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Friday, April 27, 2012

Differences Between Education in the U.S. and Senegal

Walking into the classroom in Dakar, you are immediately aware that education in Senegal is different than in the US. There are 50 students in my 5th grade class and only one teacher. In the US a 50:1 student to teacher ratio would be unthinkable, but here it is all too often common. Students sit two to a desk with their backpack and other belongings stuffed in between them. Students do not speak unless called on, and have to stand in order to respond to questions. The walls are decorated with education posters from the 80’s and the occasional poster of Obama.
One of the largest differences I have noticed during my time at Ecole Primaire Sainte Bernadette is the lack of resources. The whole day is designed around the resources that are available. Students do all their work on individual chalkboards to avoid spending money on notebooks and paper. If they run out of chalk they are expected to sit silently and wait for the lesson to be over. The teacher does not have extra materials, and the students have to rely solely on what their family can provide for them. That means that if a student cannot afford chalk, they show up everyday and sit silently in the classroom while their classmates do work.
My CT copies all her lessons and tests on to the chalkboard, which takes up a considerable amount of time. She rarely is able to fit the whole test on the board at one time so she writes the test up the board in sections, then waits for the entire 50 students to recopy and complete the section in their notebooks, and then erases and starts writing the next section. My classroom spent a whole day completing a math test that would have taken no longer than an hour in the US. It makes me think about how much the students are missing, while they are spending time copying.
Another difference I have noticed is the lack of group work among the students, which may be a reflection of the French Education System that Senegal has adapted. During the day, the students only leave their seat to complete a problem on the board or to stand to answer a question. Students are not given any time to discuss with partners or think for themselves. The curriculum is all based around memorizing, reciting, and copying, with little room for anything else.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Erin! I have noticed a similar problem with resources in the public school I am volunteering at here in Ecuador. The teacher does not have access to a copy machine, so every single classwork assignment and homework assignment she writes out 36 times. I have been helping her with this work and I cannot believe how exhausting it is. We take for granted being able to run to a copy machine. The students are also lacking pencils. Some of my five and six year olds have pencils no longer than an inch. Since they are developing fine motor skills, the short pencils seem to be a great detriment to their progress. In terms of group work, I have also seen none. It seems like its is too hard for the teacher to organize 35 students into groups without an aid or space in the classroom. There is literally no space for groups to spread out, and the tables are so small that they would barely fit materials. I know that a great teacher can make all the difference despite a lack of resources, but it seems so exhausting and disheartening. Have you talked to the teacher about how she overcomes this lack in resources? I know the language barrier can make it hard to ask such questions!


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