75 years  

Education and International Development Group : 1995-2001

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Dr Sheila Aikman : student  1989-1994 , lecturer 1996 - 2001

Sheila recalls one particularly eventful fieldtrip undertaken in Peru with the Multigrade Teaching research team.

"I am writing here of a field trip taken with the multigrade research team[1] with Angela Little and Pat Pridmore, and accompanied by Keith Lewin. It sums up for me the challenge and rewards of the EID approach: the interlinking of research, teaching and consultancy and the importance of shared experiences with students and staff to not only get to know each other and our work but to get to know the realities and sometimes share a little too much of the danger!

A particularly memorable part of the Multigrade Teaching Research Field Trip to Peru in September 2001 was visiting a small multigrade school near Pucallpa in central Peruvian Amazon with the ‘multigrade team’. Patricia Ames had arranged such an interesting visit to her research community and welcome from the staff that we were late in leaving. The return journey was a long slow haul upriver in an open canoe, first of all on the broad smooth Ucayali river. But as it began to get dark we had left the main river and entered a narrow channel which connected with the Yarinacocha lake and Pucallpa town.

The water was running very low through the channel and the driver had to negotiate tree trunks and debris looming high out of the water on all sides and logs across the channel only inches below the surface. As the night fell it became increasing clear to us that the driver had night blindness and was relying totally on his less than competent ‘tripulante’ —look out—in the bow of the boat for directions.

There was high drama when we grounded on a submerged log—and more than one member of the group thought this was an experience too far! Freeing the canoe from the log involved perching midstream on another underwater tree trunk while the tripulante bounced the canoe up and down and the driver struggled to manoeuvre the long shaft and propeller into clear water and push the canoe forward. In the end it came free and we crept back to our places thinking it would be better to camp on the bank and brave the Amazon mosquitoes until dawn rather than continue. But brandishing Keith’s trusty pocket torch, a school teacher who had joined our intrepid group for the return journey saved the situation. She stood in the bow point the torch into the night and gave instructions—‘left hand up a bit’, ‘right hand down a bit’—which was relayed back down the line over the noise of the engine to the driver and, very slow, but much more surely, we nosed forward. Eventually we exited the channel into the calm and relative safety of the lake and a few rays of moonlight to guide us into port

This was pretty much all in a day’s work for Peruvian researchers and teachers but it brought home to us all the demands and challenges—not to say dangers—of providing Education For All in remote rural multigrade Amazon schools.

[1] The team on the this trip : Patricia Ames, Carmen Montero, Mohamed Sibli, Manjula Vithanapathirana, Vu Son, Angela Little, Pat Pridmore and Sheila Aikman. Further information is provided on the Multigrade Teaching website at\multigrade

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Compiled and edited by Clare Bentall and Angela Little. First issued Spring 2005.