Reasons for 'doing it'

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Just do it." "No fear". They're everywhere in Mozambique. Second-hand T-shirts in a country raped by centuries of colonialism. One colonialism replaces another. The Far Side on the far side of the dark continent. "Pull out, you've hit an artery" in a country where the life expectancy is 46, where malaria claims thousands of children before they reach primary-school age, and teachers have to be paid off before they will put children through their end-of-year exams.

Living and working abroad is about learning and understanding, not about confirmation of what you think you already know. It's a small world, but you can't just waltz around it expecting to teach if you're not prepared to learn anything yourself.

Do it, try it, the surreality, the coincidence of images, is breathtaking - it stops you in your tracks. Crocodiles and cell phones. Coke and cholera. Landmines and e-mail. Starvation and the Spice Girls. A teenage mother, carrying 30kg of metal work, baskets or vegetables on her head, "Vamos Vitoria" emblazoned on her bosom where her baby suckles.

Leave and try it, not because you want a tax-free salary, because you can't stand the performance tables, or you're disappointed by ideological fudging. Leave and work abroad because you want to open your mind, because you want to discover something other than self-satisfaction in a G7 nation which can provide debt relief and condone the bombing of a nation which reiteratively starves. There is more to education than that.

What are we educating our children to do? Are our politicians our role models? The transient and ineffectual leadership of developing nations repeatedly sickens us. The corruption, the waste, but where lie the causes of this disadvantage? Where lies the truth? Seek and ye shall find. but don't seek a neat, geometric shape to thrust into a neat geometric hole. Nothing fits, or at least it does rarely.

Prime Minister Tony Blair once said, just before I packed up and left the country, that what the UK needs is better teachers and more homework. If only it were that simple.

What the UK needs is an understanding of issues affecting all the occupants of the global village. It needs a population with open, educated minds. Teachers working abroad are ambassadors. They need to be representatives of an education system that might be the envy of the world - pedagogues, facilitators and peacemakers in a world of conflict. Working abroad is not just a gap year to check out a coral reef, it is a period of intensive study, involving blood, sweat and tears. Not for the faint-hearted. I thoroughly recommend it.

Alexander McMillan is working as a VSO volunteer in a primary teacher training college in Mozambique.

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