[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 76 (Winter 2014/15), pp. 58-66)].
This paper examines three African Voices Programmes at three schools in West Yorkshire [Funding for these activities was provided to the schools by the Global Learning Programme. Schools were able to “purchase‟ the training and the follow-up visits from African Voices (a third party provider) using an e-credit system. Therefore, while these activities were made possible by the Global Learning Programme, neither the activity nor this research was directly funded by it]. It begins by reconsidering a number of broad questions implicitly raised in successive Bulletins from 2007 to the present: What is African Voices? What is distinctive about it as a Schools Outreach Programme? What is its enduring value as a LUCAS endeavour? Given that African Voices, in its current form, delivers day-long workshops with schools, it considers the consequences of including week-long activities as a more sustained form of engagement. It will then consider the proposed methodology and actual delivery of the African Voices Weeks, using planning documents and interviews with focus groups from all levels of participation. It will show that, while the weeks were broadly successful in their aims, there were significant disparities in understanding these aims and in the expectations of pupils, staff and senior management. In conclusion, it will use the findings of post-evaluation discussions to suggest new directions for the project.
What is African Voices?
African Voices is an initiative based at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Leeds (LUCAS) that recruits African Postgraduate Students to deliver day-long programmes on African Diversity to primary schools around Leeds. On the LUCAS website, it defines three aims: “to challenge pupil perceptions of Africa, to explore the diversity of the continent and to develop [pupil] understanding of contemporary issues‟ (LUCAS 2014). These aims, and the contemporary African Voices programme, have evolved out of a series of related endeavours that date back to 2004.
From 2004 to 2006, a pilot project called “The LUCAS Schools‟ Global Citizenship Project‟ was led by Richard Borowski and was funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), and the University of Leeds Widening Participation Fund, with administrative support from LUCAS. The aims of this early project were “to raise awareness, and assist in the delivery, of the global dimension of the National Curriculum‟, “to raise awareness of Africa’s contribution to global development‟ and “to raise the aspirations of children in Leeds‟ (Plastow 2007: 49). These aims had two subsidiary benefits for African postgraduate students and for LUCAS: a contribution to the personal and professional development of the students and a contribution to LUCAS’ understanding of how Africa is perceived in the local community, while widening its outreach into the Leeds school system. The evolution of the initiative may be identified in three critical changes from the pilot project to African Voices, as a DfID funded project from 2007 to 2010. First, the pilot project involved high schools, where African Voices is marketed for primary schools (Plastow 2007: 50; Borowski 2008: 15). Over the course of the pilot project, a decision was made to expand the remit of the project to include Year 6 students, as part of a city-wide initiative to link high schools and primary schools in “transition‟ years (5-8) (Plastow 2007: 54). By the first year of African Voices, the project had shifted its focus to Years 5 and 6. Borowski explains the expansion to Year 5 as an opportunity for the postgraduate students to develop teaching skills in a less daunting environment, before the more challenging theme-based Year 6 classes (Borowski 2008: 15). However, successive articulations show a shift in the rationale: the pilot project showed that the project’s impact on primary schools was greater than on secondary schools and that primary schools were primarily interested in it for extra-curricular reasons (i.e. promoting racial awareness) (Hirst 2010: 4; 5). This may have influenced the second change: the movement away from a direct focus on the global citizenship curriculum in favour of a more person-focussed effort to introduce pupils to African students who would disrupt stereotypes through their presence in the classroom. Borowski (2009/10) details the success as “raising the awareness of Africa and its peoples of all pupils to roughly the same level regardless of the initial starting point‟ (12) [Hirst (2010) and Plastow (2007) used interviews with pupils, staff, and pre- and post-assessment tests]. The four reasons Borowski gives are role modelling, personal bonds, active learning and content and information. In other words, if the project had always understood the students to be the primary resource, the evaluations by Hirst (2010) and Plastow (2007) focus on the content-knowledge these students were able to bring. Subsequent yearly reviews of the project by Borowski (2008; 2009/10; 2010/11) emphasise this less than the simple significance of personal interaction. Borowski (2009/10)
gives content and information as only the fourth reason for the project’s success. As descriptions of the project progress through the literature, the importance of what is taught recedes in the face of who teaches it.
The programmes examined in this paper differed from other African Voices activities, in that the African students participated in the planning and implementation of a week-long series of activities (rather than a single day-long workshop), referred to by the schools as Africa Week, and by the LUCAS initiative as African Voices Week. The significance of the week-long partnerships with schools may therefore be understood as a development of the model set forth most explicitly in Bulletins 69 and 70 (Plastow 2007; Borowski 2008): the concentration on sustained personal relationships, as built over the course of a week-long series of co-produced activities. The impact of this development is to be found in the project’s increased understanding of the importance of close personal relationships with the African students. Here, we might liken the process to linking, the term defined in Leonard (2008) as “a partnership [between schools] which is long-term, fully reciprocal, and embedded in the curriculum‟. Bourn (2014) has indicated that such partnerships have not always been altogether reciprocal, and the emphasis has often fallen on the charitable nature of contributions from schools from the global North. But, Bourn argues, these pitfalls are offset by “seeing a link as a practical manifestation of promoting a broader world outlook‟ (2014: 10). While this may be practical, the question remains whether such manifestations are practicable, given the costs to schools of teacher exchanges in terms of time and money. African Voices may therefore either supplement or compensate for insufficient opportunities to link. Moreover, where linking is a practice that connects institutions, the activities of African Voices have always involved the short-term placement of an African research student in a UK school environment. This has meant that the long-term benefits have only been felt by teachers who have met successive students, when schools have decided to reengage African Voices from year to year. The African Voices Week was designed to offset the disadvantages of short-term interventions, by helping schools to prepare a sustainable programme of African awareness training, given across the whole school and potentially repeatable in years to come.
The African Voices Week
The African Voices Week training package, as serviced through the Global Learning Programme (GLP, included training for staff, the assistance of two African students as a teaching and training resources in the lead-up and delivery of the African Voices week, and the follow-up evaluation.) The three schools participating in the GLP were Hill Top Primary, Bramley Primary, and Otley All Saints Primary. The programme had four stages: introduction, planning, implementation and evaluation.
A representative from each school (either head or deputy head) participated in a preliminary training session, in which they were introduced to the African Voices methodology and framework, introduced to an African Voices teacher, and invited to collaborate on a whole-school week-long activity programme. The AV teacher was to be used as a live resource, able to contribute to the planning of the week, and then facilitate various class activities during the week.
On the basis of this initial planning phase, the school representative presented a plan of action to their school for an Africa-themed week. The AV teacher was invited to participate in a staff meeting, in which they were introduced to AV methods and practices, and presented with some of the key challenges involved in teaching Africa-related topics. Staff were invited to prepare Africa-themed classes to run concurrently with visits from AV teachers (2 per school), and in line with a whole-school approach. The implementation of the AV Week happened in late June 2014. As the curriculum had already been covered, this made the activity a good “filler‟ before the end of term.
To evaluate the days, the researcher interviewed a number of people at the participating primary schools: the organising administrator (head teacher or deputy head teacher), a pool of participating teachers, and a focus group of learners (2-3 learners per age group). He also interviewed two African Voices students, whom he asked to compare the week-long event to the standard day-long school visits.
On the basis of the interviews, seven key findings about the activity were identified. Schools indicated a general preference for the week-long activity over the standard day visits. The school representatives were each able to respond thoughtfully to the African Voices methodology, although only 2 out of 3 were able to attend the training. This differed from teaching staff who had not attended training but were involved in organising the African Voices Weeks. Some teachers indicated scheduling concerns, but this did not correlate to antipathy or ignorance about the core aims of the African Voices Programme. It did, however, correlate with concerns over repeated material in those schools where classes had already experienced an African Voices Day. The schools all reported good results from the concluding activity, which, in each case, involved a school assembly with presentations by individual classes on what they had learned over the course of the week. The schools reported mixed results to the age-related activities developed across the school: Years 1, 2, 5 and 6 were deemed to have sufficient materials, where Years 3 and 4 required more revision of materials. Finally, each school indicated that they would like to continue with this revised form of the programme in the future.
Preference for Week-Long Activity
The univocal response to this activity was a preference for a week-long activity, although some teachers did worry about such a significant allocation of time to projects outside the curriculum, as indicated in responses during the interviews. This was not a general response, however. In fact, one co-ordinator felt the opposite:
“Africa Week is cross-curricular and may be tied across the subjects, with a lot of the work then taken into the curriculum‟
Even a teacher who did not see the African Voices Programme as necessarily tied to the curriculum indicated the value of the Programme for the curriculum, especially in its week-long format:
“We don‟t teach about Africa specifically, but we do like off-curriculum topics. It does influence geography teaching, and is meaningful to other areas. I’d like to run it again as a week.‟
Response to African Voices Methodology
The preliminary training for the “Africa Weeks‟ proved to be quite successful: although only 2 out of the 3 coordinators were able to attend this training session, all 3 were able to respond to AV methodology thoughtfully during interview. Interestingly, their understanding of the methodology was, in each case, different. For instance, one coordinator understood the methodology as follows:
“It is about looking at perceptions and challenging those perceptions (by unpacking them) at their root (media etc.). It refocuses attention. I also thought the Assembly worked to recollect what we had learned and revisit the learning situation. The True/False Activity really sums up the methodology.‟
Another understood it more in light of the Global Learning Programme:
“We understand LUCAS‟s approach as the same as ours, with LUCAS supporting us in our responsibility in the upbringing of global citizens who have tolerance and global awareness.‟
Both responses indicate an awareness of the programme‟s methodologies and orientation in the GLP. This differed from the teachers, who had not necessarily received adequate introduction to the methodology or ideology of the programme, since it was often the singing, dancing or cultural activities that these teachers returned to in interviews. In subsequent feedback sessions, the coordinators recommended the preparation of a short training video that might be aired at a staff meeting in preparation for the week.
Involvement of Teaching Staff
As already indicated, the involvement of teaching staff who did not attend the training session produced mixed results. At one school there was a miscommunication and the AV teacher was not able to attend the staff meeting, which led to uncertainty about the overriding premise of the activity. Schools differed in their approach to informing staff about the pattern of the week: one delivered it in the form of a memo; another had a plan of activities. In the subsequent interviews, staff did not seem altogether sure about what the point of the day had been; here, what served to differentiate staff response to the success of the activity was a stated confidence in the leadership of the representative, and a willingness to trust in their judgment, rather than direct engagement with the AV methodology. Existing leadership structures in the schools therefore determined the responsiveness of the general staff.
Some teachers also had scheduling concerns. According to one teacher, running the “Africa Week‟ in late June negatively impacted their Year 6 class. The class was engaged in transition activities and high school visits and could not participate fully in the AV activities. However, other teachers indicated that they were satisfied with this scheduling decision.
Concerns over Repeated Material
Select classes were given extended time with the AV teachers over two days (an expansion on set AV activities). Some teachers whose classes had experienced AV days before worried about repeated material. For example, one teacher said:
“It was very similar to the [AV] day we had last year. We covered the same ground over 2-3 hours last time. It would be better not to repeat the same class. Whoever comes next year needs a new spin because they [the pupils] lose interest.‟
This evidence of repetition suggests that a potential problem with a whole school approach is that many of the activities designed for a single intervention may become repetitive after repeated visits. The pupil focus group confirmed this, with one student commenting:
“I already knew most of it (had it in Year 4) so it was a little bit boring.‟
The consensus was that a whole school approach was a more integrated and involved activity. Many of the earlier year teachers were happier with this approach, since they would not be the recipients of African Voices Days, and the week-long activities gave them an opportunity to participate. All three schools concluded the week with presentations from classes across the school on what they had done during the week. Each class selected a country to focus on. In the earlier years, they directed their attention to cultural activities and art projects. In the later years, they also raised questions of social responsibility. An indication of the range of responses is evident in these responses from a Year 3, Year 4 and Year 6 teacher, respectively:
“I thought the assembly was really good – everyone saw what everyone else had done and it really created a good school vibe.‟
“I agree. It was good that it wasn’t just Year 6, everyone had a different aspect. I also thought the assembly was really good.‟
“Yes (I would have liked to measure it). Good prelim activities. Classes ran themselves with a nice feedback loop in the final assembly.‟
This consensus suggests that the concluding activity was perceived to be an important part of consolidating a whole-school approach to the activity.
Each class had age-related topics, and was given relative freedom of scope to address any aspect of the country they were focusing on. This meant that results were variable depending on teacher interest, involvement and experience. Where some teachers found the method age-appropriate, other teachers felt that it needed to be more explicitly socially and politically aware. For one Year 4 teacher, this was sufficiently explicit:
“They are drowned in poverty and famine ideas, but this gave them a social-cultural class association, which changes it from being all the same.‟
For a Year 6 teacher, this might have been more explicit:
“I’m not sure. They tended to talk in cultural rather than political terms, and kept it light. Mine could have dealt with more politics and touched on political issues more‟.
On the whole, however, it seemed that the teachers who invested more time and effort into the week were less concerned with age-appropriacy, since they saw the students less as teachers and more as a resource.
Continuation of the Programme
The schools generally indicated a desire to continue the programme, with some schools going so far as to propose plans for implementing the Africa Week as a yearly event, with revolving country allocations (so that each class will have learnt about 7 different countries by the end of their time at the school).
Although the interviews and focus groups confirmed many of the findings of previous analyses (Hirst, Plastow, Borowski) about learner development, the emphasis in this report has been on teacher involvement. It was clear from witnessing two out of the three assemblies that classes had received significantly different ideas about Africa during the course of the week, depending on their degree of involvement with the African Voices students. Moreover, this observation allows for the considerable difference in level of engagement between Year 1 and Year 6; Year 6 classes might be as liable to confirm stereotypes as Year 1, when the teacher had not had significant involvement with the student. In other words, what each class got out of the African Voices Week was not simply the net result of interaction between pupil, student and teacher, facilitated by policy through the school administrator: it was mediated by how the teacher had already determined the way in which the student would be received. Teachers who indicated that they had learned something from the student correlated with classes where significantly more social awareness was evident. Teachers who insisted that they had “known it all before‟ were less likely to have classes who evidenced significant social awareness. The findings of this report suggest that while there are still significant challenges to implementing an African Voices Week, these may have effects that are far more sustainable and long-lasting. However, the difficulty may not be addressing the needs of pupils, but the needs of their teachers.
Borowski, Richard, 2008, “The LUCAS Schools Project 2007/08‟, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, No. 70, pp. 15-17.
——– 2009/10, “LUCAS Schools Project 2008/9‟, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, No. 71, pp. 10-14.
——– 2010/11, “LUCAS Schools Project‟, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, No. 72, pp. 9-13.
Bourn, D, 2014, School Linking and Global Learning-Teachers Reflections. Development Education Research Centre Research Papers, vol. 12, vol. DERC Research Paper 12, Development Education Research Centre, Institute of Education, University of London, London.
Hirst, Bob, 2010, Promotion of Understanding of Africa. External Evaluation Report.
Leonard, A. (2008) “Global School relationships: school linking and modern challenges‟. Bourn, D. (ed.) Development Education: Debates and Dialogues, London, Bedford Way Papers, 64-98.
Plastow, Jane, 2007, “The LUCAS Schools’ Global Citizenship Project‟, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, No. 69, pp. 48-60.
Arthur Rose recently completed his PhD in the School of English at the University of Leeds. It is called Cynical Cosmopolitans? Borges, Beckett, Coetzee, and has been accepted for publication. He has been involved with the schools programme, African Voices, for the past three years.