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Nearly 200 students have taken part in Warwick in Africa. For many it has been a life changing experience and had a profound effect on their view of the world and themselves. It has also influenced the number of highly talented students going into teaching with 60% of students following their experience planning to teach as a career. Louise Ackroyd and Lucia Gobbi, who both featured in the recent BBC documentary Our World: Mission for Maths are excellent examples.

student_teacher_2.pngLouise Ackroyd
Recently qualified teacher

Three years ago, Louise was a second year maths student at Warwick and becoming a teacher didn’t feature anywhere in her plans for the future. Now having just completed a third Warwick in Africa trip, and having gained not just her BSc but also a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Warwick she is a qualified teacher at the North Oxfordshire Academy in Banbury.

It all started in my second year when I had the opportunity to take part in the Student Associate Scheme. This was a UK government funded, short course programme in teaching and being paid to do it was a pretty attractive proposition. It taught me a lot and even that, much to my surprise, I actually liked teaching!

Then I heard about Warwick in Africa. At the time it felt like a great way of finding out more about teaching and doing something else I had always wanted to do, to travel. That first trip to Alexandra township in South Africa changed me forever. Realising that there was something that you could do that would make a substantial difference and appreciating so many things that you take for granted was brilliant.

Their lives are so different to ours – but amazingly whether they are hungry, orphaned, or sick, they are desperate to learn. I never thought before I went that I might be able to help the teachers. I’d taken my education and teachers for granted and it was only by being there that I realised how very tough it can be for others.

It’s so hard for the teachers in the township schools when they have classes of 50 plus learners and no support for children with learning difficulties. One day there was a very disruptive learner in the class who appeared not to want to learn. When I found her during lunch the reason became clear.

She had learning difficulties. By spending time together outside of the classroom she gradually gained enough confidence to come back in and get engaged.

This summer, Louise took part in a pilot programme in some rural schools in Limpopo near the South Africa and Zimbabwe border, a very different environment from the townships of Johannesburg where she had been before. Fresh pilots are always staffed with a good proportion of those with previous Warwick in Africa experience. As part of a team of seven, including two Teach First students, Louise and the team proved that Warwick in Africa’s success in teaching English and Maths in Ghana last year was no accident and likewise achieved tremendous results in Limpopo.

According to Louise working in African schools is superb preparation for life as a teacher in the UK.

You get so used to only having a blackboard and chalk in Africa, so you have to be able to teach concepts without resources. I’m never worried now about whether my Smartboard will work or whether I’ll have to change my lesson plans suddenly. It’s made me a more resilient teacher.

For any student receiving their first pay cheque after graduating is an exciting moment, but for Louise it had special significance.

Warwick in Africa changed my life and priorities. It helped me to help others realise their potential through teaching them. So the most exciting thing about my first pay day was that I was able to make a donation to Warwick in Africa. The thought that I can now invest in others to go out and change lives is really special.

Lucia Gobbi
Student teacher

What became very clear very quickly was that I was part of a team with a great support network. Although the schools may lack resources, the learners, teachers and Warwick students don’t. When you are out there seeing everyone so motivated and all focussed on working together to improve performance and increasing aspiration it is deeply moving. I learnt so much.

When you have to explain to a Dragon’s Den (where entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to secure investment from a panel) why we should get funding, it really makes you think about what you are doing. There’s no doubt that you are going to have to make a big impact when you go.