What should I know before tutoring Sudanese refugees in highschool?
March 18, 2007 11:28 PM   Subscribe

So I'm going to start teaching English and Maths to Sudanese kids (refugees) struggling in high school for free. What should I know?

I'm a high school kid myself (senior year, about to turn 18) and just today an awe-inspiring guest speaker came to our school and told us his story. Our teachers asked for an expression of interest (in tutoring kids his programme seeks to help) and I was one of a dozen or so kids that come forward. As this is a selective-entry (academic) school in the city, kids come from all over the state and we will be helping the refugees in our local areas.

My question is thus: what should I know about Sudanese culture before embarking on this? Does anyone know of any definite dos or don'ts? I want this to be a positive experience for all involved and only mean the very best, so I don't want to be misunderstood. Thanks in advance, Mefites.
posted by PuGZ to Education (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I recently was in Africa and my parents own such a school somewhere in a village, and there are some things I discovered by interacting with the children there.

1. The children do not speak good english. Even though it is an english speaking African country, language is the biggest problem. Use examples, write on the blackboard, use imagery. Be slow.

2. For children not raised in a culture of written work, it is easier to either visualise the work or to learn it by rote. Do this - teach the kids a particular way to solve a math problem. Then make they work out 10 examples, that are pretty much the same. Then vary the 11th so that it needs some imagination. Explain it to them. Mix the 11th of 15th between the rote ones and the challenging ones. At the end of 20 exercises, they will be pretty fit in it.

3. In general, do not feel superior or impatient when people are slow. Do not be motivated by pity, else you will be condescending without even realising it. Treat the people like you would treat people whose opinion you respect, and they will react positively.

4. When tutoring, people need a sense of achievement. You have to give them easy exercises they can solve, so they build confidence.

5. While they are working exercises, do not just sit and watch them, it puts unnecesary pressure.

6. When teaching English, do not focus on the grammar. Every other language has it's pet way of mangling english. You will discover soon enough what they do. Point it out and whenever they say this, you correct them. But do not correct EVERY single mistake, else they will not want to talk to you anymore. Just pick one thing and consistently correct it.

7. Remember that sudan is not african-america. Just because the people may dress very hip-hop, do not assume that if you hiphopize things, it will be more accessible to them.

8. (This is important) If you can draw a marketplace example for mathematics, it will help people understand. If you can reduce a mathematical equation to something that can be physically handled, drawn on the floor, or negotiated in a market, they are likely to easily understand it. People who struggle with math usually do so because they have a problem abstracting. This goes particularly for people from african villages, as abstraction is not something they are ever exposed to,.

Hope I could be of help.
posted by markesh at 1:13 AM on March 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've been tutoring Sudanese kids for a few years now. (Disclaimer: I'm not at all an expert on the culture!) I don't think we've experienced any major cultural issues working together: interacting with these kids hasn't been much different than working with kids from other backgrounds.

Do you know what region of Sudan they're from, or what tribes they belong to? Sudanese people speak many different languages, and it seems like tribal affiliation can be important. My kids speak Arabic, Swahili, Acholi, Nuer, and probably a bunch of others that I haven't been able to pry out of them. Here's a list of some of the tribes.

My kids are pretty fluent in English, but they are mostly in grade school and may have picked up the new language more easily than teenagers can.
posted by lemuria at 1:40 AM on March 19, 2007

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