Five minutes with… Jeremy White, Education Management Advisor, Rwanda
Retired head teacher Jeremy White says volunteering has given him ‘satisfaction, fulfilment and hope’. We chat to him about his role as an Education Management Advisor in Rwanda, and find out why it’s been such an amazing experience.
Why did you decide to volunteer?
I retired from teaching to look after my wife when she became ill. After she died I began to wonder, ‘what do I do now?’. I thought of VSO because we had both spent our lives trying to make a difference to the lives of other people through teaching. I thought I could keep making a difference now.
Tell me about your placement.
I am working as an Education Management Adviser in Ngoma District, which is a rural district in the east of Rwanda. To me the biggest issue in Rwandan education is the quality of teaching, so I’ve been working with head teachers of the 65 primary schools across the district to identify some strategies to help improve the methods the teachers in their schools use.
How did you do that?
One of the things I did was to set up a steering group of head teachers where we discussed what makes a good school, a good head teacher and a good teacher. Afterwards I implemented a training programme for them based on their ideas.
What else have you done?
I have also been working with another VSO volunteer, Anna MacEachern, a Basic Education Methodology Trainer who is also based in Ngoma. The district office asked us to run workshops for students at a Teacher Training College. There we showed students ways to focus on pupils’ learning and explained the importance of checking for understanding. We also showed them how to make visual aids out of cheap local resources.
What have you discovered about education in Rwanda?
The circumstances are obviously more challenging in Rwanda in terms of resources. But there are many things that are the same: the challenge as a head teacher is always to motivate people, to develop your staff and to monitor what is going on in your school. What is very different is the teaching practice. Here there is a lot of focus on traditional teaching methods, but little on actual learning and checking for understanding. For example, the teachers will ask the children if they know the four countries that border Rwanda, the children will say yes and then the lesson will move straight on!
Is Rwanda as you expected it to be?
I’m not sure what I expected of Rwanda, but I think what I’ve found has exceeded whatever that was! When I flew into Kigali the first thing I was struck with, even from the aeroplane, was looking down and seeing well ordered roads and nice tin roofs that weren’t falling apart. That is what’s so different about Rwanda compared to the other African countries I’ve been to before – everything is so clean. Now that I’ve lived here for a bit, I also know it’s people are friendly and professional, and that outside of Kigali it is a very green and beautiful country.
Would you recommend volunteering?
I don’t think it’s right for everybody, but it’s fulfilling there is no question about that. I’ve gained an awful lot from it. It’s given me an opportunity to carry on doing what I’ve always been doing, and at the same time it has given me companionship and collegiality. I could have sat at home in my retirement, recording music and making photograph albums, but this has given me satisfaction and fulfilment and hope. I’ve still got something to give – and it’s important for me not to stop.