Distance learning

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Jerome Monahan hears how a teacher's work in Africa is making a difference here

After two terms at Thamesview School, Kent, visiting Australian maths and science teacher Nadia Baker went travelling to Africa.

"The trip took me from Kenya to South Africa and gave a pretty sanitised view of life on the continent except on the one occasion in Malawi when we ventured to a remote village called Kande. What I witnessed there made me determined to return," she says.

Her holidays over, return she did - volunteering as a Year 8 teacher confronted each morning with a class of 120 pupils and only a single textbook between them. Nadia slept on the floor of a hut, washed from a bucket and ate the nsima corn meal (and little else most days) that was the staple diet for the people of the village. She also succumbed to a serious bout of conjunctivitis compounded by malaria, which gave her an experience of primary care in rural Africa: "The doctor had to beg a pen and paper off me to write a prescription for a cream that did nothing."

Back in Britain, and teaching again at Thamesview, Nadia presented a PowerPoint show about her experiences. It had a profound effect on the pupils. As well as leading to an exchange of letters between Thamesview and Kande children, an Africa Day was arranged in April.

The Irie Dance Theatre company provided African dance and drumming sessions and the pupils raised pound;800 for books and stationery for Kande school.

Africa was also embedded across the curriculum and, given Nadia's specialisation, particularly strongly in maths. "We aimed them at our Year 8 and 9 classes," says Nadia. "One teacher explored symmetry using African national flags, while another devised a geometry exercise involving the location of an artesian well relative to a number of families living certain distances from the polluted local river. As well as honing their mathematical skills, this work underlined the daily problem for people in Kande and across Africa - getting and transporting fresh water."

Water also featured in another lesson where the class had to calculate the number of bucketfuls and the distance travelled from well to home to fill a bath or take a shower, a way of emphasising the effort it would take to equal the casual consumption we indulge in every day.

There were also Africa-themed lessons in geography, English, drama and French. Nadia is due to return to Australia, but she is keen that the Africa Day should remain a part of Thamesview School's calendar.

* IRIE Dance Theatre www.irie.inuk.com

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