Quaker Education Opportunities

28th November 2023

Quakers explore their lives adventurously, following ‘leadings’; a strong will to take part in an action. Would you like to make a difference in this way? Jane went to Lebanon to teach in the Quaker-founded Brummana High School and this is her experience. There are opportunities all over the world to work, volunteer and support people. Another role is an Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme supporting people in Palestine and Israel with peacework and daily living. Sidcot School in the UK is a Quaker School and links up with Brummana with exchanges and more. It is interesting to read Jane’s thoughts on the National Curriculum and differences in teaching. Many of us in the UK home school our children now sharing similar concerns. A Quaker teaching resource and the book ‘Razor Wire and Olive Branches’ are great material to learn from and teach in schools, do share them with teachers you know. ~ Amanda Jones, Editor

Brummana - 1,001 Steps…

Spending the past 6/7months as a teacher at the Quaker-founded Brummana High School I have daily encountered the many hundred steps from the Lower School to the Upper. The steps perhaps provide an analogy for dealing with the daily challenges of a country buffeted by rocketing inflation, collapsing infrastructure and the trauma of the Civil War.

Lebanon is a complicated country to make sense of; more Lebanese living outside the country than inside, large refugee populations “temporarily” settled in camps, the division of government power according to the religious affiliation of the politicians, the mixed sectarian nature of the population:- two thirds Shia, Sunni Moslem and Druze, one third Christian (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac, Catholic and others) and everyone suffering the after effects of the Civil War and a desperately failing economy and infrastructure.

The small town of Brummana is part way up the Mount Lebanon range in a Christian area, quite Europeanised, with 6 churches, 3 small supermarkets and numerous cafes, restaurants and bars. The School is very well known, many local people are former scholars and it has a strong reputation for educational excellence. This year is the 150 years’ anniversary of its founding and various activities to mark this have been taking place.

I have been fortunate in living on the school campus, with unlimited electricity, Wifi and water. Many others are not so fortunate. Like the whole country, the school has suffered from the devaluation of the Lebanese currency against the dollar, with soaring prices for food and other essentials and a massive drop in the value of wages. Many teachers and other professionals have left the country in order to earn an income that will support them. I was very impressed by the dedication of those staff who remain at the school, in spite of the current difficulties. You may recall that all the banks refused to give depositors access to their accounts, claiming that the money had simply ‘disappeared’. Everyone has been affected by this situation and there is much criticism of the incompetence, greed and corruption of those in power.

I was primarily engaged in teaching within the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and Learning Support departments, working with children from other countries and those with learning challenges such as dyslexia or AHAD. The one-to-one students made visible progress, the groups of 2 tended to be more demanding in terms of behaviour and engagement levels.

One of the main teaching challenges for me was combining the EFL approach to teaching and learning, which is a learner-based, communicative one, with the somewhat rigid grammar-based demands of the English National Curriculum at Primary Level. The stated role of the EFL and Learning Support Departments was to enable the children to ‘slot back into’ their mainstream classroom, which meant necessitating learning lists of spelling words and grammar rules and for 7 and 8 year-olds, being able to recognise such terms as a ‘fronted adverbial’. This is seen by most EFL teachers as a very old-fashioned and unhelpful way of teaching children language and as my first real encounter with the National Curriculum, quite a shock!

Extra-Curricular Activities

I offered to organise a Christmas play that was “non-religious” for Grade 3 children (8 year-olds). I chose Raymond Briggs’ ‘The Snowman’, a much-loved book and film. There is no dialogue, only a song and music, so I wrote the script myself, with one Grade 3 class doing the dance and another singing the song. The third class performed the play and I was told each child, even the quite disruptive ones, needed a part. This was particularly challenging as there were some severe behavioural issues. However, it was achieved, in spite of the shortage of rehearsal time!

In the summer term I led an After-School Drama Club for the Grade 3 Juniors, which the children thought great fun. I also ran some sessions with the Sixth-form Peace Club on ‘Power, Status and Privilege’ using some theatre techniques, which went down very well. A big part of the extra-curricula life of the school is the Model United Nations, where the Upper School students train younger students in the procedures of the UN and develop debating skills. This is student-led. I ran some training in public speaking with the younger participants and some sessions during the BHS International MUN Conference with the visiting teachers and students.

I also ran two training workshops for teachers as part of the Professional Development Programme - one on using more physical-based activities to liven up the lessons and the other focusing on Using the Voice without Strain. I offered this because I had noticed many female teachers in particular over-extending their voices with pupils, which is a very common problem with teachers.

In addition to teaching at the School, I ran four training sessions in Presentation Skills with the Graduate Centre at a Beirut University. These were extremely well received and were a real joy to lead.

Quakers

The Quaker Meeting in Brummana is small and ageing. Religious denomination is very much passed down through the family and it is rare for anyone to switch. There are three main Quaker families still connected to the school who can trace their ancestors back 150 years to when the school was founded. Unfortunately, many young people have left Lebanon to study and work abroad and it is doubtful how long the Quaker Meeting will continue. That would be sad, as the Society has much to offer a country which is still very affected by the divisions and horrors of the Civil War.

I very much enjoyed being at the school and working with the children. They are full of such enthusiasm, energy and hope! And I must mention the unstinting work of the Principal, David Gray, who has done so much to sustain the school during what are very challenging times. I am very pleased that I went and was able to share my skills with both the students and staff.

Jane King - Devon Area Meeting