Out of Africa with the will to succeed

14th September 2007 at 01:00
Teachers who work overseas with Third World children reap career benefits when they return

TEACHERS CAN be so invigorated by working with disadvantaged children in Africa they return eager and more able to tackle senior roles.

Nine out 10 have been stimulated to rethink their whole teaching philosophy, according to a University of Southampton study to be published next month.

It shows the teachers return to their schools well suited to cope with higher grade jobs.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is helping fund a pilot run by Voluntary Service Overseas and the National Association of Head Teachers to send heads to Namibia and Rwanda.

When VSO was founded 50 years ago, it recruited school-leavers. Now it is seeks experienced teachers and education workers. "VSO's impact doesn't just start and end in the developing world," said Judith Brodie, the UK director.

"Teachers and educationists who have done VSO come back refreshed and renewed, with valuable experience that the UK education system should acknowledge."

One teacher to benefit is Richard Griffiths who went to Ethiopia to install computers in classrooms.

He was bemused to discover that most schools did not have electricity. Children were learning to type on keyboards without power.

After a two-year stint with VSO, the IT teacher returned to his comprehensive school near Newcastle upon Tyne with new purpose. Richard, 39, enlisted the support of sixth-formers at Ryton Comprehensive to raise pound;10,000 a year to set up and run two centres for disadvantaged children in the north Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar.

The centres provide a safe environment, food and tuition for 26 children, mostly orphans who were servants or living on the streets. Semachew, 14, lost his legs to gangrene, living on the streets after his mother died. Now he has a racing wheelchair, with tyres from England, and hopes to represent Ethiopia in the 2012 Paralympics. Last month, Ryton pupils visited to celebrate the first birthday of one centre and to help build the second.

Richard Gordon, an 18-year-old ex-Ryton pupil involved in the project, has remained in Bahir Dar for three months to help local staff.

"Meeting the kids made the most impact on me," he said. "In England, teenagers sometimes don't value education very much. Here you'll see them reading exercise books in their spare time."

Mr Griffiths had inspired him to travel and then return home to study engineering, he said.

People such as Richard Griffiths are prompting the Government to consider the role teachers and heads can play in Britain's international aid programme.

Magazine, pages 8-10

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