kihande Mos, a school in Masindi, Uganda. Marie Thomas went there for five weeks last summer on the Global Teachers Millennium Awards Scheme run by Link Community Development. The visit was to help the school with development planning, but also to collect materials for teaching children in the UK about Africa. She stayed with the school's deputy head in a poor, rural area of Uganda, but was struck by the vivacity of the Ugandan children and the way much there is taught through singing and rhyme. She was also struck by how Muslim and Christian children lived and were educated together very peaceably. She said: "Coming from Bradford that was very inspirational. There were so many positive things I could bring back with me."

In fact, Marie Thomas had been sent out to Uganda with a "shopping list" of artefacts to bring back, by Bradford's Development Education Centre, funded by the Department for International Development. Together they are producing artefacts boxes along with lesson plans for literacy, geography, music and citizenship projects. But as well as the musical instruments, household goods and batik work, she also brought videos she had made of the children singing and playing.

She says: "I wanted to show how African children stand and perform, I wanted to give an impression of their presence and confidence as well as how the instruments sound and are played."

Since her return, she has developed three artefacts boxes with Sally Toddle, project co-ordinator for global education at the Bradford Development Education Centre: musical instruments for Years 5 and 6, including harps and shakers; a box of objects to accompany a literacy project on Handa's Surprise, a picture book by Eileen Browne about a Ugandan girl's visit to a friend; and a box of household objects to accompany Years 1 to 3 literacy and geography projects based on the picture book Mary, Juma and Simba the Dog by Helen Day and Chitra Parvathy Merchant (ActionAid).

In the literacy project pupils will be able to look at a stove made from a wheel hub that she brought back, an African sandal, musical instruments made from old exhaust pipes or bean pods, an oil lamp and place mats and, by working through the story, look at the issue of recycling. With Handa's Surprise she uses a batik picture with reception class children to show the ways people carry food, water and babies.

At Midland Road Nursery, close to Westbourne primary in Manningham, teachers had taken the theme of Handa's Surprise and used one of Marie Thomas's artefacts boxes to explore housing (a hut had been made in one of the nursery classrooms out of corrugated cardboard), food, music and artwork in that part of Africa.

Up to 99 per cent of the children at Westbourne primary are of Asian origin. Marie Thomas feels her visit to Uganda has become a powerful learning tool on many fronts. She says: "What has also worked well is that I worked in a Muslim school in a place that was not Pakistan, or India or England, but Africa. That has been a way in. The children have been very receptive to learning about this other culture."


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