The First Day

Kyle Gaiser, a volunteer in Rwanda, shares his thoughts about his first day of teaching.

"We must take proper care of our children. We must quit treating them as commodities for the "job market" and teach them to be good neighbors and citizens and to do good work." - Wendell Berry, Peaceableness Toward Enemies

photo courtesy of Jane Brokaw

"As I think about and prepare for the first day of my teaching stint here in Rwanda, I am beginning to realize the significance of education beyond that of just teaching the material. My "job" is to teach math and physics by completing the curriculum laid out for me before the year's end. It seems straightforward enough: prepare the notes in advance, organize labs and homework assignments, mix in some quizes and diagnostic testing for evaluation, and add a dash of class discussion here and there. But as I read Berry's essay, I am challenged to do more. Education is more than relaying information and making kids into successful adults ("successful" usually refering to economic status). Education is vital not only in teaching students the material, but also how to use the material to benefit our world and communities now while ensuring our health tomorrow.

This is especially true in Rwanda. Here, the focus is on becoming a technological hub for East Africa and there is a strong incentive to move from a subsistence agricultural economy to a "knowledge based economy." And this change is evident in Rwanda's rapid economic growth, the value of higher education, the 2010 mandate that all classes be taught in English (not French or Kinyarwanda), the recruitment of international math and science teachers, and the improvements in infrastructure enabling an industry-based economy. With these changes in mind, may I reemphisize Berry's thoughts: education must be guided by a practical care for the world and a respect for morals. Science must be accompanied by ethics. Technology must be rooted in an awareness of our neighbors' needs and our future resources. Kids must become good neighbors before they can become good engineers, politicians, or doctors."

photo courtesy of Jane Brokaw

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