One of the hurdles Tanzanian students must face as they transition from primary into secondary school is an abrupt shift from instruction in Kiswahili to English. As you might guess, the abrupt language shift often results in a grade ‘A’ performing student spiraling into grade ‘D’, and sometimes even dropping out of school entirely. Most students have little opportunity to utilize English effectively to ensure their academic success in an all-English secondary classroom.
Teachers need additional tools to enhance their own English skills as well as inspiration to provide high impact lessons for their students. As a dimension to the child-centered learning model, enhancing the teachers’ abilities and skills in the classroom is essential. In 2011, we implemented an English-based debate-training workshop for teachers to better facilitate the transition of primary school students into secondary. We collaborated with the District Education Office of Tanzania, local school officials and Takako Mino, co-founder of Public Debate Foundation and former Debate Outreach Associate from Claremont McKenna College, to implement a district-wide English language debate competition for over 217 participants across two school districts.
This type of debate competition would provide meaningful application of English for students and teachers alike, empowering and motivating all participants. The training targeted specific objectives for teachers to gain skills and knowledge that would empower and guide their students.
In the summer of 2012, we had the opportunity to see the culmination of teacher training and student learning take place when we visited a local school where the subject of debate was the freedom to use cell phones at school. As you can imagine, it was a highly energetic topic of debate… all done in English.