Last week saw the conclusion of the ‘Depicting Africa’ project I had been working on for the past three months with Miss Hannah S from the secondary school City Academy (see previous post). The City Academy students designed tours of the Sainsbury Centre, section by section (Africa, Americas, Oceania, and Art Nouveau) and delivered it to their peers. Favoured objects included the Middle Kingdom hippo, Epstein’s baby head and the Luba-Hemba staff. Children also had an opportunity to talk to student ambassadors about life as university students.
Depicting Africa is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is a collaboration between UEA and City Academy. Over the weeks we have worked with one Year 7 class at City Academy (11-12 year olds) to try and challenge negative ideas they have about Africa and to think, more generally, about how stereotypes hinder people’s opportunities (including the chance of going to university for those able and willing).
The City Academy schoolchildren were paired with peers from the Lycée Ahmadou Kourandaga in Zinder, Niger. They exchanged emails, letters, and spoke on Skype. The City Academy schoolchildren presented news bulletins on the Egyptian cabinet, reflected on Hajj and Christian pilgrimage, researched Madagascar and Ethiopia, thought about what makes a person or an artefacts English, helped cook a Nigerian meal, reflected on angels and light in Christianity and Islam, wrote descriptions of British Museum artefacts from the Hausa area, discussed how one defines ethnic identity and visited the UEA mosque. They designed questionnaires for their Nigérien peers, conducted secondary and primary research, and began to look more critically at news reports which present only the glum from Africa.
At the beginning of the project, we had asked the children to give five words they associated with Africa. ‘Dirty water’, ‘Poor’ and ‘Hot’ came up a lot. At the end of the project we asked them the same question again and, unsurprisingly, the answers had changed (more on this later, after some number-crunching, but ‘polite’ and ‘middle class’ came up).
Over the coming months we will be designing a teaching resource (a DVD with lesson plans, Powerpoints etc.) which will be sent to other secondary schools in the UK.
It is of course never a one-way street. Perhaps it is not just the children who have changed outlook – all of us Africanists (and Africanist sympathisers) who took part have learnt much. Which was part of the point of the project. In terms of skills, responding to deep metaphysical questions in a single sentence for fear of losing your audience was certainly something for me to work on. The impact of the aid sector in shaping children’s images of Africa was also something to reflect upon…