Teaching and Learning in West Africa

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2008 Alumna Teaches Elementary Schoolers, Learns About Culture in Togo

Sarah Mason05.14.14 — After a full day of teaching, Sarah Mason ’08 creates lesson plans for the next day and then heads out to her West African dance class where drum beats ricochet through her body as she dances with people from all over the world.

Mason is the head teacher of grades four and five at the Arc-en-Ciel Ecole International school in Togo, West Africa. There, she teaches students from Lebanon, Spain, France, India and Togo using American textbooks. Since her school is a candidate for International Baccalaureate accreditation, the teaching shifts from textbook and memorization instruction to an inquiry-based curriculum with the intention of developing life-long learners.

This is Mason’s second time living in West Africa. As a student, she explored Togo’s neighbor, Ghana, during a semester abroad.

“I have learned to keep traveling after college because places are changing and you can always understand new depths of a region the longer you are there,” she said.

Oil was discovered in Ghana shortly after she studied abroad as a student, and the infrastructure of that country was forever changed. Mason also notes that although Togo and Ghana share a border and populations from the same ethnic groups, their political cultures have created very different countries.

Mason says the best way to gain an understanding about the world is to travel and immerse yourself in different cultures. If traveling isn’t an option, she suggests taking the time to learn about global neighbors by reading literature from African authors, or seeking out Afrobeat music.

“Most importantly, know that it is here,” she said. “We don’t hear much about West Africa in America unless it is negative. It is really different than any other place I have ever been; I don’t mean that to say that it is good or bad, it is just really different.”

Mason was an interdepartmental major at Augustana. She was especially influenced by her study abroad experience and credits Donn Grinager and Ben Iverson from the International Programs Office for encouraging her to explore the world.

“I’d love to return to campus now that they have brought the world to Augustana with students from all over the globe,” said Mason.

After fulfilling her contract at the school this spring, Mason plans to return to the U.S. and continue on her career path in the field of social work.