The worldwide Augustana College experience

A Difficult Goodbye

Alpha Primary School, grades 1-6
Kingston, Jamaica

“Different” is the word of the week! I knew coming into the Jamaican school system that I would experience a little culture shock, but I was not prepared for what I was thrown into.

Let me begin by saying that the students are absolutely phenomenal. When we first showed up on Monday morning, all of the students went NUTS. One boy actually screamed, then yelled “white people”. I thought this was a little funny, but it also makes sense because some of these students may not have seen a white person before. The girls instantly rushed up to the 7 of us and began touching our hair and hugging us. Of course, we let them explore our strange locks and returned their hugs. The moment the whirlwind began, the children nestled their way into my heart.

The students captured my attention instantly; however, their school system put me off right away. Although I knew that the teaching method of banking was prominent in Jamaican schools, I was shocked at the reality of it. To move forward in school, students must pass very high-stakes exams. Getting high marks on these exams is critical and puts an immense amount of pressure on students. My cooperating teacher and I had a conversation about the pressure that students experience. She explained to me that young children are committing suicide because of poor marks. Hearing this made me realize how much stress these students are under. It makes me sad that children aren’t really able to fully experience their childhood because the high-stakes exams are so incredibly prevalent in their lives. Studying seems to take over their free time.

Obviously these tests are important; the entire curriculum, every day, and every lesson is aligned with the exams. The teachers stand in front of the class and lecture while stud nets take notes. This is very hard to watch as an educator who is used to the American school system. In the United States, teaching (for the most part) is knowledge and application based; whereas in Jamaica, teaching is about stuffing facts into students’ brains and hoping they can regurgitate them correctly on an exam.

Deciding to come on this trip was probably the best decision I have made in life, thus far. Experiencing the tourist side of things was amazing, but getting to know my students was beyond anything I could imagine. The creativity and life would flow out of them, it was infectious. I don’t think I will ever be able to experience what I felt while I was teaching my Jamaican students again. They will forever be a cherished memory of mine.

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