Hastings and Sierra Leone Friendship Link

Earlier this month local teachers in Hastings, St Leonards and Battle welcomed partners from Sierra Leone to teach in their schools. A party of seven teachers flew in from Freetown on October 6th to share their experiences with pupils and teachers here.

As well as the work in schools and academies, one day was spent taking part in a workshop on teaching strategies for mathematics and effective teaching and leadership in schools. This was facilitated by Isabel Hodger, who organised the visit with Roger Mitchell as Schools Liaison officers for the Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link (HSLFL).

Isabel explained: “Having worked as a teaching adviser in Ethiopia, I am well aware of the lack of equipment and facilities available to teachers in developing countries and my previous experience has enabled me to help them think through creative solutions to some of the issues they face”.

Tours of Hastings Old Town and Battle Abbey, Morris Dancing with Hannah’s Cats and, of course, fish and chips and a game of Crazy Golf were also much enjoyed by the visitors. Roger added: “The ‘Indian Summer’ was a pleasant surprise for them, having come prepared to muffle up heavily to cope with the English cold. Staying together at the White Rock Hotel enabled them to get the best of the sunshine glinting on the sea day after day”.

On their last evening there was a farewell party for the visitors at Christ Church School with music and dancing, speeches and food brought down by friends from the Sierra Leone community in London. Then it was on to the not entirely successful attempt to cram everything into suitcases without exceeding weight limits before boarding the flight home.

Roger continued: “What most impressed the Africans was the commitment of teachers to their pupils and the time and effort that goes into preparing lessons and assessing outcomes…When their own total equipment to teach is a blackboard and a piece of chalk as they regularly face 50 – 100 children in spaces designed for 30, they could not fail to be impressed by the facilities and space available to teachers in the UK. Yet their children desperately want to learn and justice demands better”.

Serrah Conteh from Jui Upper Primary School said: “I learnt that teachers in Hastings UK are very committed and the entire school is quiet and calm. The children are lovely. This has been the best experience I’ve ever had since I became a teacher. I really learnt a lot to share with my colleagues and pupils back home”.

Francis Mason, who coordinates the partnerships in Sierra Leone remarked: “Moving around the schools I got the feeling that children and staff were all so keen to learn more about Sierra Leone. I am really pleased that there is a prospect of new links being formed for the benefit of all our schools.”

These partnerships over the last ten years have been able to access professional development training both in the UK and Sierra Leone. Grant funding from the British Council has gone a long way to covering the costs of teacher exchanges. Schools, too, have raised funds and matched funding has been committed by HSLFL to help.

There is now a new round of grants being made available by the British Council for future exchanges. Schools and academies are being advised by Isabel and Roger on the procedure for application. In this new round schools are expected to work in groups to pursue one of a number of possible global issues resourced by the British Council of which the most favoured was “Zero Waste”.

Sadly, the University of Brighton Academies Trust has decided to withdraw all its academies from their links with Sierra Leone schools thus ending five existing partnerships. This is a poignant moment for teachers both here and in Sierra Leone, some of whom have been building friendships and professional support for a decade.

Other schools continue to value their links, believing that they enhance the educational and humanitarian aspects of the curriculum for teachers and pupils alike. Engaging teachers and young people in building relationships with partners in a developing country provides the direct experience that adds a dimension to classroom learning not easily obtained in other ways. Anne Hanney, Headteacher of Christ Church CE Primary said: “This cultural opportunity is second to none in providing our pupils and staff the first-hand experience of meeting ‘real’ teachers and hearing about places so different in climate and customs yet finding so much that we have in common”.

Find out more about the Friendship Link and the work it is doing in Hastings,
Sierra Leone at our website: 

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