Progress report from Tanzania forecasts a bright future for young readers…


“The real gift is out of all proportion to the cost of the books.  It is wonderful for these students to know that they are not forgotten and we are all linked.”

As December 2011 came to a close we at Pelican Post Towers were thrilled to receive a flurry of updates from partnering schools including one particular inspiring story from Mvumi School in Tanzania. 

School teacher Julia Bengough has just returned from an incredibly successful but intensive 9 week English course she has put together to see if the participating school children can learn enough English to start secondary school with more confidence  in January.  In Julia’s own indomitable words  she picks up the story here…

…this is the classroom we have using for my 81 (yes 81!) students who have arrived from primary school – 25 children are sponsored and from extremely poor homes.  They are from subsistence farming families and are often cared for by extended families. 

 My brief is to teach a new/trial intensive English course to Primary School leavers who start Secondary School in January where all lessons will suddenly be in English.   So I have got to be ahead of them in Physics, maths, biology, chemistry etc to go through the vocabulary.   Now that is really taxing!   Yesterday I was in an argument as to whether a mouse was a reptile.   Why is a cow a mammal?   What is the difference between a toad and a frog.  Dictionaries no good as the Swahili is the same!

I prepared my course knowing that a great many of your books would be waiting safely locked in The Head of Department’s room.    However, I was bowled over in the first week of getting here to get another 6 envelopes of lovely shiny, and pristine books (and don’t you relish that lovely “new book” smell?).    The books are completely invaluable.   Some of the students have had a fairly westernised experience of school before they get here but most have received their primary education by copying from cracked and dusty blackboards.  

I am back in my old house and am being reminded of the hide and seek with cockroaches and termites which I had forgotten…and then there’s the weather!  The heat has been at its height before the rains arrive in December and my bedroom is regularly above 30 even with curtains drawn all day.    I found a baby black mamba in my bedroom the night before last.   Where there is one – there is a nest – so I am being quite ginger when picking things up.

The lessons start at 8 am and we get half an hour chai break around 10.40 then solid lessons till 02.30 pm which is lunch.   It is pretty gruelling for all of us.  Six hours non stop lessons!   Am plundering the nursery songs to break it up – usually turning them to chants with finger clicking and clapping … Getting away with it so far.   

Two visiting post graduate volunteers from the UK assisted in the classroom and we formed a strong team.  I included some cross curricular lessons which were geography, mathematics, biology, social science, and history.   The basic vocabulary in these subjects was covered as a priority and the content was also well received.  We used the new contexts to consolidate language and structure from grammar lessons.   

The classroom was split for remedial classes from time to time but we managed to keep the class together because of the effective teamwork of the class assistants.   In the last stage of the course peer teaching was successful.

We regularly incorporated songs, role play, drawing and colouring, reading sessions, outside activities, puzzles and problem solving as well as grammar, exercises, pair and group work , comprehension and other typical language teaching techniques.

Two large classrooms were allocated to the course.    The main classroom was lockable which was a huge bonus as we could cover the walls with information, students’ artwork and illustrations and we could leave books and other materials securely at the end of the day.  

We have not got text books of course but the classroom fell on the books that I brought with me which were largely donated by Pelican Post.  I am working on a way to rotate them as they literally fight for them.   And their English is DEFINITELY improving and I am convinced that the knock on effect of having access to reading books and being competitive about what they have read is extremely stimulating.

We have received some very favourable feedback from parents and students.  I feel confident that there will be an improvement in how these students begin their studies in Form One because of this Year Zero (or even term Zero) course.   They have learnt some study techniques and thinking skills and most have achieved a good basic level of competency in English.   They are a lovely group of young Tanzanians.  

We also recently received a letter from the Headmaster of DCT Mvumi Secondary School who wanted to send this message to all our readers and supporters…

“This is just a quick note to thank you in advance and the pelican post for the tireless efforts

you take to donate books for our school (D.C.T.Mvumi Secondary school).  The titles we receive contribute significantly to the improvement of reading habit and the mastery of English language in particular.

 The students are especially excited reading  “The interview”, A journey to Jo’burg, “Akimbo and the elephant””Tales from Africa”, “Amina and the shell” and “The Bush” to mention a few.

On behalf of the students and the school in general, I would like to thank you once again for your generous support. May God Bless you abundantly as you continue stretching a helping hand for the need.”

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