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Alumni profile - John Dalton

John Dalton (BSc Mathematics 1988-91) has taken a slightly unusual path since leaving Warwick. He’s spent much of that time teaching in Ghana and South Africa. Now based in Stellenbosch, he teaches at Makupula Secondary and has recently become involved with the Warwick in Africa teaching programme.

What was your path to Ghana and South Africa?
I originally wanted to do Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) as I was aware of my own ignorance of other cultures and fancied an adventure. Ghana was offered as one of three choices and I chose it as the school was the most remote and I wanted something different. It certainly proved to be that as we had no running water or electricity. I was the only maths teacher at the school and the experience was an intense one that would take a whole book to explain fully. I found the people and experience very fulfilling. I would recommend VSO as an option for anyone leaving university and my wife and I are considering doing it again just before we retire (if they will have us!)

South Africa had a whole different motivation as I had met my wife, Janet, while teaching in London and she is South African. We decided to move there soon after marrying which was a homecoming for her and another adventure for me.

What are the main differences between schools in the UK and South Africa?
It depends where you teach. Some of the schools in Stellenbosch where I live have facilities that would rival some private schools in the UK and they are partly state-funded.

The first difference is that schools charge fees which parents are responsible for paying. This leads to poorer areas having poorer schools and although the state does pay the teachers’ salaries and some other costs the disparity between the richest and the poorest schools is striking. There are of course success stories from these schools and we hope that Warwick will continue be involved with one at Makupula Secondary!

Another difference is that students can fail at the end of the year and have to do the year again. This puts extra pressure on students and schools to pass and can lead to teaching to the exam rather than more experiential or child-centred teaching methodologies. This is an area where I feel the volunteers from Warwick have been particularly good as they have managed to model different ways of teaching but still understand the context of how the children are assessed.

What kind of backgrounds do your students come from?
Most of my learners live in the former township of Kayamandi in Stellenbosch. They are mostly isiXhosa speakers (like Mandela) and many of them were brought up in the Eastern Cape or have strong family connections there. There is poverty and the school runs a feeding scheme. Kayamandi has 8,500 houses for 40,000 people and the rest is mainly made up of one
room shacks.

Would you recommend that other Warwick alumni follow in your footsteps?
Definitely, I would say that the Warwick in Africa programme would be a good place to dip your toes in before doing something bigger still. Please don’t follow too closely as I’d like to keep my job!

How did you get involved with Warwick in Africa?
It was just chance – they happened to turn up to look at Makupula as a potential school to support. It was the first time in my life I have been described as an alumnus!

How has it made a difference?
In many ways; the learners get more excited by the different approach to lessons and both sets of adults involved learn a lot from each other. I can see the Mathematics and English departments building strong, sustainable programmes of support for learners due to the extra input.

What do you get out of it?
It is very nice to have the input of intelligent and enthusiastic graduates; it challenges me educationally and also not to forget the ideals of my youth. I also enjoy the connection with the UK and Warwick – it brings back nice memories. It is very rewarding to see the positive impact the programme has on our staff and students as well as on the volunteers themselves.

John Dalton

There are success stories from these schools and we hope that Warwick
will continue be involved with one at Makupula Secondary!

Further info

For more information on Warwick in Africa and to find out how you can get involved, visit the website.