Yesterday, on arrival at "our"* school, I was disappointed to learn that all 7th graders refused to participate in the after-school homework session scheduled with one of the teachers. They were sent home at 2:05 pm.
At 2:07 pm, I was sitting in an empty classroom preparing my lesson for 5th graders when four of those "recalcitrant" 7th graders sneaked in.
"We want to talk", one of the boys said in halting English.
"Oh! Uh, okay." I shuffled papers aside. "What shall we talk about?"
The boys just looked at me expectantly.
With quick improvisation, I started a lesson I thought they could manage, shooting questions here and there. Each boy responded hesitantly, but proudly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another four students enter the classroom; they slid into chairs. I threw more questions; the responses came more naturally. Another group settled in. More questions. Another group. The kids volleyed more answers back. Soon, the entire class was there with me.
No one can tell me these kids don't want to learn! They're hungry … frankly, in my opinion … starved for knowledge and learning. They just need to be stimulated and motivated in the right way.
* In brief: Through our in-the-process-of-being-established non-profit organization, "Chrysalis Project South Africa", we are working at the Mankonjane Primary School in Hlatikulu, KwaZulu Natal. In partnership with the Kamberg Valley Rural Community Upliftment (KamVarCu), we have initiated an after-school program for grades 4 through 7. At Chrysalis Project South Africa, we strive to help children in rural areas pull themselves up from the "disadvantaged" category and learn better, faster, and more. In addition, by working with interested local volunteers, we aim to provide adults with training and "practica" to help them discover the world of teaching, and prepare them if they should choose to take this on as a career.
Being in isolated areas in South Africa can, indeed, create a great disadvantage. It can mean limited teaching and classroom materials (some of my kids struggle with pens that don't even write well), teachers with insufficient training, and poor resources — an example of the latter, the Mankonjane School was only recently completely fitted with electricity. Through our after-school program, we and our volunteers provide daily homework assistance and English language learning. You see, "our" kids are native Zulu speakers. At a certain point in their primary education the teaching language across subjects changes from Zulu to English with no preparation or transition period. This can work for children in urban areas where English is commonly spoken. However, in rural areas, some of these children arrive in 4th grade and find themselves face-to-face with a teacher that's speaking a language they've never learned.
Through our work, we hope "our" kids can transform into the "advantaged."
More to come. We're spending so much time in development of this project, and working "in the field" with the kids and volunteers that we don't have the time to provide comprehensive information on our project. I hope to be able to do a better job in the days and weeks to come.