Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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18/1/15: a work trip to Zanzibar

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.

2 Comments to 18/1/15: a work trip to Zanzibar:

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fatuma on 24 January 2015 06:05
Geoff, thanks for sharing your reflections of the workshop. I like your idea of balancing high expectations with patience as a way of enhancing our gender sensitivity & responsiveness to both genders as they engage in learning activities from various dimensions of diversity. I agree that underscoring gender differences without reflecting on the essence of ensuring gender equality poses the risk of actually perpetuating or even enhancing the already existing differences. Also, operating blindly as if there exists no gender differences that affect access to learning and the process of learning thereof is not the way to go either. I was particularly inspired by honesty with which participants expressed their positions on a topic which some of them described as "sensitive". More so I left feeling very encouraged by what I perceived as the participants' readiness for self-interrogation/reflection in relation to gender issues in education; our profession and how we engage in its various activities; the tools we use to facilitate learning and the contexts and environments in which we operate. By the end of the workshop, I felt convinced that each participant had enhanced their knowledge and skills on how to analyse gender gaps and that each one of them had acquired a gender lens or sharpened the one they had initially. At the moment, I must say outcomes of this gender workshop in Zanzibar, will be self-evident vis-a-vis the workshop objectives and expected deliverable. And by the way, outside the workshop, outside the hotel that you depicted so well, the cultural experience, albeit quite brief, deserves a mention. My encounter with the various histories embedded in the existence of Stone Town and the Spice Gardens took me back to my primary school history classes - which was not the other day. That was awesome. I do not have any idea what the tourist lot make of the whole affair but the taste of traditional foods and fresh sugarcane juice added to my bag of "take-aways". Finally, after leaving the Zanzibar Beach Resort at exactly 3pm for a flight of approximately 1hr40mins to Nairobi, it took nearly 12 hours to get home... why? This is a story for another time in a different forum. Overall... it was a great experience meeting and working with all the participants, some of them for the first time. You have my best wishes in your work . fatuma =====
Reply to comment
Geoff on 25 January 2015 07:34
Thank you for contributing, Fatuma. For other readers please let me explain: Professor Fatuma Chege from Kenyatta University was our facilitator for the workshop, a good friend of IED-EA and a regional, indeed international, expert in gender issues. Very pleased with your thoughts both on my blog and also the workshop itself which I agree was a very positive event. Sorry to hear that it took you so long to get home, would be interested to hear why sometime! My very best wishes for your invaluable work and looking forward to meeting you again in due course, Geoff

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