Friday 13th September
Hello from Debre Zeit! We are three students from Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, writing this blog from Link Ethiopia’s southern office. We’ve just finished our first year at university and we’re spending our September here in Ethiopia.
September in Ethiopia is a very colourful month! It’s coming to the end of the rainy season so the countryside is vividly green and beautiful. September is also colourful because of its festivities. Wednesday 11th was New Year’s Day; one concept we’ve found difficult to wrap our heads around is that Ethiopia runs on a totally different timescale to England. While the UK and most of the rest of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia maintains the Julian thirteen-month calendar, putting it seven years behind the rest of the world. So happy 2006, everyone!
In addition, September marks the beginning of the new academic year. Unlike in Britain, though, exact starting dates for school terms can vary. We’ve been here for one and a half weeks now, during which time we have taught summer school classes. However proper full-time school should be starting either this coming week or the following week, at which point we’ll be working within the Ethiopian curriculum.
So far we’ve been teaching a group of around 20 students, all girls aged twelve and thirteen and all very enthusiastic. Our job while we’re out here is to teach English and communication skills in order to improve the pronunciation and conversation of the students, whose grasp of grammar is on the whole excellent – probably better than many students of their age in the UK!
Teaching in Ethiopia is geared very much towards rote learning, with a teacher writing on the board or dictating and pupils copying; we take for granted in British schools that (most!) learning is fun, communicated through games, puzzles, debates, conversation and group work, supplemented with curricular and extra-curricular sport, art, drama and music. Therefore when English-speaking volunteers bring their own experience of more diverse and exciting teaching, encouraging as much conversation in English as possible, it can really make a difference to these students.
Learning English and practising conversation with a native English speaker is very beneficial to students like these. One of our activities in class a few days ago involved mind-mapping reasons why we like to learn English; the girls came up with reasons such as “it’s an international language”, “it’s interesting” and “I want to be better at speaking English”, demonstrating their awareness of its value. If these girls have a good grasp of English, in which all classes above elementary level are delivered, they will be able to access higher education, which provides the key to better job prospects, which in turn will help this amazing country to progress through improved prospects for its youth.
So far we’ve loved our time here in Ethiopia. The Cradle of Mankind has so much to offer in terms of scenery, culture, food, history, wildlife and some of the friendliest people we’ve met! We’re excited to be putting together some proposals with the staff for new initiatives and looking forward to potential plans for fundraising when we’re back home in Cambridge (watch this space). For now, we’re off on a trip to the Bale Mountains this weekend before teaching again next week. Only 19 days of our trip left!
Alex, Tess and Sam