'I have 65 pupils and five books'

25th March 2005 at 00:00
Exchange brings Pretoria teacher to UK, while Rotherham counterpart says she will 'never ever complain again'

Johanna Ntuli looks around her in amazement. The classes are much smaller than the one she teaches and every pupil has access to computers and as many books as they need.

It is a far cry from Sikhanyifele primary, in the Manelodi East township of Pretoria, where she works. "I have 65 10-year-olds in my class, and only five textbooks so you can imagine how difficult it is," she said. "Pupils and teachers seem to have everything here. We have nothing."

Ms Ntuli is on an exchange visit to Dinnington community primary, in Rotherham, organised after Sheila Ralph, the deputy head, went to South Africa on a British Council-organised visit.

Aids has touched the lives of four out of 10 pupils at Sikhanyifele, and children live in extreme poverty. Dinnington, in South Yorkshire, mainly has white pupils from a former mining area with relatively high levels of deprivation, Ms Ralph said.

Ms Ntuli runs a community project where families are given a small plot of land at the school to grow vegetables for food, or to buy and sell bread and other items. "Many children come into school hungry, which is not good for learning," she said. "But the good thing is that our children are dedicated and they value education."

Sikhanyifele has one office computer and the two schools now want to set up email links. They also hope their pupils will write to each other.

Children at Dinnington are also planning fund-raising events to help the South African school to buy books and other resources.

Ms Ralph visited South Africa last year and said her experience of schools in Soweto, Pretoria and Limpopo opened her eyes. "The experience has changed me as a teacher. I will never, ever complain again. Teachers there have little but their sheer dedication to help children learn," she said.

The links between Dinnington and Sikhanyifele will be used to supplement global citizenship lessons and a new creative curriculum being developed at the Yorkshire primary.

Ms Ralph said: "Our pupils are in awe of the stories they have heard from me, and Johanna, about what life is like for children in South Africa.

"This is an excellent opportunity to break down barriers and introduce cultural diversity.

"The children really want to get involved and do what they can to help.

They understand better now about poverty and that there are children in need who are not as well off as they are."

Links such as those between Dinnington and Sikhanyifele schools have the support of ministers who want every school in England to be twinned with one overseas within five years.

The TES Make the Link campaign aims to boost pupils' awareness of global issues by promoting connections with schools abroad.

The aim is to encourage British schools to set up partnerships worldwide, developing curriculum ideas and learning about each other using technology such as email and video-conferencing.

LETTER FROM UGANDA 25

Details about our campaign at www.tes.co.ukMake_the_LinkIf you have an innovative link, tell us about it by emailing: Make_the_Link@tes.co.uk

* dorothy.lepkowska@tes.co.uk

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