From little seeds … Thinking about Africa, thinking about farming

Lezli is a primary teacher and Humanities Curriculum Leader at Chandos Primary School in Birmingham. The work in this article grew out of a Tide~ study visit to The Gambia in February 2007, and a return visit in February 2008 with Shropshire Museum Service. She is also a Primary Geography Champion for the Geographical Association. 

“Little seeds planted into practice, growing through the school, into the curriculum”

Chandos is an inner-city Birmingham school with an exceptionally diverse catchment. Our children speak over 35 home languages. Our school has been exploring ways to embed work on global dimensions and sustainable development in an integrated and meaningful way, and we have shared some of that as part of the Bill Scott Challenge.  As part of this whole school challenge, Year 5 have been looking at The Gambia, and linking that work to a topic on food and farming.

The following describes ways in which the school planned this work around a trip to Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, Shropshire. The For more information section at the end of the article includes links to resource material from the farm, as well as documentation from its partnership with Tanje Museum in The Gambia.

All of our children have preconceived ideas about Africa as a continent. For some of the children at Chandos, that comes through personal and family, experience. All of them have seen the heart-rending adverts by charities, taken part in Comic Relief and so on.

Having been to The Gambia twice now, as part of  study visit groups, there are all sorts of issues which are very live for me. How is this experience going to feed into teaching these children about a place they know something about, but which I am eager to portray realistically?  How do we avoid the two extremes of ‘Crisis in Africa’ and ‘Everything’s rosy and we don’t want our children to think the world can be an unfair place’? How can we let the children grow their own realistic opinions of somewhere far away?

Preparation ~ Thinking about The Gambia

“All of our children have preconceived ideas about Africa as a continent … How do we avoid the two extremes of ‘Crisis in Africa’ and ‘Everything’s rosy’?”

It’s a Year 5 planning meeting with the teachers. Our project will be culminating in a trip to Acton Scott Historic Working Farm in Shropshire. We will hopefully also have a meeting with workers from Tanje Museum, who are visiting the UK. What do the children need to find out, be able to talk about, and express opinions on beforehand?

This work has to be real for the children. Firstly, we work on the facts and figures. We give the children the opportunity to use resources in the classroom, in school, and in the community to undertake their research.  We do the ‘capes and bays’ geography - scale, proportion, place. We learn about the River Gambia and its importance. We learn what we can from maps and atlases.
The work branches out to literacy - we compare Gambian poetry and traditional tales, with the myths and legends we already know. We look at the morals behind the stories.  It becomes personal.

As I walk into classrooms, I am bombarded with questions about Tanje and The Gambia, about the people and the environment. By chance, in our Nursery, we have a 14 year-old work experience pupil from Serrekunda, a big urban sprawl a few miles north of Tanje.  She has seen our Gambian art display and would like to be involved. She wants to talk about her country.

I arrange for her to visit the year 5 classes, and she answers many of those personal experience questions that I have been unable to. The children ask what clothes she wears to go out in, and she pulls her best outfit from her bag and models it for them. The children are hooked; they spend time on research in class and at home.

Behind the learning in those year 5 classrooms there is a frenzy of planning. This project is not just about classroom based work, it involves finding out about place and links, and trying ideas that will benefit other children, other schools, other places.

Our project planning group meets up to discuss ' The day at Acton’. It has to be meaningful, and show links between traditional farming methods here and in the Gambia.  It has to throw up questions on sustainability, climate, food, energy, and water. But how?

There is a lot of expertise to draw on in this group of secondary school teachers, curators, demonstrators, educators, project workers from BEN [Black Environment Network].  We mind-map and produce a huge spiderweb of rough ideas.  This is whittled down to a group of ideas that hits all the targets, and is ready to try out on our guinea pig year 5 classes. Frantic emails, advice and notes fly around an ever-expanding group. We think we are ready, but can we fit it all in?

Acton Scott Historic Working Farm is managed by Shropshire Council Museum Service. It was set up to preserve and showcase traditional rural skills, and it featured on the BBC television’s ‘Victorian Farm’.

Tanje Village Museum is based on the Gambian Coast, south of the capital Banjul. Its site also showcases traditional heritage and skills, and includes an historical Mandinka village. The Museum has a partnership with Shropshire Museum Service.  See

Thinking about farming …a visit to Acton Scott
“The children … are exhausted and exhilarated. No one wants to leave.”

The children are so excited. They have known about this trip for months.  We split them into five groups, each with an adult from school and an educator from Acton Scott.  It’s all hands on deck. The groups each have a different activity for the morning and afternoon: bodging, blacksmithing, farmyard and animals, garden, kitchen and bread-making.

Sarah, the Education Officer at the Shropshire Museum Service, has a mini note pad and pencil for each child.  They are soon scribbling and sketching away. Each child has a collection bag, for any bits and pieces they pick up. There is a backpack with resources and questions for the children to answer. The questions act as a catalyst and the children are quickly making links between the work they have done in class and what is happening in front of them.

The day is hard work. The children have used and transferred so many skills, and they have used reasoning and thinking skills way beyond what was expected of them. They are exhausted and exhilarated. No one wants to leave.

Back in the classrooms, the year 5 children start to look in more depth at the issues raised by the visit, and the environmental impact of unsustainable methods of farming, energy and water use.

Following up – receiving visitors from The Gambia

“I hope I think about things as much as I ask my children to think about them. I hope I question as much as they do, because seeing the world through the eyes of the children who are growing into it, and giving them the opportunity to develop the critical skills to deal with the way that world is changing, is the most important thing an educator can do.”

The year 5 children go on to have a visit from Ousman, Alasana and Lamin, guides from Tanje Village Museum.  The children are amazing: the questions they ask show how much they have gained from this experience. The workers from Tanje are fantastic, and take the floor in a class of year 5s like seasoned teachers.  They answer the children’s questions, and their answers sow the seeds of further questions.  It makes me so proud to have been a small part of the children’s learning journey.

This learning journey has also changed the way I teach.  I always thought of myself as techno-savvy, and would murmur  ‘I found a great IWB resource for teaching such and such’, but really the technology isn’t the be all and end all, it is just a tool.  A few well-chosen props and a teacher- or child-led performance can enthral the children far more than a flash animation on an interactive whiteboard. Less is quite often a lot more.

Going forward, growing learning

“My teaching has changed, it is no longer primarily What They Need To Know.   It is what will they discover, what will they question, what will this look like at the end of this week, this term this year.”

Well, after the visit and the visitors we started a rapport with the Tanje school.  Our children wrote to the Gambian students, answering their questions. They told them about their Acton Scott visit, about meeting the workers from Tanje Museum, about the questions they had asked them.

We sent the letters to the museum, and the staff there took them to the school.  This helped keep our three-way link going.  We are working on making our link sustainable and equal.  We want our children to see both commonality and difference, just as they do in their own classroom.

My experience in The Gambia keeps popping up.  How can I use that?  How can I give my lessons high impact on low resources?  How would I teach that effectively to EAL children?  How can I pass on what I have done and affect others?  How can I spread the word?  The journey from Tanje is nowhere near its end.

For more information
Food and Farming - The sustainable way
This enhanced teaching and learning experience takes place in the classroom and at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm.  It was developed at Acton Scott in partnership with Tide~ global learning and Tanje Village Museum.

Acton Scott Historic Working Farm
Acton Scott
01694 781307

On booking, schools receive a pre and post visit CD of classroom activities. The pre visit material explores issues around sustainable farming in the UK and other parts of the world, both today and in the past. The CD also prepares the children for their visit to Acton Scott.

The classroom activities for the first year of this programme were developed by a teacher group working with Tide~ and Shropshire Museum Service, including Lezli. While these materials have been modified since, you may find it useful to have a look at the content on the original CD.

Tanje Village Museum

A shared dream: the story of a cultural exchange between two museums
Acton Scott Historic Working Farm/Tanje Village Museum, 2009.

This booklet documents the Gambia Exchange Project involving the two Museums  click here to download a copy

For further information, contact


Other relevant Tide~ Talk articles include:

The Bill Scott challenge

Learning from experiences in the Gambia ~ How do we learn as teachers? This article is based on the experience of leading study visit courses to The Gambia.  Fran Martin, 2004

Exploring "cultural identities" through art .  Ideas about identity, education and art, inspired in part by meetings with artisans at Tanje Village Museum.   Sue Wilkie, 2004

Mutual learning for sustainability: The Gambia and the UK.  A reflective overview of Tide~’s longstanding Gambian partnerships.  Ben Ballin, 2009

Tide~ resources

Educating for sustainability
NEA /Tide~, 2002.  Teaching resource produced jointly by UK and Gambian teachers.

Food & farming, local & global ~ planting ideas, growing ideas
FACE/Tide~, 2004.

Tanje photo set
A downloadable set of photographs from Tanje is available to support activities in the booklet Global learning in primary schools 

Thanks to

All the staff and children at Chandos Primary School, and especially teachers Helen Groom and Rukhsana Bentley, and Sue Marshall [head teacher].

The staff at Shropshire Museum Service, and especially Sarah Griffiths [Museum Education Officer].

The staff at Tanje Village Museum, and especially Abdoulie Bayo [Director] and Ousman Jadama [Assistant Director].

Other partners in the Shropshire/Tanje Gambia Exchange Project.

Additional thanks to the Primary Geographer editorial team, and in particular Margaret Mackintosh.

A version of this article appeared in Primary Geographer magazine, Spring 2010, alongside a further piece on the Chandos Primary School partnership with Tanje Lower Basic School, and supported by a photo set on food and farming in The Gambia.

For details see