Norwich teacher transforming education in South Africa’s townships

Sara Stanley, who gave up her job as a primary school teacher in Norwich so she could work on a pioneering project in South Africa helping to train its primary school teachers.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY Sara Stanley, who gave up her job as a primary school teacher in Norwich so she could work on a pioneering project in South Africa helping to train its primary school teachers. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
6:30 AM

A Norwich teacher has been helping to transform education in South Africa thanks to a pioneering project.

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Sara Stanley has been travelling out to the Cape Flats - the townships and areas based around Cape Town - to instruct primary school teachers on how they can use picture books to teach three, four and five-year-olds about philosphical ideas.

Mrs Stanley, who used to teach at several schools in the city including Chapel Break, Sparhawk and Lionwood, specialises in a type of teaching called the Philosphy for Children movement.

It encourages children to ask questions and to work together to develop ideas on the philosophical aspects of life, and in townships such as Vrygrond and Lavender Hill many of the young children are forced to run households as their parents are dead or dying with Aids, and they face serious deprivation and gang violence.

Mrs Stanley, who lives in Sprowston, said: “When I’m doing storytelling and bring out the philosophical issues their stories are frighteningly real. They tell of deaths and stabbings, violence and aggression.

“A big part is developing a sense of community. That has been the thing that we had had to work on the most - to get them to learn to listen and respect each other because they come from a culture where that isn’t encouraged and where education is about control rather than free thinking and allowing children’s voices to be heard.

“Much of it is trying to achieve what Mandela wanted to achieve and this is a way of developing change for future generations.

“We look at issues such as why people are violent, what is poverty, what is equality and what are friendships, all using storytelling and picture books and it helps them really make sense of their world.”

The Early Thinking Project was developed by the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) - an independent research and development unit attached to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Cape Town and which aims to raise literacy standards and education in the area.

Mrs Stanley, 47, whose latest book is called Why Think? Philosophical Play from 3-11, said the project has proved successful so far.

she said: “We had an evaluation day and we had practitioners saying the transformation in their children has been unbelieveable.”

More information about the project, and Mrs Stanley’s educational consultancy Childrenthinking which she runs with fellow Norwich deputy headteacher Maria Cornish, is available at http://childrenthinking.co.uk/

1 comment

  • Norfolk should feel proud of you.

    Report this comment

    Trevor Ashwin

    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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