A Letter from Sharon Kandel, regional liaisons for the Horn of Africa, based in South Sudan
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I take education for granted. While I have known this for some time, it was really brought home to me during this past year of COVID-19.
Everything was turned upside down; this we all know. Children in the United States were trying to do school online, even first graders, and even for adults, it can be hard to focus when doing school via computer. Some students were blessed to be able to continue in person because of small classes, and others did a combination of online and in-person classes.
Earlier this year, I wrote to three partner schools in Ethiopia to see how they were doing and to offer some small financial help. I asked first if schools were open, and if they were, then what requirements they had to follow to be able to hold classes. I learned that schools had been shut down for a while, which caused hardship for boarding schools since some children could not get back to their homes.
I was told that schools were open but that it was difficult to meet the government standards for the number of children in the classrooms. In some schools, the classes were divided into two groups, with one group meeting in the morning and another group meeting in the afternoon with the teacher teaching the same lesson to both groups. It also meant that some classes had tarps hung to divide one classroom into two, but the noise level made teaching very hard. When possible, some classes met outside. Online classes were not an option for most of Ethiopia, so many students missed a partial or full year of school. I realize this is also the reality for many students around the world.
Berhane Yesus Elementary School welcomed a new Director, Fayera Abal. Mr. Abal attended Berhane Yesus Elementary School as a child. He then went to Bethel Evangelical Secondary School, which is also supported by PC(USA) and has now come back to be the director of his elementary alma mater. How wonderful it is to see former students return to guide their schools into the future!
These three schools are in an area of Ethiopia that often has political unrest and can be cut off from the internet, and yet they keep building, teaching, and producing graduates. The elementary school is hoping to build kindergarten classrooms while Gidada Theological College has just completed a women’s dormitory and is working on getting upgraded to a degree-level college. Bethel Evangelical Secondary School (high school) continues not only to teach but to be a witness to the community by having such a good reputation that many students come from far away to attend.
When I was a child it was just assumed I would get an education and could choose to go to college or not. Many around the world do not have that privilege; many are lucky to be able to get an elementary education. Families make sacrifices for their children to get even a primary education, and the idea of attending high school and college is a dream.
How can education be made possible for more children? Can we think outside the box (or classroom) and find ways that are working in other parts of the world and adapt them to new areas? I believe there is much to be learned from our partners. A method from India was brought to Ethiopia that seems to be working very well, and it is not the typical classroom. Will it work everywhere? I don’t know, but it might be worth trying. This style is based on the Montessori style but has been adapted for different environments. Students in Ethiopia who have been taught according to this method from Grades 1-4 have done very well when they transitioned to more traditional schools. Well enough for the government to ask about the program and encourage one church to open more schools like that.
Let us be open to the ideas that God gives to people, not discount them just because it is not how we went to school.
Thank you so much for the many prayers that you have said for the people of Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan, and me. It is those prayers that keep me grounded, help me through tough days, and give me hope.
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