Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Teaching with a view

This is a story about a man and a school. But before I tell it you should know that teaching children in Greenland has very peculiar problems to deal with. In many areas fathers still take their boys out to hunt for whale and seal, so they miss a lot; the girls attend school, get a good education and come back - maybe even from university in Denmark - as smart, modern young women who get good jobs and are certainly not interested in the hunter boys. Depression is still widespread among young Greenlandic boys, the suicide rate is way beyond average.
Even in places where this traditional problem is not present, children are often sent to bed late at night (if so at all), resulting in tired kids who are all but attentive at school in the morning. Alcohol is among the permanent issues as well, so it is quite a struggle to actually create an awareness for the importance of education in a people that is only slowly catching up with modern times, in a country that has surfaced just now on the international stage by getting independent.
Where these problems are not constantly addressed, you will find places that we consider backward, even hopeless. We all remember Kraulshavn with its wonderful people who just did not seem to be taken care of.
And then there are other stories. Like the one of Jimmy from Itilleq. When he came to Greenland as a teacher, his collegues in Sisimiut predicted he wouldn't stay longer than three months. He and his wife hoped for three years. Six and a half year later, Jimmy proudly presents the brand-new school in his village, looking out onto the most stunning fjord view. Inside, everything is there, well-organized, and so we do not only enter a school building but also a new era. Not so long ago Itilleq was an unknown place with all the above mentioned problems, and Jimmy had to use all his patience and persuasion to slowly erode the reluctance and unwillingness to change things. But finally he reached the parents minds: Now his school ranks as number five in the whole of Greenland, in a village of only 120 inhabitants. With quite an effect of repercussion: Proud parents are taking care of their children's skills, looking after them, encouraging them. Education has become a value, here we see that changes are possible and not necessarily negative and spoiling. It takes a lot of effort and idealism. But as long as there are people who deeply care like Jimmy the wonder of Itilleq can take place in many places. Then it is not only teaching with a view, but also with perspective.