ConnecTeach Tanzania: Misigiyo Project Reflection

ConnecTeach Tanzania: Misigiyo Project Reflection

Amy Miller

I did not fully grasp how powerful and effective the ConnecTeach model is until I went to Tanzania with Bhavani.

I had the incredible opportunity in October of 2018 to travel to Tanzania with the NGO ConnecTeach to facilitate an educator workshop over the course of 9 days. I have been fortunate to work with Bhavani and ConnecTeach over the past four years through my role as Director of Education at the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth. We previously collaborated to provide leadership trainings to North Texas high school students by facilitating conversations around social issues such as conflict, gender inequality and environmental conservation. Through those conversations, I got a glimpse of the effective model ConnecTeach developed to address significant social problems in communities around the world by engaging in conversation about controversial issues and empowering community members to affect positive change locally. I did not fully grasp how powerful and effective the ConnecTeach model is until I went to Tanzania with Bhavani though. 

We arrived in Karatu, a town in the north of the country, ready to work with a group of 10 educators who live and work in the nearby Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The majority of the educators were Masai, a nomadic indigenous tribe that herds cattle as their main source of income, who for the most part had received little to no training or professional development as teachers. Some of them manage classrooms of over 100 students of different ages and learning levels on their own. The resources available to these educators were very minimal in schools that were made from sticks thatched together with a small blackboard at the front of the space. As we learned over the course of the workshop, corporal punishment was commonly practiced in their schools as a form of discipline and punishment. 

Our goal for this workshop was to empower these 10 educators to see themselves as leaders and as agents of change in their communities. Additionally, we wanted to equip them with the skills to manage their classrooms without the use of corporal punishment, considering logical consequences for students’ actions instead. Throughout the course of the workshop, we also helped the teachers to grasp educational concepts related to differentiated learning, collaborative projects, foundations of English language learning, reading and writing strategies, and problem-based learning. Many of these concepts were brand new to this group of educators and took some time to review and check for understanding, but by the end of the workshop they showed a strong understanding and appreciation for these concepts. 

The most impressive shift in thinking during the workshop, in my opinion, is that the educators now say they will no longer use corporal punishment on their students.

Over the course of those 9 days, we tied learning concepts to social issues and initiated dialogues with the educators to consider what societal problems they see in their bomas, or villages. Some of the most prevalent issues they brought up related to poverty, lack of adult and sex education, misconceptions related to health, early marriage and gender inequality, as well as a lack of infrastructure. In discussing these issues, we emphasized the important role education plays in addressing and solving these problems. We also helped them to see their powerful roles as leaders in their communities because they are impacting the minds of multiple generations as educators. They can help to shape conversations and ideas around many of these issues by working with the students, parents and elders. We also helped them to develop a community survey, which they would use to ask community members about their perceptions on these social issues. By the end of the workshop, the teachers told us they were empowered and excited to facilitate their community survey and embrace their roles as community leaders.

  One of the most significant challenges we faced over the course of the workshop was the language barrier. While a couple of the educators had a high level of English language skills, the majority had some difficulty expressing their thoughts in English, and one of the educators, Ana, spoke no English so we relied heavily on one of the teachers, Saning’o, to translate our ideas into Kiswahili or Ma so that she could understand. Saning’o had the challenge of not only translating our words but also the cultural relevance of our examples to ensure that Ana understood how the themes tied into her understanding of the world. In the end, everyone grasped the ideas we were teaching but it took a significant amount of time to translate these concepts and check for understanding. Our hope is that Ana will learn some English language skills before we see her again so that we might be able to converse with her directly. 

I truly believe that this workshop had a significant positive impact on these educators, allowing them to see more clearly their roles as leaders.

The most impressive shift in thinking during the workshop, in my opinion, is that the educators now say they will no longer use corporal punishment on their students. One teacher in particular, Loomoni, said early in the workshop that he would use creative forms of corporal punishment on his students such as holding uncomfortable positions for hours, doing push ups, laying outside in the hot sun, and beating them with sticks. We spoke with him and the group about the importance of fostering a learning environment in which the students feel safe and comfortable asking questions as well as expressing when they do not understand a concept. In order to create such an environment, the students need to respect the teacher, not just fear him. Instead, we encouraged them to consider logical consequences for the students’ actions in order to help the students feel safe and understand the implications of their actions in the real world. 

I truly believe that this workshop had a significant positive impact on these educators, allowing them to see more clearly their roles as leaders and the responsibility they have to challenge longstanding ideas that can be detrimental to the prosperity of their communities. The educators were so grateful for the opportunity to work with ConnecTeach and are eager to work with us again. At this point, I’m excited to see the work that they produce while we’re away based on the assignments we gave them. Bhavani and I encouraged them to start a book club to foster more literacy skills, develop lesson plans based on the strategies we shared, and complete the community survey with a total of 4,000 community members. There’s a lot of work to be done before we return, but I’m optimistic they will take the assignments we gave them and run with them. I look forward to the day when we will be able to sit down with these educators in person again and discuss what they’ve been working on to develop their communities while we were away. I have every confidence they are now enacting the change they wish to see in their villages thanks to ConnecTeach.  

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