As I write this I am back home in Cornwall after spending two incredible years in Tanzania. I am hoping to, and preparing to, return next year. When studying mathematics at university I had no intention of becoming a teacher and I certainly had no intention of ever going abroad. Needless to say, God had other plans and now I can’t imagine not going back.
Maths and mission: how it all adds up
I will be continuing my work at St John’s Seminary, Kilimatinde, which is located in the Diocese of the Rift Valley. It is a mixed boarding school run by the Anglican Church of Tanzania, providing secondary education and Bible college training. They are the sole provider of theological studies for the Diocese of the Rift Valley and welcome pastors, catechists and evangelists from across the parishes of the diocese. There are approximately 260 pupils, mainly from the local area but some also from other parts of Tanzania.
Having a good quality education makes a huge impact on people’s lives and is a way out of poverty for many. In Tanzania, to proceed to government-provided secondary education, pupils must pass primary school exams and many pupils fail these. About 80 per cent of children attend primary school but only 25 per cent make it to secondary school. Such children, most of whom are academically capable, need a secondary education, and St John’s steps into the gap and helps provide this opportunity. We accept all pupils regardless of whether or not they passed their primary school exams.
We have recently been recognised by the government as one of the best achieving non-government secondary schools. From our most recent group of graduates, 83 per cent continued to tertiary/college level (about 5 per cent of all pupils across Tanzania make it to tertiary level!).
Why teach maths in Tanzania?
Mathematics has the lowest pass rate of all subjects within Tanzania at only 15 per cent. Unfortunately there is a huge lack of maths teachers, which means that the few there are often end up in schools offering higher pay (and therefore charging large school fees). Just to give you an example, from one university which had 1,000 trainee teachers only 10 were training for mathematics.
My time in Tanzania
While mathematics was my main subject when I was in Tanzania previously, I ended up teaching many other subjects at St John’s, including physics, chemistry, Bible knowledge, IT, English and technical drawing. It was fantastic to be able to teach groups of pupils who wanted to learn. One evening when I was trying to mark 60 books I had such a constant stream of pupils coming and asking questions that I only managed to mark three books in three hours, but it was great to see them valuing their education and asking for help when they needed it.
The school day starts at 6:45am with chapel, with lessons beginning at 7:30am. These continue until 4:20pm when students help around the school before returning to classrooms for prep time at 7pm before going to bed by 10pm. In addition to this, the classes with national exams have extra classes in the evenings and weekends. A long day, but of course breaks are there and at meal times too.
All subjects are supposed to have subject clubs which are generally student led with various teachers responsible for them. I started a chess club on the weekend and expanded it into a maths club later on. This gave me a chance to do some activities that we couldn’t do in normal lessons like creative problem solving. This culminated in me giving the club some junior maths challenges; actually two of the pupils would have had a bronze award if they took part in the UK.
A matter of science
One of my roles was as head of science with responsibility for two science laboratories. This meant ensuring any equipment and chemicals were ordered, stored and prepared for lessons and practical exams. Generally this went okay and my fellow staff members were very helpful as several items were labelled differently from in the UK and it had been 10 years since I had done any chemistry. I did have a moment of panic when I read the instructions for the biology practical and saw that we needed Irish potatoes. I thought there was no way to find Irish potatoes in Tanzania. Fortunately I queried it with another teacher and apparently in Tanzania what we call potatoes, “spuds”, are in Tanzana called “Irish potatoes”.
Since all my lessons were in English and all pupils were expected to speak English while at the school I didn’t really need or use much Swahili. However, staff meetings that started in English would often slip into Swahili halfway through; fortunately there was always a member of staff that I could ask who would catch me up on anything I had missed. This was normally Festo Yona who, as well as teaching physics, maths and IT like me, also shared the job of academic master with me for a while. I learned a huge amount about Tanzania from him.
While St John’s was closed for summer holidays in December, I went to Kiswahili language school for a month in Morogoro. This is normally a four-month course of 60 lessons; I managed to reach lesson 40 before returning to continue teaching. While my Swahili has greatly improved there is still a lot for me to learn before I can speak it properly and I would like to return to language school.
Calculating the future
St John’s has grown and developed and there has been a lot of building work recently as we are expanding from four to eight classrooms. At the moment the biggest class size is 67 and the smallest is 45. We hope to construct enough classrooms to accommodate education from nursery all the way through to secondary. This will take many years to accomplish. Future plans also include a guest house for visiting parents (some have to travel 10 hours by bus to reach us) and to expand into A-levels.
As for me personally, when I return my role will be changing slightly as I have been asked to also assist the school chaplain. This follows on from being asked by him to lead a few services previously, again something that a few years ago I would never have thought that I would do.
I hope this has given you an idea of what I have been up to and what I will be continuing to do. And why I’m so looking forward to returning to Tanzania.