A mass of out-stretched arms and wide-eyed wonder, students at Al-Hijra Primary School in Pangani, Tanzania scrambled to catch a glimpse of their teachers’ work from our LTP workshop. However, a hard line etched by one of the Al-Hijra teachers in the sand soon greeted the excited schoolchildren. Rather than seem disappointed by the distance from which they had to view the LTP work, the students accepted the discipline with as much ease as receiving the school chai during teatime. It was not the complacency of the students that bothered me, for I expected as much from observing and working at schools in Arusha during the previous weeks, but rather the blatant show of separation, detachment, and disunion between pupil and educator. I kneeled down and snapped a photo.
Although LTP stands for Literacy Through Photography, much of our work focuses on learning through participation. The workshops we conduct with the teachers showcase the participatory teaching style we hope to inspire, which includes picture analyses, open-ended questions, and animated discussions. Yet, try as we might to direct workshops that reflect the teaching style we wish to impart, I find that some teachers have a difficult time absorbing the method because the application of the traditional rote learning style from the time of their primary and secondary education to learn this “new” one does not transfer easily. Furthermore, while we repeat that any answer to an open-ended question is correct, we also have a duty to convey not just the teaching knowledge that we have, but also to impart it correctly. In any question, there is a fine line between what is right and what the asker believes is right. When is it okay to accept what the recipient is saying and when is it okay to ask leading questions to get at an answer that you believe is the right one? And once we know what is okay and what is not okay, how can we communicate that to the workshop participants? Slowly, and with the aid of my fellow Duke LTP instructors, I am trying to find the answers to these questions. However, in the mean time, we continue to push ourselves in teaching and the Tanzanian teachers in learning this participatory method of education. Without this momentum, rote learning will be reinforced in the students as a “successful” method of education; thus the already distant student-teacher relationship will deepen and persist, leading then, to minimal discussions within the classroom. It is not enough to wait for weather, time, or other natural phenomena to wear away the wall between students and teachers. Conducting and participating in LTP workshops is one way of fighting the war on conventions that will leave the old teaching method as something to be fondly remembered, but not rebuilt.