Travel & Teach - Sub-Saharan Africa


Global English students are working all over the world with their accredited TESOL certificates. Find out how TESOL training from Global English has made a difference to their lives:

Duncan Juvonen

Ethiopia is very welcoming to the prospective TEFL teacher. Native speakers can especially find work with ease. There are various voluntary positions which can be created on your own initiative (contacting schools, etc). These may even find you a wage at a local rate which will is small in a European context but which will probably allow you to live comfortably in Ethiopia. In the capital you may even do quite well. The main concern is to try to avoid displacing a local teacher's position; a good, enriching year overseas for you could mean a loss of income for someone, so this needs to be researched thoroughly. Ethiopia is a unique country and, having never been colonised, it still retains its cultural identity and traditions. Far from stereotypes of deserts, over half the country is fertile highlands and you will most likely end up working in these areas where the population is largely centred. The people are incredibly warm and friendly, the students are ridiculously eager to learn. With 72 national languages, the concept of learning a language is not unfamiliar! Also it is one of the safest countries for personal safety, I was much safer there than in London!

Christine Turner

We are at present in Tanzania having spent one week in Kenya. I am teaching adult students at a Bible School. They are mostly complete beginners so it is very slow. But everything's going fine. My English class is growing, it now has 14 students and will be 16 shortly. I'm finding I need to give them handouts with the grammar points on as it takes to long when they copy things off the board! So maybe I'll be able to get more done each lesson now! I'm using the beginner Grammarway student’s book for lesson content. They really enjoyed playing a game using occupations where one student comes out the front, secretly picks one, then answers "Are you a .......?" with "No, I'm not," or "Yes, I am." I have a few other good ones up my sleeve for other points.

Anne Dixon and Peter Hinchcliffe

We have spent the last two years working as volunteer English teachers at schools in Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania. We have, of course, contracted the ‘Africa Affliction’, i.e. “There’s so much to see and find out in Africa, and who wants the appalling consumerism of the West – give us a simple life based on community values” etc, etc. Needless to say, we are about to start our third year here! We have never looked for paid work, but there are probably some opportunities in the bigger cities. We are country bumpkins, so all of our experiences have been in rural areas where there is little money, but richness in culture and a pace of life that reflects the heat. What follows comprises of some general observations and comparisons from our African experiences so far.

As you will guess, schools in rural Africa have little in the way of resources, so it’s ‘chalk and talk’ and trying to be as creative as you can with what comes to hand. We get excited about coloured chalk these days! Even basics, such as cardboard, can be hard to find, so last year we recycled packaging from teabags, toothpaste etc into flash cards and board games, which the kids loved.

Classrooms vary. Some are quite solidly built, others are open to the elements with leaky roofs and teacher size potholes in the floor. In Ghana we are often joined in class by educationally motivated chickens, ducks, frogs – even the occasional snake. We have never worked in a school which had electricity or running water. Text books for the children are often a rare species – in the worst case there was 1 English Comprehension book between 30 students. Ghana has recently moved to improve this by issuing many text books. In fact the children can barely move under the weight of them as they walk to school!

Our smallest class has numbered 18 (Ghana), our largest a crazy 90 (Malawi). On the whole the children we have met have been keen to learn English and to find out as much as they can about the world, their own knowledge being quite limited. Maps of the world promote a lot of discussion. We have taught in both primary and junior schools and our students have been aged between 10 and 20 years. Classroom behaviour is generally very good, with obvious allowances for kids being kids and adolescents having hormones and attitude.

The use of the cane is (allegedly) banned in some African countries, such as Ghana, but its use is still widespread. This can vary from an institutionalised thwack for being late, to what can only be described as beatings. Often local teachers have no knowledge of alternative classroom management techniques and simply rely on the cane to maintain order. This is compounded by the habit of writing long, tedious exercises on the board and leaving the kids to get on with it, unsupervised. As the children get restive, out comes the cane. In Ghana we have made a long term commitment to one school and have worked with the proprietor, staff and PTA to make the use of the cane, or any other physical methods of discipline, a sackable offence. As a consequence, staff have changed their teaching styles. We hope that we have acted as role models, demonstrating that learning should be fun and that teachers need to be seen to be working if they expect their students to follow suit.

In our experience one of the main frustrations of working in African schools can be the ‘flexible’ approach to timetables. This can mean that you lose sessions you have carefully planned for, or that what should be a 1 hour session unexpectedly turns into a whole morning marathon! Our favourite coping phrase is ‘Roll with it’ muttered through gritted teeth. The best organised school that we have worked in was in Tanzania, where the timetable worked like clockwork, but we know that volunteers in schools nearby had very different experiences. A great deal depends on the motivation of the head teacher.

As regards English syllabuses, Ghana is by far the best we have experienced, with a good balance between all aspects of learning English and a clear, logical approach to grammar. The Tanzanian syllabus was not so logical in its structure and the Malawian one seemed to dart all over the place and had, we felt, an over emphasis on learning questions and replies rather than real grammar basics.

As native English speakers we have always been welcomed as teachers. Our African colleague’s grasp of English has varied widely, even though in Ghana and Malawi all teaching is supposed to be conducted in English from the primary level and all public exams are in English. Local teachers have been disadvantaged by the lack of skilled English teachers at the higher levels of education.

So, frustration levels can peak when working in African schools, but we reckon that the rewards far outweigh this. These include really getting to know local communities and their life styles, local people’s delight in having a laugh at you because you are hopeless at their language or things that they do every day, like carrying yams on their head or weeding with a cutlass, the children who soak up knowledge like young sponges and the general sense that what you are doing is directly worthwhile and makes sense. It all sounds corny, but it’s true, plus good English really does improve people’s chances of progressing.

In all three countries, as well as working at the schools, we have offered adult classes in basic English. In Tanzania we taught Maasai warriors to read – how cool is that?! Teaching adults in a community helps to break down barriers which staying in the confines of a school does not. It is also very rewarding.

As regards day to day living, we have stayed with a local family, lived in community based guest houses and rented rooms in village houses. Bucket showers and pit toilets are the norm (you can get ‘sit on’ versions of the latter these days). Ghana is the only place where we have had mains electricity. We use local transport, get our clothes made locally and shop in local markets. We watch football on the TV at the local bar. We work hard at being locals! Of course we never will be, but with this attitude we have always found that local communities are highly supportive of us, with Ghana being the most enthusiastically welcoming. We have spent many months in Ghana and can still only mumble a few words of Twi. Swahili, in Tanzania, was much easier to learn. In terms of transport, travelling in Ghana is pretty easy (if a little hair raising). Getting about in Tanzania is also okay, but in Malawi, away from the big cities, you can wait a very long time before something comes along.

The economies of Ghana and Tanzania are steadily growing and you can see everyone working away at small enterprises, keen on improving their lot. The energy is palpable! Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and there is little sign of improvement on the way. Certainly we met people with energy and drive, but it is hard to maintain this when basically you are hungry and can’t see a future. These factors can make Malawi a particularly demanding place to work.

As volunteers we now operate operate independently, paying our own fares, insurance, living costs etc. We have found placements via voluntary organisations in the past and would offer the following advice. First, if education and teaching are your prime motives in volunteering, be sure that the organisation placing you shares your level of commitment in these areas. Education can lose priority when organisations also have projects in other fields. Secondly, if a project fee is required in addition to your board and lodging expenses, be clear about how that money will be spent. Finally, if you are volunteering for a lengthy period of more than three months, try not to pay everything up front. If the placement doesn’t work out for you, then you could lose a lot of money!

In conclusion we want to say how glad we are that we took our Global English course. The knowledge that it gave us means that we have always felt we had something positive to offer in the places we have taught. We have met other volunteers who have taken shorter, less demanding courses and they have had little idea of what to do in terms of preparation and delivery. This has been hard both for them and for the schools they have been placed with.

So, if you enjoy a challenge, like living in different cultures, want to get back to basics and can hack the heat, insects and sanitary arrangements, do come to Africa! If you have the right skills and attitude then you can really contribute to development and change lives - and it may change your life too!

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