How Do I Find Sierra Leone?

Working with a Year 5 class today using and annotating Google Maps when one of the students asked if she could look for her "old home".

I said sure, and then she asked, "How do you spell Sierra Leone?"

I helped her and she quickly navigated her way to Freetown. She zoomed into her old neighbourhood, or what she thought was, checking out some of the linked photos on the map. "Oh, I remember that beach!"

"How long ago did you come to Australia?" I ask in my best diplomatic voice.

"About four years ago. But there are no photos here of my street."

Then I suggested that she grab the yellow Streetview man and drag him into one of the streets.

"It won't work."

Then it dawned on me. The roads were dirt and had never had the Googlemobile cruise them. The civil war that had been the catalyst for this particular student's family decision to depart has meant that this is one of the many places on Earth that Google won't venture into. You can zoom in from on high via a satellite but the real Freetown can be still be explored via the sharing mechanism on Flickr.

And today's little experience connects me back up to a quote from Jose Vilson plucked a little bit out of context from a recent post of his, but I'm sure that as long as it is making me think, I'm sure he won't mind. He says the following at the end of a pointed paragraph:

We say we want the best for all children, but have a hard time using the words “Black,” “Latino,” or “Asian.” Heck, you still think those types of kids don’t come to school to learn how to make it in a world that’s not theirs.

What we push forward in a typical Australian classroom is constructed from cultural and national understandings that are a world away from a child born in Sierra Leone, a second generation Vietnamese kid whose parents had to flee their home country or even an Aboriginal kid whose ancestors were always here but comes from a culture that is often poorly understood and massively underrepresented in Australian society. And after hearing a lot more about the incoming Australian Curriculum, I wonder whether it will empower or disengage our kids from indigenous, migrant and refugee backgrounds in our classrooms.

Or will they wish they were still back in their own "Freetown"?


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2 thoughts on “How Do I Find Sierra Leone?

  1. Ronnie Fleming

    I don’t know what challenges you face with this new curriculum that’s being imposed on you but as a teacher please know that you are making a huge difference in this young girl’s life. Based in the UK I have worked with partners, including schools, in Sierra Leone from 2004 to 2010. Children would beg me to send them to school by paying their fees. Primary education is supposed to be free for all but it is not and most parents cannot afford to send their kids to school. Children would beg 2,000 Leones (about AU$ 0.5) for a lunch time snack as they had no breakfast and would be going home to a meager bowl of rice and potato leafs for dinner. Imagine trying to educate kids with no food in their stomachs. Sierra Leone is getting better but life expectancy is about 43 up from 35 when I worked there and this is because children die so young. They say there if you can get to be 5 years old then you have a chance. So your Sierra Leonian child has a better chance where she is and maybe if she grows up with a good education and gets a good degree she will be equipped to go back to Freetown and make a real difference. Keep going, strive for excellence and you’ll help make this world a better place.

    1. Graham Wegner

      I have no doubt that this student has a better shot at life on her own terms here in Australia, although she is not without her own barriers to overcome simply through the events of her life that led her and her family here. We have many students from all around the world here at my school and I suppose I was wondering out loud whether the system of education we have here is unwittingly biased against kids like this and the “virtual school bag” she brings to school. What we value as an Australian society may not necessarily be of this person’s world – but being literate and numerate are valuable life skills that transcend and make connections between cultures. I was just bouncing my ideas up against Jose’s statement that seemed to infer to me that our education system rewards kids with certain values, dispositions and support mechanisms. How much of an advantage does my own child have where he is read to on a daily basis, has access to the internet and mainstream culture and has a comfortable life where hunger and want (of a real kind) are unknown, compared to the child who can still remember life in the refugee camp, where parents can’t help with their homework because their English is being learned from their kids and where their long term future still depends on whether their home country will be safe sometime to return to – if there is anything left to return to? I’m rambling but a lot of things have been in the past for disadvantaged groups that hasn’t always turned out to be in their best interest. Acknowledging up front that education is not a level playing field can be a start to avoiding the mistakes of the past.


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