Benin educators gain learning experiences visiting Oswego

educators talkFor the 10 educators from Benin recently visiting SUNY Oswego to study the U.S. teaching system, everything was a lesson—from classroom work to an unexpected emergency drill to losing their luggage.

The exchange was the latest step in a long-term joint venture between SUNY Oswego’s School of Education and the West African nation. The Project CLIMB (Collaborative Link for Instructor Mentoring in Benin) partnership evolved out of research by Dr. Alfred Frederick, professor of curriculum and instruction at Oswego, as a Fulbright Lecturer and Fulbright Visiting Specialist in Benin.

For the two-week visit of secondary school inspectors, the college’s Project SMART sponsored SUNY Oswego professors teaching workshops, providing tours of local institutions and helping with drafts and revisions of texts to be used in Benin’s classrooms.

The visiting group consisted of inspectors who work in Porto-Novo. School inspectors, who guide Benin’s educational process, are required to have at least 15 years teaching experience and “should display qualities of a good teacher before being accepted in that circle,” said Venance Agboton, a member of the delegation.

“We noticed that everything is so well-planned in the States,” inspector Pelagie Videhouenouvinou said, with Agboton translating from French. “Nothing is done at random. Everything is done on the basis of a long-term vision, and we have benefited from seeing the participatory approach.”

Benin faces challenges attracting people to teaching because of low salaries and the scarcity of resources, so class sizes are high, Videhouenouvinou said. Inspectors hope some processes they observed could help better manage their schools.

Planning was obvious everywhere, including when they encountered an emergency drill while visiting one school. Videhouenouvinou marveled at how well organized the drill was, and how calm people were.

She also took special note of things outside the classroom, especially the “bonne ambience” or good working environment.

“Everything here is so clean,” she said. “We will take advantage of this experience and will try our hardest to make sure our kids have a clean environment.”

Benin faces great efforts getting potable water into the villages, said Dr. Dennis Parsons of Oswego’s curriculum and instruction department. Parsons, who coordinated the visit, worked with visitors Benoit Ahle and Lassec Comlan Adjiboye, who are setting up Las-ONG, a nongovernmental organization aiming to build wells and improve labor processes in Benin so more children can attend schools.

At Oswego, Agboton noted emphasis on the environment and making learning spaces attractive. “We can see grass and green places everywhere,” he said. “It is very appealing.”

The Benin delegation even bonded with their Oswego hosts when the airline initially lost their luggage. “But we were not depressed, because Dennis and his colleagues did everything to give us complete satisfaction,” Videhouenouvinou said. And while their luggage did show up a day later, “we are very sensitive to [Oswego’s] kindness, because they gave us everything we needed—towels, toothbrushes, everything they could do to ensure the problem was solved.”

Their Benin counterparts were similarly generous when SUNY Oswego representatives visited that country last summer, Parsons countered. “What they did over there for us was phenomenal,” he said.

SUNY Oswego’s Office of International Education and Programs provided room and board, ground transportation, translators and other logistics for the Benin delegation, Parsons noted.

Hart Hall residents and Penfield Library donated books to be used in Benin, he added.

Continuing work and exchanges will include a short study-abroad education course where SUNY Oswego undergraduates will visit Paris and Benin in January. In addition, Oswego professors continue to work toward offering online education courses to their colleagues in Benin, Parsons said.

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PHOTO CAPTION: SMART gathering—Oswego Middle School teacher Kristie Tonkin, left, and SUNY Oswego faculty member Marcia Burrell speak with Cephas Gbenou Sagbohan, a secondary school inspector from Benin. Ten school inspectors from Benin visited SUNY Oswego for two weeks. Among the events the visitors attended was this year-end wrap-up meeting for Project SMART and its program sponsor Entergy, whose charitable foundation recently awarded a third year of Project SMART funding at $25,000.

(Posted: Jul 17, 2007)