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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Teachers key in integration process

Since 1994, the fifth day of October has always belonged to teachers the world over. It is after all the World Teachers’ Day after UNESCO saw it wise to create it with the aim of mobilising support for teachers and to ensure that the needs of future generations continue to be met by the teachers.

Many times when we hear about teachers it is about them striking as they demand a better pay. Each time we try to think about a teacher, we see this image of a gentleman (assuming it is a man) whose attire is incomplete without the ubiquitous blue and red pen visible in the shirt pocket.

Unknowingly all the teachers we met as we travelled the academic journey from the lower sections all the way to university the different teachers we encountered left a bit of their character with us as they dispensed knowledge. 

By the time I attended school most of my teachers were Ugandans all the way to university. And although I learnt a lot from them I think my learning experience would have been richer if some of them were from different countries other than Uganda where I was born and where I studied from.

It has occurred to me that while we were focusing on the numerous summit pronouncements and press releases from the East African Secretariat in Arusha, we may have missed the crucial role that teachers in the region are doing to gradually engender regional integration.

Over the years the different educational, political and even economic dynamics have compelled teachers from one country to another. Some have moved in search of better paying opportunities. Countries where the English language is quite a problem have tended to attract teachers from countries that are considered to have a surplus of skilled teachers.

In Tanzania English based schools are now so popular for the middle class parents and many teachers from Uganda and Kenya have descended on Nyerere’s birthplace to try and tame the Swahili dominance in the education sector. In Rwanda where the use of English as a language of instruction is still a new development several teachers from Uganda and Kenya have settled here to address that issue.

Even far off in South Sudan, teachers from East Africa have been allowed to come in and pass on their skills to the children of the world’s youngest nation. Each time these teachers move, they learn more about the ways of the people where they settle while at the same time sharing a bit of themselves with the people they meet.

I know a veteran Rwandan teacher whose teaching career saw him heading a school in Uganda on top of teaching French at Kenya’s famous Alliance high School. Today, He speaks fluent French, English, Luganda, Runyankore, Kiswahili and his native Kinyarwanda. The ease with which he can switch from one language to another is simply amazing.

A month ago at a workshop that involved students from different schools, I quickly noticed that of the five teachers who had escorted them, two were Ugandans and one was Kenyan with the rest Rwanda.

In such scenarios students taught by such teachers may not have set a foot in Kenya or Uganda but because every now and then the teacher tells them a story about his country of origin they are gradually getting a feel of what that other country is like. In short, they are becoming a little more East African from such experiences. 

I have doubled as a classroom teacher before and I cannot count how many times I told my Rwandan students about Uganda. I am sure the Kenyan teachers do the same. In the same way, I have learnt so much about Rwanda that when I go back to Uganda, I am a point of reference.

As East Africans, there are different things that we do not know about each other and we may never know unless we encounter someone from another country in the region. I remember one day a student of mine saw me reading a magazine about tourism in Uganda and he was literally shocked to learn that Uganda also has these beautiful primates.

The different movements by teachers from one country to another have ensured that in some classes across the region, there is at least someone willing to share something about where he comes from with those he has met while also learning from them. If Burundi embraces the English language in future then it will also get a feel of all this.

By Senyonga Allan

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