Learning


Students

 
LEARNING


Amka Afrika enrolls 100 students in a nursery and primary school officially recognized by the Tanzanian Ministry of Education. We teach the government curriculum to students from ages three to twelve in the Pre-Primary program and Standards 1 through 7. Our students are preparing for the government tests that follow Standard 4 and Standard 7. In fall 2013, all Amka students who took the Standard 4 exam passed it! Amka is an English language school with the goal of preparing students to succeed in secondary schools, which are taught entirely in English.

 


Amka Afrika is the best equipped school in the Babati area according to the local supervisor for the Ministry of Education. Our students have many supplies to help them learn - base 10 blocks and cuisenaire rods for math; maps and globes; microscopes and boxes of science experiments; volumes of National Geographic magazine, hundreds of books, a complete set of English readers with stories on cassette tapes, sets of individual stories; art supplies; puppets; and more. Our goal is incorporate these materials into the government curriculum that is taught at Amka. Visitors bring suitcases full of additional supplies that enrich students' understanding far beyond the rote memorization of standardized questions and answers that is typical across this country.

AMKA
 
LEARNING



Part of the official curriculum deals with health and wellness. After the Foundation built a water tank in 2012, students were introduced to regular hand-washing. The installation of a city water line to the school in 2013 has made hand-washing even easier. Students found the routine bothersome at first, and we have had to start over with the new students who entered in January 2014.

 



Scientific inquiry in the sciences is new to both teachers and students. Hands-on experiments (with clean hands, of course) help Amka students to learn and understand. Naomi and Godfrey are observing the force of air lift their kites higher and higher. Neither students, nor teachers, nor the local birds had ever seen kites before. The kids squealed with joy as they flew the kites. Seeing salt crystals for the first time through hand-held microscopes, connecting electric circuits to make a doorbell, experimenting with solar energy - what a thrill to see them learning science!

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LEARNING

Low academic standards in Tanzania present another challenge. The official grading scale sets passing at 21%. At Amka, we have done several things to raise standards. The school day from 8 to 3 is the longest in the area. Slowly, we are raising the grading scale. Students are rewarded for A's, not for being the best in their classes. In the fall, Aneth and Naomi both earned 7 "A"s on their exams. Simon, his son Erick, and head teacher Marysiana presented prizes to two very proud girls. This fall, we started after-school and weekend classes to prepare the students taking the Standard 4 government exams in November. Simon, Marysiana, and Ann did the tutoring. Unfortunately, these tests focus on rote memorization of a lot of material, which is one reason why teachers continue the practice. Happily, Amka's students all passed the exams.

 


Lucia Hoffman, a senior from Northern Illinois University is doing her eight weeks of student teaching in the Pre-Primary class. Amka’s 3, 4 and 5 year old students will be playing games, singing songs, acting out lessons, building with blocks, playing with clay, drawing, creating puppet shows, and learning pre-reading, writing and math skills that will help them understand those subjects rather than just memorize rote answers. Using methods she learned at NIU, Lucia assessed the students' readiness levels, so she can customize lessons for their needs. She is learning to understand the rich culture her students bring from home and the differences between these kids and middle class suburban pre-schoolers in the U.S.

AMKA





Teachers

 
LEARNING


All Amka teachers hold certificates from teacher training institutions in pre-primary (preK-1) or primary education (Standards 2-7). One of our original teachers, Sifuel, is earning a Standards 2-7 certificate at Arusha Teachers College and will return to Amka in fall 2014. Teachers lead an all-school assembly to start each day. Upper grade students study eight subjects with 40 minutes per day allotted to each and have breaks for porridge in mid-morning and for lunch at noon. Younger kids in standards 1 and 2 have six classes and more breaks. In addition to academics, teachers are also responsible for art, physical education, and health.

 


Changing teaching methods presents an ongoing challenge. Rote memorization is the most common and sometimes the only method used by teachers. They were taught that way themselves, and the state exams are based on standardized questions and answers. Ann McConachie describes a case where this technique was not working. "I observed a lesson where the students were being taught map skills. The teacher was using the pull-down world map brought from the U.S., but still only asking for memorized answers to standard questions. What is a map key? What is scale? What is a map title? I could see there was no comprehension as the students spit back memorized definitions. So I asked one of them, 'What is the title of this map?' She had been taught that the title was at the top of the map, so she looked there and said, 'The title of this map is DO NOT PULL DOWN BEYOND THIS POINT.'

LEARNING
 
LEARNING



Professional development for Amka teaches consists of one-to-one coaching, observing teaching by volunteers, instruction from Ann and volunteers, and discussion and reflection. In November, 2013, a group of volunteers came to Amka for a week and focused on teaching lesson-planning and use of classroom techniques other than rote memorization. Evaluations from Amka teachers were enthusiastic. They are testing new ways of planning and teaching during the winter term.






Volunteers

 
LEARNING


Amka Afrika School Foundation president Ann McConachie spends time at Amka training teachers to use the many new materials that the Foundation has provided. She also teaches English to upper grade classes, coordinates volunteers and visitors, and oversees development of the school. Amka School is in session for three terms each year starting in January, May, and September. Ann is at Amka much of the year and rents a house nearby. Back in Downers Grove, Illinois between terms, she trains the next groups of volunteers and raises funds to this school, which she believes will help Amka's students to change the future.

 



It is our goal to bring other volunteers to Amka. One of the most important objectives is to model correct English for the students and teachers. This can be accomplished while they share literature, help with writing, tutor individuals, teach small groups, team with Amka teachers to present English, art, music, science or math lessons, teach songs, play games or work on the many projects at the Amka site. These two college students and three of their friends volunteered at Amka in fall 2012, while on fall break during their semester abroad in Tanzania.

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Fall 2013 - A spring 2013 visitor taught Amka students to knit. In the fall, another visitor taught them to purl, plus gave them an opportunity to practice their English with a native speaker. These kids are now excellent knitters, making pieces for themselves and to sell in the Babati marketplace.

 



During the summer 2013, Ann McConachie met with the mission group at 1st Presbyterian Church in Davenport, Iowa, and then emailed throughout the fall about the professional development needs at Amka. Led by Linda Meadors, the group arrived in November with suitcases full of supplies and the goal of teaching lesson planning and instructional strategies beyond rote memorization. They taught with the teachers in the mornings, and we sent the kids home early so they could meet with the teachers all afternoon. One visiting teacher demonstrated how to use "Doodle Boards" to get all kids involved. They left 24 boards for Amka teachers to use. Ann comments, "I was so pleased with the outcome and think this week will truly make a difference in how the teachers teach." Amka teacher evaluations mentioned the Doodle Boards as being a hit with students and very useful for their learning.

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LEARNING


Serendipity so often happens with our visitors and volunteers. In November 2013, a retired art teacher in the First Presbyterian mission group, brought many animal puppets that she had made for Amka students. She discovered that one class was learning to understand domestic versus wild animals. The kids created puppet shows demonstrating what they had learned about the differences. The puppets are now part of Amka's supplies.

 




The November 2013 visitors, a mission group from 1st Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa, included a retired builder. He assisted with building roof trusses for Classroom Building #4, in the background.

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LEARNING


The mission group from Davenport gathered for a group shot on the last day, before handing out toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and fun light-up balls that the kids loved. The long-term impact of their visit will affect more than Amka's classrooms. One member of this group with an interest in nutrition believed that residential students might not be eating enough protein in the traditional diet served to them at the Amka hostel. She went home and raised money for a chicken coop and chickens. Taking care of the chickens is about to be added to responsibilities for Amka's resident students, and they can expect eggs in their diet.






Parents

 



Amka Afrika School has a parent organization which meets regularly and is well attended. Founder Simon Msangi (at left) attends meetings, and Baba Sulemani (Father of Sulemani, in the blue shirt) is the president of the organization. Parents learn about Amka's programs and discuss issues of interest to them. Last year, Ann McConachie made a presentation on alternatives to corporal punishment for misbehavior. Parents laughed and teachers agreed, "That may work in America but not here. We beat our children. If the teachers do not beat them, they will misbehave." Ann initiated a program to use consequences as discipline, but explaining the policy was easier than enforcing it.

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LEARNING


Now, parents are coming around. At the November 2013 meeting, Baba Sulemani told this story. Sulemani came home one day very quiet and subdued. His father asked him what the problem was. Sule admitted he had been caught writing on the desks and beating his classmates. His father asked if he had been beaten as punishment. No, Sule said, I had to wash all the desks, and I was kept out of all games and playing with Legos for the whole week. For the rest of the weekend, Sule was not himself. When he left for school on Monday, he said he was going to be good because he did not want to miss any more play time. His father told the whole parent group that if Sule had been beaten, he would have forgotten it right away. But missing games had made an impact on him that had lasted all weekend and into Monday. As they say in Kiswahili, "Pole, pole, kidogo kidogo," meaning slowly, slowly, little by little.