Radley has embarked on a venture that is a radical reworking of what many UK schools do in having links and regular trips to developing countries. Instead of sending Radleians on building projects, we are focusing on supporting pupils’ learning in a rural African school.
We have now visited them each summer since 2012. Our inaugural trip to Tanzania in July 2012 established our partnership with Gehandu Secondary School in Mbulu and gave 18 Sixth Form Radleians a rare opportunity to experience African life as student teachers in a massively under-resourced rural school. Apart from their hard-working and welcoming teaching staff, with no electricity or water and scarcely any textbooks or facilities, Gehandu was about as different from Radley College as it was possible to imagine. Whilst there, we hope to help Gehandu pupils seize the opportunity to improve their life chances through education and challenge ourselves at the same time.
The impact of our partnership has been profound. Improved exam results have catapulted Gehandu to the top of its District league table and facilities have transformed: now the school has a water supply, electricity and computers, along with better boarding facilities and a new dining hall, with our fundraising help. Our 2018 visit coincided with the first arrival of sixth formers to Gehandu, a major recognition of its recent improvement, about 20 girls come from schools all over Tanzania to board there and study Geography, Biology and Chemistry A Levels. These girls are raising standards of English speaking for the whole school, which is a pre-requisite of exam success in the main English-medium GCSE equivalents.
Before leaving for Tanzania, our boys are trained in cultural awareness and safety issues by Inspire Worldwide, who take charge of the logistical arrangements in Africa and in TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language).
The long term vision of the Gehandu-Radley partnership is to broaden the outlook of as many Radleians as we can and deliver maximum sustainable benefit to the community in Africa.
The first of these should happen automatically, but it takes sensitive handling to ensure that each Radleian does not return with a more entrenched prejudice about ‘us and them’ or with over-simplistic notions about why Africans are materially poorer. We hope that the experience of socialising and working with their Tanzanian counterparts, particularly with their designated pen-pals, will encourage Radleians to re-evaluate their own values and encourage a more questioning approach to poverty and development in the world.
Achieving sustainable benefits for our African partners is a far harder challenge! Each time we visit we help Gehandu pupils in three ways. Firstly, we fundraise and donate books and laptops so that Gehandu pupils could use them in class and at home (in 2012, the only textbook would typically belong to the teacher). Secondly, Radleians showcase a range of more interactive teaching styles (e.g. working in groups, role play and project work). We hope this helps learning where there are up to 60 pupils in a classroom listening to a lesson in their third language (behind Kiswahili and their tribal language). Always impressed by the lessons taught by Radleians, Leokadia Maydi, Gehandu’s wise and delightful Headmistress, has been focused on embedding this shift in teaching style across the school. And it is working. We observe much more collaborative learning in lessons when we peek through windows on our way to our own lessons nowadays! Finally, we have been training teachers and pupils in using IT to improve teaching and learning. On our most recent visit David Cox taught teachers how to harness the potential of smart tablets linked to a local educational wi-fi emitter (RACHEL+, kindly provided by a current parent). Radleians coach small groups in the basics of using computers and tablets. We started skyping between pupils in 2016 which allows our boys to get to know some individuals before arrival and get a sense of how weak or strong their spoken English is.
A key part of the partnership has been regular visits of Gehandu teachers to Radley. Headmistress Leokadia Maydi observed that for her this was a powerful experience which made it clearer how adopting more modern teaching methods at Gehandu could work alongside aiming for a warmer relationship between teachers and pupils. Plans were promptly made to abandon corporal punishment!
Overall, there is huge momentum for Radleians to build on in future visits as our School Partnership matures. I would urge all boys to consider joining the 6.1 trip to Gehandu when their time comes.
The Tanzania trip is a demanding one for all involved. Boys need to prepare and deliver a number of 80 minute lessons, which are stimulating and interactive, whilst being prepared to adapt them when things don’t work to plan! They will encounter young people in the most basic of homes and will marvel at their capacity to complete school homework along with household chores with a minimum of material support or creature comforts. They will fundraise. They will try to hold their own at football, singing, drama, dance or acrobatics. They will also have to trek up a large mountain prior to arrival at Gehandu, Kilimanjaro or Meru. But that’s another story!
Needless to say, the trip is a profoundly transformative experience for all involved.