A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR FROM USA PROMOTING STORY-BASED LEARNING TO RWANDANS

By IGIHE
On 8 August 2019 at 03:44

Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on August 12, 1929, and died in a Nazi concentration camp in February 1945, the year the Second World War ended.

History shows that during that war, Anne was writing every event she lived while in hiding with her family for almost 2 ½ years.

The heritage she left enabled those living the years that followed until now to know the trouble she experienced during World War II (1939-1945), which didn’t even spare the youth.

This genocide of Eastern Europe is referred to as the Holocaust where 11 million people were executed by Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime; 6 million of those murdered were Jews.

The other 5 million were those Hitler considered undesirable including black, disabled, homosexual, gypsy and other people he didn’t consider perfect. Like every genocide, Hitler was attempting to blame the world’s problems on the “other”—Hitler used the Jews as his scapegoat, much like the Hutu extremists used the Tutsi in 1994.

Anne Frank’s diary has been translated into hundreds of languages and serves as a source of inspiration to thousands around the world—she chose to see the ‘light’ in the midst of the horrible ‘darkness.’ Professor Kahn has met many ‘Anne Franks’ in Rwanda.

The story of this child inspired Prof Drew Kahn, Distinguished Service Professor at The State University of New York, Buffalo State, to initiate a project called ‘The Anne Frank Project’ helping students, teachers, and administrators to use stories as vehicles to teach lessons in conflict resolution, community building and identity exploration.

In the end, his passion is to help young people to tell their own stories. Kahn states: “These individual stories become family stories, then community stories, then regional stories, then national stories, national narratives.

This is crucial—we know from other post-genocide countries, that if we don’t tell our own stories someone else will and they will undoubtedly get it wrong. President Kagame seems to know this quite clearly. So, Story-Based Learning will certainly help in student learning in the schools, but its really a lesson in defining national identity on Rwandan terms.”

Prof Kahn teaches story-based learning all over the world including the USA, Kenya, Switzerland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Vietnam and Rwanda where it was introduced in 2009; operating in Urukundo Learning Center of Muhanga District, South Province.

Every year for the past 10 years, Professor Kahn comes to Rwanda together with his students who assist him in training teachers in this progressive, experiential methodology: “Story-Based Learning brings the content of the classroom lesson from the student’s heads to their hearts using their bodies,” Says Kahn “so this is a very kinesthetic, collaborative experience for both the teacher and the students.

The teacher is facilitating student learning instead of shouting at them from the chalkboard, insisting on memorization. This is authentic learning which follows current education research—it is a direct match to Rwanda’s Competency-Based Curriculum where what the students DO with what they know is so important. Stories are obviously so important to Africa in general and Rwanda in particular—story-based learning is an ideal and natural fit for Rwanda—the academic success data we are receiving prove this theory, and the teachers and students love it!”

This program gives important knowledge and improved vocabulary aimed at changing students’ lives and impacting positively their families and places of their origin.

Students learn how to build from their own stories and background in their changing lives and are therefore more prepared to navigate the complexities for real life, not just classroom life.

In his interview with IGIHE, Prof Kahn reveals that the curricula from overseas countries Can be imported to new, developing countries without question—this can be dangerous for several reasons Kahn suggests: “Some of these learning models are good for example in the UK and USA where we have had some academic success, but when you import everything you meet problems. The ‘chalk-talk’ model is ineffective—it doesn’t work beyond memorization.

We need to engage the student’s heart, the student’s thoughts, and the student’s history in the learning, regardless of a subject area. Students need to feel like they matter—that’s what story-based learning is all about. Students need to include their stories not just the stories of others. Your great teacher Kagame knows this—I think he does a great job reminding each Rwandan that they matter.”

Professor Kahn says that though he realizes some challenges in Rwanda’s curricula, like harmonizing English and French language use, there is a will to bring change after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, trying innovation and that he can see that teachers are motivated willing to participate.

Cracking a joke, he expresses that he would be happy to see President Donald Trump importing performance contracts and monthly community/environmental work to America. He refers to these things to show President Kagame’s talents in transforming Rwanda, shifting from a country full of tears to a country respected by everyone on earth today.

Asked about achievements of the “Anne Frank Project” in Rwanda, he said: “In the past ten years, if I had told you we would be training 85 Rwandan teachers every year today, I would be lying to you---I’m immensely proud of our Rwandan teachers, schools, and students—the way Rwanda has embraced the work of story-based learning is a model for the other countries I work in.

Story-Based Learning is needed in the USA as well as in Africa. Things will continue to go well as long as our partnership remains dignified, equal and respectful—my students and I learn as much from Rwanda as we teach—it is a truly reciprocal relationship—that’s important to Buffalo State University and the Anne Frank Project.”

Professor Kahn, a person of Jewish origin said that the history he lived is one of many things that encouraged him to choose this profession. Referring to his history, he affirms that implementing his project in Rwanda changed a lot in his life, because he found that, due to the Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandans share a lot with him as someone who knows the Holocaust carried out against the Jews whereby he feels doing everything for his fellows, with whom he shares a lot in life; he considers Rwanda as his second home. “I feel a deep personal, spiritual and practical connection to Rwanda—I’m thankful for that”; Professor Kahn shared.

The “Anne Frank Project” facilitates and coordinates the official international sister-city relationship between Muhanga District and Buffalo City in New York whereby a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on November 27, 2011, when Muhanga Leaders and other envoys visited The City of Buffalo.

It is wide cooperation that involves education, economic development, and cultural exchange. “The mayors from both Buffalo and Muhanga communicate regularly. We are presently working on making academic studies from Buffalo State more accessible to Rwandans”; Professor Kahn says.

There are many collaborative events that have taken place since this relationship started such as solar panels donated by Buffalo citizens to Muhanga Kivomo Village residents; and cows distributed to vulnerable groups in Muhanga, Nyarusange and Shyogwe Sectors. Over 200 teachers have been trained in the story-based learning methodology with a commitment to expanding that number each year.

Muhanga District Mayor, Béatrice Uwamariya, told IGIHE that the cooperation with the City of Buffalo is mostly related to education. “There are training sessions offered to our teachers from different schools, they bring trainers to train them using new methodologies practiced in their country”, she appealed.

“This partnership has helped to train teachers to embed drama in their teaching. Our competency-based curriculum highlights this due approach to let learners gain these unique skills rather than dwelling only on the cognitive domain of learning. We have the testimony of the impact of the training of the Anne Frank Project in Muhanga: Due to this training, most of our schools have performed well on the national exams.

Student’s excellent performance from the best in top ten performing schools (Ahazaza Independent School, St. Andre, Urukundo, St. Augustine, etc.) is the real fruit of our relationship with the Anne Frank Project, Buffalo State University and the City of Buffalo.”

Mayor Uwamariya continues that: “Anne Frank Project targets several activities among which enabling students to pursue their further studies at Buffalo State and starting a Teacher Training Center within Urukundo Learning Center, and expand their activities around the country as well to profit to many Rwandans.”

When Professor Kahn was in Rwanda together with his students, they were happy visiting different parts of the country including Akagera and Nyungwe National Parks. “Our annual trips to Rwanda are much more than teacher training—we immerse the students in as many cultural, historical aspects of Rwandan life as possible: Genocide memorials, visits to urban and village homes, local businesses, Akagera, and Nyungwe National Parks and participation in Umuganda”, shares Professor Kahn. “This is not a surface, tourist experience, it is a reflection of our respectful, dignified collaborations and friendship. A friendship we hope to continue for a long time.”

When Professor Kahn was in Rwanda together with his students
We need to engage the student’s heart, the student’s thoughts, and the student’s history in the learning, regardless of a subject area.
The “Anne Frank Project” facilitates and coordinates the official international sister-city relationship between Muhanga District and Buffalo City in New York
Professor Kahn together with his students were happy visiting Nyungwe National Parks
It is wide cooperation that involves education, economic development, and cultural exchange.
"Story-Based Learning will certainly help in student learning in the schools, but its really a lesson in defining national identity on Rwandan terms.” said Prof Drew Kahn
Every year for the past 10 years, Professor Kahn comes to Rwanda together with his students who assist him in training teachers in this progressive, experiential methodology:

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