Monday, October 09, 2006

The flat world? Hardly!

I have just posted this on my family blog about a school trip planned for my elder son:

Björn and I have just been to a meeting at school for those who want to take part in a Tanzanian exchange in August 2008. They will climb Mt Kilimanjaro, spend two weeks in a Tanzanian boarding school, go on safari and finish off with two days on the beach on Zanzibar. It sounds like the growth experience of a lifetime. He is dead keen, so he didn't hear the words like: altitude sickness, malaria, diarrhoea, long-drop toilets, lecture style lessons, no textbooks.

In the two years leading up to that time, they will have to raise £100K to pay for their trip out and the Tanzanians' trip here (there is no way they can pay for themselves). This will involve both group and individual fundraising efforts. They will attend basic Swahili lessons, although their lessons will be in English, and undergo training in hill/mountain walking. While they are there, they will carry out community work in an orphanage.

The teachers who will lead the party went over in the summer and found the conditions in the orphanage quite hard to handle - especially in respect of the way those with special needs - especially mental disabilities - are treated. They also had to watch the slaughter of a goat, which they found tough, since they expected the goat to die quickly, which it didn't.

I think the girls who go will find it even more difficult, since the girls' school is inferior to the boys' and their conditions harsher. Before they go home for the holidays, the Tanzanian girls' heads are shaven so that their parents aren't tempted to take the opportunity to marry them off instead of educating them.

Many of the "boys" at the boys' school are in their 20's, which John and I would have taken for granted, being familiar with African education, but it shocked the English, since the school system here is based on age, rather than progress. Neither of the schools has any ICT kit whatsoever, and the few textbooks they have date back to the 60's or earlier. Not all the children even have their own pens.

I'm sure it will be the experience of a lifetime, if he is able to produce the level of commitment necessary to raise the funds and acquire the skills required. It's bound to broaden him and open his eyes to his own privileged state. We will support his efforts in every way we can, but he needs to take ownership of this himself - this is is his trip, his project.

When I have questioned the notion of the flat world, it is these sorts of conditions that inform my position. I grew up in the third world, although I enjoyed a priveleged lifestyle, and there are vast swathes of communities that aspire to the level of "sophistication" described above. I have seen some of them with my own eyes.

Since I know someone is likely to bring it up, let me beat you to the punch... isn't it sad that, although our schools look like something from a different planet, the education system has adapted so little as to be recognisably the same process as takes place in the archaic environs of Tanzania?


Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

Friedman stated that on 10% of the world's students have the access and ability to collaborate in a flat world environment. It is about being compettive in a flat world. Sadly, many places are not even at the starting line because of lack of access and lack of teaching the abilities. So, although at the top echelons of society, being competitive means dealing with a "flat world," there still continue to be places that are not competing - so thus, their world isn't "flat," they are just not even on the map.

I see what you're saying, but for some reason, I don't think he is arguing that the WHOLE world is flat, just that the modern world is.

Heart wrenching post, Karyn.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I reckon the world is shaped more like a steep sided, treacherous mountain with a small, flat summit with clouds around the edge. For those on the summit, with the clouds obscuring the view, it may look flat. For those at the bottom of those very steep sides, the mountain may seem (if they are even aware of its existence) like the home of a fearsome dragon with unholy powers.