Virtual Volunteers Teaching English-as-a-Third Language

Author
Julie Bourgoin
Published
02/07/21
Tags
[Virtual Learning] [English Language Learning] [Tanzania] [Nurturing Minds] [English Fluency Program] [SEGA] [COVID-19]

When a girl is born in Tanzania, she learns her “mother tongue” spoken in her village. Once in primary school, she is required to learn in Kiswahili, and when she reaches secondary school, all of her schooling is taught in English. English becomes her third language.

The SEGA Girls’ School is a residential secondary school for bright, motivated Tanzanian girls who otherwise would be unable to attend school due to extreme poverty or hardship. Housing over 280 students, SEGA uses a holistic approach to education including an academically challenging Tanzanian curriculum, entrepreneurship, and a comprehensive life skills and leadership program.

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The SEGA school, which opened in 2008 to provide quality education and life skills for at-risk girls in Tanzania.

Students begin at SEGA in “Pre Form,” after they have taken their Standard 7 exams (the end of primary school) and before they begin Form 1 (the beginning of secondary school). The majority of students have little English language knowledge prior to arriving at SEGA and a short timeframe to become fluent in reading, writing, and speaking English.

Because of this challenge, Nurturing Minds' volunteers developed the English Fluency (EF) program. The EF program was started in 2015 by Nurturing Minds’ founding board member, Sherley Young, to help the youngest students quickly learn to speak and understand English using a stress-free method of drama, games, music, and activities. The English Fluency program’s goal is for girls to have confidence in speaking and understanding English so they can be successful in secondary school.  

Four EF trips have taken place over the past five years with volunteers from the U.S. and Canada staying at SEGA over a two-week period. This year, due to COVID-19, volunteers could not travel so SEGA hired four Tanzanian, university-educated teachers experienced in teaching English.

One positive aspect of limited travel during this pandemic is the increased use of video conferencing. Prior to this year and through the EF program, Pre Form girls had been exposed to meeting foreigners, performing skits, dress-up, music, science projects, and lots of laughs that come with visitors on campus. To show this class of girls that they have support from people across the world who are rooting for their success, Nurturing Minds held virtual EF sessions on Zoom.

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Under the leadership of Nurturing Minds’ board chair Annie de Cossy Forsyth, the virtual EF program started this past fall with a Welcome session. Students shared where they are from and a little about their families and volunteers gave each girl words of encouragement. Over the nine-week program, EF volunteers held sessions with the girls to expose them to the curriculum. Feedback from the teachers was that the girls were shy in the beginning and not fully understanding what people were saying. With each session, the girls became more confident and vied to be first in front of the camera. In December, a Farewell Ceremony was held where the girls showcased what they learned through stories and music. It was a delight and amazing to see the difference the program made in the girls’ English speaking ability.

SEGA aims to remove barriers to education for vulnerable girls so they can create a life for themselves beyond poverty, with successful long-term outcomes and financial self-sufficiency. By providing a quality academic education while nurturing each girl, SEGA empowers these young women to plan and shape their own futures. We are grateful to our U.S. volunteers for adapting this important program to a virtual format and continuing to provide an essential skill that will carry students through their secondary schooling and beyond. 

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Nurturing Minds and SEGA hope to resume the in-person EF program in October 2021. Please contact [email protected] to learn more about participating in the EF program.

About the Author

Julie Bourgoin is a development professional with 25 years of experience in hospital, education, and social services fundraising. Her particular interest in poverty alleviation led her to Nurturing Minds, a U.S.-based organization that supports the education of vulnerable adolescent girls in Tanzania, where she has served for more than 10 years as a volunteer and board member, and currently works as a program officer and grant writer. She is a Worthington Scholarship Foundation board member and holds a B.A. in political science from the University of Colorado, Boulder.