Concordia Language Villages has launched an English pilot project in Tanzania.
At the crossroads of some of the world’s greatest natural beauty and poverty is the Serengeti. This wild landscape of Tanzania, Africa, is home to the great wildebeest migration. Gazelles, zebras, hyenas, lions and other animals roam the park – as do poachers.
Shouts of “Karibu! Karibu sana!” or ”Welcome! You are most welcome!” greeted Concordia students and staff as they arrived at the Grumeti Reserve adjacent to the Serengeti. The team was there to launch an English Language Village pilot project and the locals welcomed them warmly.
The project was organized through the Singita Grumeti Fund, which has a strategic goal to strengthen the English skills of local children. A Singita Grumeti Fund staff member familiar with the immersion-style teaching of Concordia Language Villages proposed the partnership.
“While we have offered English language camps before in other locations, what was different was being approached by a nongovernmental organization that had an intentional philosophy,” said Christine Schulze, executive director of Concordia Language Villages. “Singita Grumeti ties English proficiency to long-term development of northern Tanzania.”
The Grumeti Reserve was created more than 20 years ago by the Tanzanian government to protect wildlife. Along the northern border of this 350,000-acre concession, managed by the Singita Grumeti Fund, are 21 villages. The children attend elementary school taught in Swahili with 40 minutes of English each day, but that’s not enough for many students to be ready for secondary school, which is taught in English.
Katherine Cunliffe works with community outreach for the Singita Grumeti Fund and knows the wide-reaching effects for students with limited English – including not passing national exams to graduate.
“Without a degree, formal employment opportunities are immediately limited,” Cunliffe said. “In the local communities bordering the Singita Grumeti concessions, it is not unheard of for people to turn to wildlife poaching when other reliable sources of income are unavailable.”
Intensive English in the immersion style seemed to be the answer. During the summer of 2017, five Concordia students led by Dr. Patricia Gulsvig, assistant professor of education, spent a month in Tanzania. Three of the students were education majors and two had Concordia Language Villages experience. All had a spirit for adventure but few assurances that this type of language learning would work in this location.
“We didn’t fully know what we were getting ourselves into,” said Lacy Tooker-Kirkevold ’18, who has served as a staff member at Waldsee, the German Language Village. “We didn’t know much about the kids, the setting or Singita Grumeti itself.”
Ninety children from third and fifth grades were selected to participate in the day camp program, which included two one-week sessions and a two-week session. They were bused to the Singita Grumeti Fund’s Environmental Education Center, which became the English Language Village experience, but when they arrived the children were very quiet.
“By the end of the first day, the third-graders realized that we had a little bit more informal relationship than they were used to with their teachers,” Gulsvig said. “It was interesting to get them to relax and understand it’s OK to make mistakes.”
The children were introduced to a new set of words each morning and then that vocabulary was built on during activities throughout the day. Songs, crafts and dances made the learning less daunting and the English more conversational.
“We’re giving them an opportunity to see that English can be taught in a way that’s constructive but fun,” Gulsvig said.
The children who participated were given both pre- and post-tests in English, which proved skills increased. Cunliffe says another sign that camp was successful was the number of parents who have requested that their children be part of the program in future years. Next summer, the program will expand to two sites serving 240 students with the plan to double that number in 2019.
Dr. Per Anderson, associate dean for global learning, believes the collaborative program among the college students and faculty, Concordia Language Villages and the Singita Grumeti Fund is integrative learning at its best. In addition to creating and implementing an English immersion camp, the Concordia students were exposed to a wide variety of societal issues that affect how people and wildlife live together in a sustainable fashion. They also had the opportunity to experience remarkable game drives that provided a glimpse into the animal kingdom that surrounded them.
“This new program epitomizes integrative, problem-solving study away,” Anderson said. “We need to put our students in extraordinary places and engage what they know.”
Photo: Maddie Malat ’18