I'm aware that "Work trip to Zanzibar" sounds like a contradiction in terms. I'm even more aware that I'm not going to help my case when I tell you that we were staying at the Zanzibar Beach Resort Hotel - pictured in part above (more to come below). But, please believe me, the academic staff went for an arduous work trip to Zanzibar on Thursday, returning on Saturday, for a two day seminar looking at our students' experience of gender through the masters programme.
Getting to Zanzibar is interesting. My favourite way is by the ferry, not least because you leave from central Dar es Salaam and end up in the middle of Stone Town on arrival. I've previously flown on a 20 seater, with one of the passengers in the co-pilot seat - must try that sometime! There are also larger planes that fly there, going on somewhere else, including Kalimanjaro and Nairobi. So I have previously stopped at Zanzibar and waited to take off again.
On this occasion we took one of the larger planes, which means that, having gone to all the effort to get to the airport, through downstairs security, check in, upstairs security, wait to be called, get seated, taxi to the run way, all of which takes maybe 3 hours - the flight itself takes 15 minutes, with very little cruising time, at 5000 feet rather than the normal 30000 to 40000, between ascent and descent. Doesn't feel quite right somehow!
On to the the Zanzibar Resort Hotel, rooms looking something like this from the outside:
Sorry the pictures aren't very good, courtesy of my iPhone having forgotten my camera. Place was great - although I wondered what western tourists would make of it having paid thousands of pounds for their dream holiday. So, I'm happy to keep the button on the kettle pressed down to boil it, having forced a two pin plug into a three pin socket - one of the little things one learns here! The beach was a mixture of shingle and somewhat sludgy sand, with lots of obstacles to swim round in the sea, so we were advised to keep to the pool. Suspect that this is not what people who have come thousands of miles specially are expecting! Although wonder whether the point about holidays like this is the expectation beforehand and the memory afterwards rather than the reality at the time. Just a thought...
So, the subject of the workshop was gender. This is a big issue here, as it is indeed in the western world also, although the issues are somewhat different. So, whereas in the UK, girls have outperformed boys overall for the last 40 years now, with concern expressed about boys' underachievement, here the concern continues to be girls - getting them into school in the first place, keeping them in school when they're there, persuading them, and their parents, that was goes on in school is relevant to them, and then ensuring that they have informed choices about future education prospects and job opportunities. In running a masters programme for education professionals, our concern, then, is both children at school, and also how we work with our own students. So, something like 40% of our students are female, with only 1 women out of 8 of our science specialists. And a key theme of the workshop is that we need to consider not just the content of what we teach - frequently it's the case that maths and science textbooks show boys rather than girls in the illustrations, for example, so sending out the message that these are boys' subjects - but also how we teach them - how we direct the questioning, expectations, this kind of thing.
A phrase that we use a fair bit is 'gender responsive pedagogy' which I have to say I struggle with somewhat, as it seems to imply that there is one correct way of working with children to ensure gender equity. So, for example, if we accept the idea that girls in general are less forthcoming in mixed group discussions than boys, we really cannot go on to assume that all boys are motormouths and all girls shrinking violets. Apart from anything else, this is in danger of reinforcing precisely the stereotypes that we are trying to get away from.
So, I'm coming to the conclusion here that what is needed is an attitude of mind which balances high expectations with patience, an understanding of the differences whilst expecting the same, analysis of general patterns coupled with a desire to get to know all children as individuals. Which is expecting an awful lot, of course. So much easier if there was a quick fix, do this, do that, do the other, then you can tick the gender box on your checklist. Put another way, what is needed is not training but education, not a formula but a flexibility of approach. Of course, you could take the cynical view that this is very much what one would expect from a lecturer in a University education department, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm wrong!
So, a good two days away, I found it thought provoking and helpful, I look forward to continuing the discussion in the months and years ahead with colleagues and students, in looking to ensure that the work we do with our students does the best by all of them, female and male, and equips them to promote gender equity back in their own communities. Any thoughts on the issues I've raised here gratefully received! But finally, a picture of those attending:
Professor Fatuma Chege (see comments below) is in the green dress more or less in front of me.