Amanda Handcock and Brianna Throsby are UOW Master of Education students who had never met until a life-changing 14 days in Tanzania brought them together.
Earlier this year, Amanda and Brianna found themselves team-teaching at remote, rural primary schools in the Babati district of Tanzania along with eight other UOW students.
The UOW Tanzania Teaching Program is a two-week intensive that’s equal parts teaching, cultural immersion and community development work.
“Although we were fully briefed before going [to Tanzania], it was still a shock to step into classes with dirt floors, no resources and 50-75 students sitting on a bench,” Brianna says.
“There’s no way I would have been able to go as rural as I did independently. We went to schools way out in the middle of rural Tanzania, down roads without signs,” Amanda explains. “Lots of kids don’t go to school, they’re too busy herding cattle or tending to crops, so school is a privilege.”
For the past two years, UOW undergraduates have travelled to Tanzania to work alongside local teachers in rural and very remote areas. This opportunity to broaden their teaching horizons is, in part, thanks to the generosity of University staff contributing to the UOW Cares workplace giving program, of which the Tanzania Teaching Program is a beneficiary.
Brianna says the experience opened both her eyes and her heart.
“What really hit me was how happy and enthusiastic the students are to be at school,” she says. “People were really beautiful, grateful, open and welcoming.
The two-way program came about from discussions between UOW and So They Can, an Australian not-for-profit organisation which has established a teacher training college in Tanzania, to give children living in poverty a better future and to broaden the skills and experiences of Australian teachers.
Immersed in rural Tanzania, the UOW students had to meet the challenges of teaching with a lack of resources to very large numbers of children while navigating a language barrier – with goodwill and grace.
“It was intense and energetically demanding, teaching in the day and planning lessons in the evening, plus the language barrier was quite difficult and I realised how much of teaching is verbal,” Amanda says. “But it was also extremely rewarding.”
“I loved team-teaching, especially when you’re faced with that many students; you can play on your strengths and learn from other perspectives,” Brianna adds.
For Amanda and Brianna, having to work with few resources taught them to think on their feet. During one of their classes on division, they took the students outside and used the trees to group objects into sets.
“It taught me about context and that you can use what you have, where you are, to teach anything,” Amanda shares.
UOW Professor in Language and Literacy, Lisa Kervin, and UOW Social Sciences Faculty Executive Manager, Katrina Gamble, worked closely with the local community and So They Can to ensure a well-rounded experience for both the Tanzanian and Australian teachers.
“In Tanzania, the higher you go with your education the more English language skills you need,” Professor Kervin explains. “The Tanzanian teachers gain a lot by having native English speakers in the classroom.”
UOW has a strong reputation for educating quality teachers in Australia, which attracted the attention of So They Can. Both organisations agreed to help address the lack of access to education and quality of education in Tanzania through this program.
“The children were really surprised when our UOW students asked them to turn to the person next to them, or to work in a group,” Professor Kervin says. “Even the Tanzanian teachers were surprised by this approach.”
“Tanzanian teachers teach more in a lecture style from the front of class, while students sit on benches, and write things out – if they’re lucky enough to have an exercise book – so they do a lot more rote learning than in Australian schools,” Brianna notes.
The program equips UOW students for teaching when they return to Australia in several ways. As Lisa and Katrina explained, their UOW students have a tangible appreciation that you don’t necessarily need a lot of resources to teach; they understand the importance of being in the moment with students; they know the value of interacting with students; and, they’re mindful of their responsibility to our global community.
“It’s a journey where we see our students start out really idealistic and they come away having found out lots more about themselves, about the world,” Ms Gamble says. “It’s definitely a two-way street, the Tanzania teachers have phenomenal outcomes and our UOW students learn so much – about themselves, about being flexible and resilient.”
The Tanzania Teaching Program addresses several goals at once – it provides two-way teaching skills; it supports an Australian NGO and it offers global community development. Yet there’s more it seeks to address and the UOW Faculty of Engineering is becoming part of the program.
In partnership with the local community, and as part of its undergraduate Humanitarian Engineering subject, UOW students will help repair a boarding house at one of the schools that’s home to 110 girls from six-14 years of age.
“This has come from the community, everything we do is in close partnership with the local people,” Professor Kervin notes. “Many of the girls have left home and the boarding house is the only way they have access to education.”