Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer
July 16, 2015
iNERDE ran its first Colonie de Vacances STEM for thirty students just last year in Bamako, Mali. One year later, we have expanded our program to four schools in Bamako with 120 kids. It was a big step for us to organize and fund a program 4 times larger, but we felt we had a strong base to build on in Mali. We have had the mission from the beginning to expand throughout Africa but I, personally, felt we should wait at least another year before taking on the challenge of operations in multiple countries. Nonetheless, I was at least partially responsible for initiating the program in Senegal, though it came about by pure accident. A typo caused an internal iNERDE email to go to, of all the people with email addresses in the world, someone associated with SABS with an interest in African math education. After a bit of confusion we begin exchanging information about our respective organizations. It appeared the collaboration between SABS and iNERDE was meant to be.
SABS provides a bilingual, French and English, education to an international community consisting of Senegalese and expatriates from several countries in Africa. Many of the parents and much of the school staff have lived and worked in the United States. The facilities are excellent, even including a computer lab, and the teaching is at a very high level. The students at SABS do come from better economic circumstances than the majority of Senegalese. In Mali, this year, we have a mix of public and private school students which is closer to reflecting the average economic level of that country. We will aim for the same in Senegal as our program size grows but we were quite happy to have the advantage of starting in a very strong school in our first year.
Another improvement iNERDE has made this year, also in effect at SABS, is that our teaching staff is entirely local. In our first year of operation we were supported by local teachers and aides, but, lacking tested curriculum plans, our head teachers came entirely from the iNERDE team outside of Africa. This year we were ready with comprehensive lesson planners and training videos. We also held a week of in-country training for the local teachers before the start of the camp to go over our curriculum and educational philosophy in depth. Using local teachers furthers our most critical objective of creating a lasting, year-round effect on the programs of our partner schools. We also contribute directly to the local economy and at a lower cost, enabling us to reach more kids with the money we raise. Finally, there is no lack of talented teachers in Africa; we had a very large number of applications from superb candidates and were able to select the best of the best. The SABS teaching team consists of (in the picture, from left to right), Denis Ndour, Khadidiatou Agne, Ousmane Balde, and Farmata Ngaido. Each of them is a highly experienced teacher, fully trilingual in French, English, and Wolof, the principal language of Senegal, completely dedicated to providing the most advanced education possible to the youth of Senegal, and excited and motivated by the opportunity to work with iNERDE. Denis Ndour, who spent 11 years in the United States working in schools and leading youth programs, serves as our liasion to the SABS administration, parents, service providers, and the community, in addition to teaching. All the teachers have been a godsend for iNERDE but Denis, thanks to his particular experience, has been indispensable in translating the vision of iNERDE into a program that works in a Senegalese context.
Perhaps the most important thing the iNERDE Senegal teaching team brings to the Colonie de Vacances is their loving relationship with the students. I think I have an important role in the Colonie de Vacances as a computer scientist sharing his passion for his field and as a representative of the world of high-tech. I also have lots of love for our students, but in a short time, and across differences in language and culture, I can’t hope to communicate with the students like their teachers can. Each student very politely shakes my hand and the beginning of the day and says “bonjour” and they look at me a little timidly, with curiosity. When they shake hands with their teachers their eyes light up … and the teacher’s too.