While their friends shoveled snow or sat on the beach, 15 students traveled to Africa and France during winter break to observe the educational systems.
Students in the EDU301/501 course were given a unique experience for observation. The class spent two weeks in January seeing educational models at work in the African country of Benin and in Paris. “It will make you a better person, it will make you a more worldly person,” said Matthew Williams '04, M '06, who went on the trip.
The course, “Schooling, Pedagogy and Social Justice in Paris/Benin,” studies differences in educational models and application. The class met in the second half of the fall semester, beginning Oct. 28, and used class time and online discussion to address issues of education. The course is being offered again in the second quarter of the fall semester 2008.
Williams and Jason Demauro '10 presented their experiences during the Feb. 20 College Hour, displaying artifacts, photos and video. The presentation focused mainly on the educational system in Benin, an African republic slightly smaller than Pennsylvania.
Williams and Demauro explained that the school system in Benin, at the public and rural levels, faces many hardships including language barriers, lack of materials and overcrowded conditions. Other issues facing schools — and Benin as a whole — are malnutrition, lack of vaccinations and water contamination.
To gain a broad experience of the educational system in the country, the class visited public and rural schools along with private schools and a school for the deaf. In Benin, children learn French and another language of their choice: English, Spanish or German.
The Oswego students had the opportunity to experience Beninese culture through ceremony, and visiting villages and open markets. While in Ouidah, the students were able to observe the Vodoun Festival, a remembrance ceremony for ancestors. Vodoun is the prominent religion in Benin, followed by Christianity and Islam. “You don’t have an understanding of it until you’re there,” Demauro said of his experience.
At a rural school the class was welcomed with a blessing song from the children, who traveled to the school despite a teachers' strike. The class gave the children gifts of school supplies and received a song of thanks; Demauro presented videos of both.
Both Williams and Demauro advocate the study of school systems through observation as a means to better understand them. “Doing this kind of study will change your life,” said Williams.
— Arlee J. Logan '09
Matthew Williams '04, M '06 describes purchasing, and bartering for, these artifacts while in Benin.
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