America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

Teaching Interactive Math in Zanzibar.

Unofficial Ambassador Tomoko Ishikawa is teaching Mathematics at the Tomekuja School in Zanzibar, Tanzania.  Tomoko brings a unique perspective from her own cultural background in the different methods when it comes to teaching.

It has been almost a week since I arrived in Zanzibar. I came here on May 26th and started teaching mathematics at Tomekuja School from the 28th. In the morning, I woke up 6:00 and leave the apartment at 6:30 to join in the assembly. At the assembly, all the students gathered at the school garden and start praying. After the assembly, the students and teachers went back to the classrooms and began their lessons. One class is forty minutes long and each subject has 2 classes every day. This schedule surprised me in the beginning because of the early start (I am not a morning person) but I think I am getting used to it little by little. I have taught for only a few days, but there are so many things that I realized through teaching and interaction with students and teachers at this school.

My arrival in Zanzibar.

My arrival in Zanzibar.

One thing that I realized is that the different teaching style at school is based on their culture. In western culture, people embrace the notion of egalitarianism and individualism thus the lecture is interactive and lively. On the other hand, non-western culture holds a hierarchical and collectivism system where the lecture is less interactive and more passive. When I came to the classroom and asked the students question about the content of the lecture, they looked at me with confusion and none of them raised their hands. This reminded me of my English class from an elementary school, where an ESL teacher from Australia came into my classroom and tried to teach us English through interactive lessons, but because none of us knew what to do, we just kept staring at the teacher. I think that because the students are not taught to voice their opinion, they are not used to interactive lessons and expressing their opinions. It is part of the cultural experience and I hope day-by-day the students will get used to it and interact more in the class.

The people in Zanzibar are very nice and polite. When I went to the school for the first day of my internship, the teachers came up to me and welcomed me to the school. The teachers, especially Mrs. Shuwenna, are very helpful and often introduce me not only to the school environment, but also to new Islamic culture and its educational system that I had never heard before such as praying and the difference between the private school and the governmental school. The students are very polite and eager to learn new things and every time I enter the class, all the students stand up and greet me. It also reminded me of my early school life where I stood up and bowed in the beginning of the class. They are engaged students who are full of respect and I feel so lucky to have them as colleagues and students.

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