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Knowledge of the world is the best gift we can give our children

PUBLISHED: 10:28 10 January 2017

Children from three Suffolk primary schools outside the Kenyan High Commission in London

Children from three Suffolk primary schools outside the Kenyan High Commission in London

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An education project that was the brainchild of a former Suffolk headteacher is helping local schools understand the lives of children almost 7,000 miles away in a remote part of Kenya. Sheena Grant reports

The Kenyan High Commissioner hears from the pupils of St Gregory’s what they have learned about Kenya.The Kenyan High Commissioner hears from the pupils of St Gregory’s what they have learned about Kenya.

When a group of Suffolk schoolchildren began a project to learn about Kenya they could never have imagined it would culminate in a visit to London and a meeting with the country’s High Commissioner.

Yet that’s exactly what happened.

The success of the LearningfromKenya initiative took even its creator, former Suffolk head teacher Dave Shorten, by surprise.

Dave, a trustee of the charity Education Exchange, which supports the community in and around Wundanyi in southern Kenya, came up with the idea as a way of fostering understanding and meaningful ties between Kenyan children and their UK peers.

Children and staff at Mwatate Children’s Home.Children and staff at Mwatate Children’s Home.

It was a perfect way to use his knowledge to offer schools much more than “a unit on Kenya”. He wanted them to embed LearningfromKenya into as many curriculum areas as possible so that it became central to school life.

“Looking at the rhythms and patterns of everyday life in Kenya through the eyes of real people living there right now, LearningfromKenya aimed to uncover positive and negative elements, enabling Suffolk pupils to reflect on the costs and benefits of living in their own community, as well as learning about another culture,” he says.

Six schools signed up for the project in the summer of 2015 and two training sessions were held, at which Dave explained how he could help with school visits and resources, such as photos, maps and a set of 15 profiles – interviews with people from in and around Wundanyi in which they shared candid details of their daily lives.

Those sessions were followed up by termly planning meetings and over the coming months Dave was in and out of schools, working with staff, children and occasionally parents, talking in depth about people, places and situations he knew first-hand.

An email to tell the Kenyan High Commission about the project resulted in education officer Margaret Lesuuda visiting St Helen’s Primary in Ipswich and meeting children from all the LearningfromKenya schools.

“She was really appreciative of the work she saw,” says Dave. “She talked about Kenya and answered questions. Much to Margaret’s delight, in honour of Kenyan Independence Day, the choir of St Helen’s sang the Kenyan National Anthem in Kiswahili. We also ate mandazis - Kenyan donuts.

“After that we got an invite to the Kenyan High Commission in London. The Kenyan High Commissioner spent an hour with the children, asking questions and listening intently. That in itself was such an education. The support of the Kenyan High Commission was a real bonus.

“Most schools also planned fundraising activities, many of them highly imaginative and instructive. Taking a leaf from the Kenyan system of table banking, the PTA at St Gregory’s in Sudbury and Melton Primary School lent each pupil £1 which they had to grow into a bigger sum through entrepreneurial activities. Each school raised over £700 for Education Exchange funds.

“In its first year the experiment of LearningfromKenya has been a genuine success. There were some superb creative tasks designed, and having teachers meeting and working across schools was highly effective.”

Staff at the ‘pioneer’ schools of Howard primary, Bury St Edmunds; Melton primary; St Gregory’s primary, Sudbury; St Helen’s and St Mary’s primaries, Ipswich; and St Mary’s primary, Lowestoft, can’t praise the project highly enough.

Claire Flintoff, head teacher at St Helen’s, said: “The learning has been planned and integrated into the curriculum across the school. Dave has supported us to make it come to life, using Skype with our year 4s whilst he was in Kenya and visiting the school to talk to children, giving us a window into another culture and making it an authentic learning experience.”

Daniel Woodrow, head of St Gregory’s, added: “The chance to work alongside colleagues across the county under expert guidance from the project leaders has helped us bring areas of our curriculum to life, raising standards and developing a great range of opportunities for our pupils.”

And Mark Girling, head teacher at Melton primary, said: “This work allows children to really begin to think about accepting differences in a positive manner.”

One year on, more Suffolk schools - First Base Pupil Referral Unit, Rose Hill primary, Ipswich, and Sybil Andrews Academy in Bury - have signed up to the project. A school in London - Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke, which is attended by Dave’s grandchildren - is also taking part.

“LearningfromKenya has relevance and potential that many schools could use to the full,” he says. “Perhaps understandably, there is generally little practical knowledge of what daily life is like for most Kenyans. In my work in schools I use this phrase with real power: ‘It’s just an accident of birth that you are able to enjoy the benefits of life in the UK - like this school, for instance, or the hospital that will treat you when you are sick.’

“Our children, likely to live right through the 21st century, need to be well informed about life in other parts of the globe, so that they can better understand and respond to the pressures their world will face in the coming years.”

To find out more, visit www.education-exchange.co.uk.

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