Saturday, 8 December 2007

Contrasts in learning

I was privileged to hear the Anglican Bishop of Ngara speak this week, twice - at church, and again at school.

He told us how, as a child, his parents couldn't afford to send him to school. He kept on begging them until, at the age of 13, he was able to go to school. Primary. The lowest class - where our 4 or 5 year olds start. His parents were able to afford the school uniform shirt and a pair of shorts, which had to last for 2 or 3 years. Instead of his own tribal language, he was taught in Swahili.

He then did well enough to go on to secondary school - an achievement equivalent to one of us going to one of the world's top universities. He was twenty. His brother owned two pairs of trousers, so gave him a pair - otherwise he would not have been able to go. A generous brother-in-law bought him his first pair of shoes. The teaching medium in secondary schools in Tanzania is English. The equivalent, for us, of suddenly being taught entirely in French.

Now, decades later, he is pastorally responsible for thousands of people.

He concluded his talk in school with a blessing in Swahili. As soon as I heard the familiar words, I burst - quietly and discreetly so that the children didn't notice - into tears. I had started my life in Africa teaching children desperate to learn. Now I struggle with children who have everything apart from the same hunger for learning.

If only the children I teach now would gain, not only more of an eagerness for learning, but for all the things that money cannot buy. If only they would gain a deep sense of compassion and a willingness to help others. If only.

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