Travel & Teach - Sub-Saharan Africa
Rather than a fact sheet about a particular country, this fact sheet deals with a large area. This is because many of the countries in the region we call Sub-Saharan Africa are quite similar in terms of prospects and working conditions. Yet if you are Africa bound then you will find many contrasting cultures and ideas in this vast region, which is generally poorly served by the EFL industry. Some countries are actively looking to distance themselves from what is perceived as their colonial past (Zimbabwe being a current case in point) while other countries actually have English as the medium of instruction in state schools (such as Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria). While there is demand for English in many countries in this region, there is little in terms of a developed EFL industry in any country. Much of the work in this area is likely to be voluntary, and therefore paid opportunities are few and far between. If you are looking at paid work in Africa, then the Mediterranean countries of North Africa (Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia) are your best bet, and South Africa has a developing industry as well.
However there are several voluntary organisations that are very active in many areas and if you are prepared to commit time and sometimes money to pay your way, you will be made very welcome. There is also a series of religious organisations which recruit for the countries within the region. A selection of these is listed later in this fact sheet and you can find a full list from World Service Enquiry, which publishes a detailed list of positions each year: World Service Enquiry. Voluntary work will often pay some wages, but at a local level. Free housing may be included. The good news for the new EFL teacher is that experience is often not a prerequisite for being taken on. But prospects of finding EFL work on the spot are slim and even the most adventurous native speakers will find paid positions difficult to find. Perhaps the best opportunities are found in Ghana and Kenya.
Ghana is seen as being one of the more stable countries in Africa and supports several organised schemes for volunteer teachers. BUNAC provides 9 month positions for British nationals who are recent graduates. See the section on ‘Agencies and Religious Organisations operating throughout the region later in this fact sheet.’
Kenya has a reported shortage of secondary school teachers. English is the language of instruction, although the conditions of entry are now somewhat less relaxed than they used to be. However the laws are not always strictly enforced and the private language schools in Nairobi are not subject to secondary school restrictions. There is a British Council and it has its own Teaching operation at Harry Thuku Road, Nairobi – email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When travelling overseas, please refer to your government’s own advice on conditions in each country. The British Foreign Office website is a good resource for travel advice. Please follow the link http://www.fco.gov.uk/.
If you are travelling from any English speaking country, expect to spend some considerable time in ‘culture-shock’. Try to get as much information about the country beforehand, including living and working conditions as well as expected behaviour and the customs of your chosen area. Check with your doctor regarding inoculations required before travel. Private medical insurance is also a good idea. AIDS is very prevalent in the area.
Some of the following organisations may be able to help you if you are looking to do voluntary work in Africa. Most likely you will have to be self-funding and with some you must pay a placement fee. For a more complete list go to either World Service Enquiry or Teaching English Abroad, available through our bookshop page.
Africa and Asia Venture www.aventure.co.uk An organisation which takes hard working, adventurous students, or graduates under 24, who want to teach in primary or secondary schools in Africa or Asia during their 'gap year' - in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Botswana, and Nepal.
Africa Inland Mission International http://www.aim-us.org/index.
BUNAC offers a ‘Teach in Ghana’ programme as well as opportunities in South Africa - http://www.bunac.org/
Christians Abroad http://www.cabroad.org.uk/
Global Volunteer Network The Global Volunteer Network offer volunteer teaching opportunities in primary and secondary schools throughout Ghana. Volunteers may teach in almost any subject imaginable, including fine arts, motor vehicle studies and chemistry. No teaching experience is required; if you have one or more years of college education in any particular subject area, you qualify to teach at secondary, technical or vocational level, while if you have a High School qualification, you will be able to teach many subjects at the primary level. Information was posted on our website July 03. Global Volunteer Network
Madventurer - A student charity that arranges summer and short expeditions to Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, including some teaching work - www.madventurer.com
Peace Corps - http://www.peacecorps.gov/
Skillshare Africa - www.skillshare.org.
This company has previously advertised for teachers with Global English for positions in Tanzania
VSO - This is an international development charity that works through volunteers. The majority of positions are for a two-year period but extensions are permitted. Return flights, insurance & medical cover, visas and permits, plus a living allowance while you are overseas and housing or accommodation. Sends teachers to Eritrea, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania - http://www.vso.org.uk/
Global English students are working all over the world with their accredited TESOL certificates. Find out
how TESOL training from Global English has made a difference to their lives:
Ethiopia is very welcoming to the prospective TEFL teacher. Native speakers can especially find work with ease. There are various voluntary positions which can be created on your own initiative (contacting schools, etc). These may even find you a wage at a local rate which will is small in a European context but which will probably allow you to live comfortably in Ethiopia. In the capital you may even do quite well. The main concern is to try to avoid displacing a local teacher's position; a good, enriching year overseas for you could mean a loss of income for someone, so this needs to be researched thoroughly. Ethiopia is a unique country and, having never been colonised, it still retains its cultural identity and traditions. Far from stereotypes of deserts, over half the country is fertile highlands and you will most likely end up working in these areas where the population is largely centred. The people are incredibly warm and friendly, the students are ridiculously eager to learn. With 72 national languages, the concept of learning a language is not unfamiliar! Also it is one of the safest countries for personal safety, I was much safer there than in London!
We are at present in Tanzania having spent one week in Kenya. I am teaching adult students at a Bible School. They are mostly complete beginners so it is very slow. But everything's going fine. My English class is growing, it now has 14 students and will be 16 shortly. I'm finding I need to give them handouts with the grammar points on as it takes to long when they copy things off the board! So maybe I'll be able to get more done each lesson now! I'm using the beginner Grammarway student’s book for lesson content. They really enjoyed playing a game using occupations where one student comes out the front, secretly picks one, then answers "Are you a .......?" with "No, I'm not," or "Yes, I am." I have a few other good ones up my sleeve for other points.
Anne Dixon and Peter Hinchcliffe
We have spent the last two years working as volunteer English teachers at schools in Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania. We have, of course, contracted the ‘Africa Affliction’, i.e. “There’s so much to see and find out in Africa, and who wants the appalling consumerism of the West – give us a simple life based on community values” etc, etc. Needless to say, we are about to start our third year here! We have never looked for paid work, but there are probably some opportunities in the bigger cities. We are country bumpkins, so all of our experiences have been in rural areas where there is little money, but richness in culture and a pace of life that reflects the heat. What follows comprises of some general observations and comparisons from our African experiences so far.
As you will guess, schools in rural Africa have little in the way of resources, so it’s ‘chalk and talk’ and trying to be as creative as you can with what comes to hand. We get excited about coloured chalk these days! Even basics, such as cardboard, can be hard to find, so last year we recycled packaging from teabags, toothpaste etc into flash cards and board games, which the kids loved.
Classrooms vary. Some are quite solidly built, others are open to the elements with leaky roofs and teacher size potholes in the floor. In Ghana we are often joined in class by educationally motivated chickens, ducks, frogs – even the occasional snake. We have never worked in a school which had electricity or running water. Text books for the children are often a rare species – in the worst case there was 1 English Comprehension book between 30 students. Ghana has recently moved to improve this by issuing many text books. In fact the children can barely move under the weight of them as they walk to school!
Our smallest class has numbered 18 (Ghana), our largest a crazy 90 (Malawi). On the whole the children we have met have been keen to learn English and to find out as much as they can about the world, their own knowledge being quite limited. Maps of the world promote a lot of discussion. We have taught in both primary and junior schools and our students have been aged between 10 and 20 years. Classroom behaviour is generally very good, with obvious allowances for kids being kids and adolescents having hormones and attitude.
The use of the cane is (allegedly) banned in some African countries, such as Ghana, but its use is still widespread. This can vary from an institutionalised thwack for being late, to what can only be described as beatings. Often local teachers have no knowledge of alternative classroom management techniques and simply rely on the cane to maintain order. This is compounded by the habit of writing long, tedious exercises on the board and leaving the kids to get on with it, unsupervised. As the children get restive, out comes the cane. In Ghana we have made a long term commitment to one school and have worked with the proprietor, staff and PTA to make the use of the cane, or any other physical methods of discipline, a sackable offence. As a consequence, staff have changed their teaching styles. We hope that we have acted as role models, demonstrating that learning should be fun and that teachers need to be seen to be working if they expect their students to follow suit.
In our experience one of the main frustrations of working in African schools can be the ‘flexible’ approach to timetables. This can mean that you lose sessions you have carefully planned for, or that what should be a 1 hour session unexpectedly turns into a whole morning marathon! Our favourite coping phrase is ‘Roll with it’ muttered through gritted teeth. The best organised school that we have worked in was in Tanzania, where the timetable worked like clockwork, but we know that volunteers in schools nearby had very different experiences. A great deal depends on the motivation of the head teacher.
As regards English syllabuses, Ghana is by far the best we have experienced, with a good balance between all aspects of learning English and a clear, logical approach to grammar. The Tanzanian syllabus was not so logical in its structure and the Malawian one seemed to dart all over the place and had, we felt, an over emphasis on learning questions and replies rather than real grammar basics.
As native English speakers we have always been welcomed as teachers. Our African colleague’s grasp of English has varied widely, even though in Ghana and Malawi all teaching is supposed to be conducted in English from the primary level and all public exams are in English. Local teachers have been disadvantaged by the lack of skilled English teachers at the higher levels of education.
So, frustration levels can peak when working in African schools, but we reckon that the rewards far outweigh this. These include really getting to know local communities and their life styles, local people’s delight in having a laugh at you because you are hopeless at their language or things that they do every day, like carrying yams on their head or weeding with a cutlass, the children who soak up knowledge like young sponges and the general sense that what you are doing is directly worthwhile and makes sense. It all sounds corny, but it’s true, plus good English really does improve people’s chances of progressing.
In all three countries, as well as working at the schools, we have offered adult classes in basic English. In Tanzania we taught Maasai warriors to read – how cool is that?! Teaching adults in a community helps to break down barriers which staying in the confines of a school does not. It is also very rewarding.
As regards day to day living, we have stayed with a local family, lived in community based guest houses and rented rooms in village houses. Bucket showers and pit toilets are the norm (you can get ‘sit on’ versions of the latter these days). Ghana is the only place where we have had mains electricity. We use local transport, get our clothes made locally and shop in local markets. We watch football on the TV at the local bar. We work hard at being locals! Of course we never will be, but with this attitude we have always found that local communities are highly supportive of us, with Ghana being the most enthusiastically welcoming. We have spent many months in Ghana and can still only mumble a few words of Twi. Swahili, in Tanzania, was much easier to learn. In terms of transport, travelling in Ghana is pretty easy (if a little hair raising). Getting about in Tanzania is also okay, but in Malawi, away from the big cities, you can wait a very long time before something comes along.
The economies of Ghana and Tanzania are steadily growing and you can see everyone working away at small enterprises, keen on improving their lot. The energy is palpable! Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and there is little sign of improvement on the way. Certainly we met people with energy and drive, but it is hard to maintain this when basically you are hungry and can’t see a future. These factors can make Malawi a particularly demanding place to work.
As volunteers we now operate operate independently, paying our own fares, insurance, living costs etc. We have found placements via voluntary organisations in the past and would offer the following advice. First, if education and teaching are your prime motives in volunteering, be sure that the organisation placing you shares your level of commitment in these areas. Education can lose priority when organisations also have projects in other fields. Secondly, if a project fee is required in addition to your board and lodging expenses, be clear about how that money will be spent. Finally, if you are volunteering for a lengthy period of more than three months, try not to pay everything up front. If the placement doesn’t work out for you, then you could lose a lot of money!
In conclusion we want to say how glad we are that we took our Global English course. The knowledge that it gave us means that we have always felt we had something positive to offer in the places we have taught. We have met other volunteers who have taken shorter, less demanding courses and they have had little idea of what to do in terms of preparation and delivery. This has been hard both for them and for the schools they have been placed with.
So, if you enjoy a challenge, like living in different cultures, want to get back to basics and can hack the heat, insects and sanitary arrangements, do come to Africa! If you have the right skills and attitude then you can really contribute to development and change lives - and it may change your life too!
Travel and Teach
Very few if any jobs will be advertised in the traditional press. Rather, try the Internet, or the World Service Enquiry, or look for volunteer programmes offered by Global English or Projects Abroad (see related programmes). We also recommend that you try Global Volunteer Network which runs programmes in differ ent countries in Africa, and around the world. On applying for any EFL position or to Voluntary Organisations or agencies, it is generally advisable to send a passport sized photograph along with a CV and possibly copies of degree/EFL certificates. Many agencies will have their offices in the UK or USA and will insist on a telephone interview at least before making a placement.
However, if you are already in one of the countries where opportunities exist, simple word of mouth and interaction with the locals is likely to yield positive results. It will seem that everyone in the area wants to learn English. In the countries where English is taught in secondary schools, much of the work will require you to have a teaching certificate to gain work here. However if this is a route which is not open to you, you might consider going through one of the many agencies which send volunteers to the continent. There are detailed later in the Useful Addresses section.