January 23, 2015 | Katie Salyer

Students chattering, teachers leading, pencils scrawling, classrooms across the world in the south African country of Zambia appear much like those in America: students are students wherever you go.

This past spring, a group of 15 Calvin students traveled to Zambia to research education and compare classroom practices elsewhere in the world. They recently shared their experiences with the Calvin community. 

“It was a great experience overall—to specifically look at teaching practices and compare them throughout schools and compare them to our education systems,” said junior elementary education major Lindsey Turner.

Snapshots of classrooms

While on the trip, Calvin students observed in multiple types of classrooms with varying levels of diversity and socioeconomic backgrounds. Those on the trip took careful notes and “snapshots” of classroom activity every six minutes to put data with their empirical observations. According to Calvin education professor Marj Terpstra, the data allowed the students to focus and articulate what they noticed about the students and education itself.

Calvin’s future teachers learned valuable lessons that they hope to put into practice when they have classrooms of their own. Senior elementary and early childhood education major Joy Oh noticed what students best responded to in the classroom was directly correlated with their previous knowledge of the world. “I want to emphasize cultural awareness in my classroom,” said Oh. “Teachers need to bring in aspects of the culture that the students would understand. You have to use what they already know to explain a topic that they’re unaware of.” 

Along with the “snapshots,” students were required to meet with and interview faculty to see the teachers’ perspectives as well. “One of the most important aspects of the trip was the building of relationships and seeing Zambians as brothers and sisters,” remarked Terpstra. “To go in humbly as people wanting to learn from them ... We didn’t want it to be us coming and aiding but us learning from them.”

Future educators

The trip reminded the education students of their important job as educators. “The value of education is so under-appreciated here [in the States]. A lot of kids don’t realize the opportunities that they have and they don’t take advantage of them,” noted Turner.

Oh also noticed the difference in student attitudes toward education. “Students want to be there. Students in the States don’t have that attitude. Zambian students have a passion for education. It’s very relationship based,” she said.

Observing in the Zambian classrooms as future educators also taught the Calvin students about themselves and about American education systems. “It really made me appreciate U.S. differentiated education. In the U.S. there is inclusion of special ed and accommodation for students with special concerns. There are also a lot of resources in the U.S., but it was cool to learn how much [Zambians] value education. The government itself values education because [Zambians] know it’s a necessity,” said Oh.

Most importantly, this trip taught these future teachers the importance of recognizing every person as a child of God. Oh was saddened at how often we focus on the differences between each other and not on what we have in common because, as she said, “People are people wherever you go. Students are students wherever you go.”

Recent stories