Teaching platform spreads power of education around the world


Flemish organisation Teachers Without Borders exchanges information and teaching methods with colleagues in four continents

Learning without borders

Mutual learning to enhance the “power of education” worldwide is at the heart of a Flemish organisation bringing together projects and volunteers across four continents.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Leraars Zonder Grenzen (Teachers Without Borders) works with nearly 50 local NGOs in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe to help improve the quality of, and access to, education in the developing world.

It deals primarily with teachers and education professionals to exchange ideas and techniques, run workshops and support projects in locations from Suriname to Madagascar to Nepal. The focus is often on inclusive schooling for children with disabilities and special educational needs.

“We teach our colleagues, but it’s also an exchange – that’s a very important philosophy, that we can also learn a lot from them,” says LZG board member Josiane Frans. “We’re not going to tell them how to do it. It’s about coming together. If we were to take over their classes, that would help no one.”

Educational first aid

LZG was the brainchild of former International School of Brussels teacher Bart Dankaerts, and it began with the delivery of educational “first aid” packages to Ukraine.

Since then the organisation has evolved into one that offers membership to overseas organisations, and supplies a Belgian volunteer to help manage the project, an online platform to publicise their work, information-sharing, meet-ups and tax exemptions for donors. 

We teach our colleagues, but it’s also an exchange – that’s a very important philosophy, that we can also learn a lot from them

- Josiane Frans

Where projects are keen to receive student interns and volunteer teachers, LZG will help recruit them and co-ordinate trips from Belgium, with participants paying for their own flights and accommodation.

Frans – who teaches languages at Regina Pacis school in Hove, Antwerp province – became involved with LZG after returning from a trip to Burundi.

“I had first been there in 1978 when I went to visit my mum’s godmother, a missionary,” she says. “I was fascinated by the country and thought I’d come back.”

More than 30 years on she went back with Dutch charity Edukans, which was looking for English teachers to train their Burundian counterparts. When the funding ended she approached LZG and incorporated the World Teacher Burundi project into their portfolio, before returning three more times.

New perspective

“We also learn from it,” she says of the experience, recalling a time she returned from a trip to find a colleague making dozens of photocopies for every pupil for her first lesson, because the textbook hadn’t been produced on time.

“After being somewhere like Burundi, you learn to be very careful about printing,” she says. “We often act as if we have a printing factory in our backyard. Over there they don’t even have electricity all the time. At 18.00 it’s dark and the teachers need to do a lot of marking, they were becoming very stressed. So we gave them techniques – for example, that not everything needs to be corrected for every pupil. They can make a copy that can be handed around for the pupils to make their own corrections.”

Frans is also involved with LZG’s project in Togo, where teacher training is lacking, teachers are often volunteers or badly paid, and resources are scarce.

“We work with teachers, parent representatives, education inspectors and the ministry of education. Because we are, in fact, intruders and we need their approval. What we do is what serves them.”

Her school also has a direct relationship with the Togo project – they visited the country last year with 16 pupils, and will return with a group of 20 in February. “We want the pupils to appreciate that we are not just giving money or knowledge but that the Togolese people have ownership of their projects,” she says.

Frans went on to involve her colleague Nele Kempenaers in LZG’s work, and she travelled to Burundi to help train local educators to teach English more interactively.

Giving back

Kempenaers – an English teacher at Sint-Jozefinstituut in Kontich and a teacher trainer at Antwerp University – said a previous exchange in Sweden had opened her eyes to other teaching methods and routines.

“You learn so much when you encounter different cultures, and LZG is a way of giving back and sharing your teaching experiences.” 

Going back to basics, without technology, was a highly instructive wake-up call. Some of the Burundian creativity has definitely rubbed off on me

- Nele Kempenaers

The experience confirmed to her that teachers are incredibly creative and do a good job regardless of the circumstances. “Burundian teachers always came up with new ways of implementing teaching methods we had demonstrated, typically when we had not really thought through how it would work with extremely limited resources.

“Going back to basics, without technology, was a highly instructive wake-up call,” she says. “Some of the Burundian creativity has definitely rubbed off on me. I regularly choose to teach with little or no technology and consciously focus on active student involvement.”

Her time there also strengthened her feeling that children in developed countries have so many resources to hand they are losing the ability to be bored.

“Boredom is a state of mind that triggers you to think and maybe do something. You have the choice to be bored or not, you can always do something about it with whatever means are (or are not) available. Boredom and hard work are the mothers of invention.”

Going deeper

Els Dalle learned so much from her time volunteering in an orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania, she set up the LZG-affiliated Train the Trainer project and now manages it voluntarily from her home in Opwijk, Flemish Brabant.

Also a wedding planner and part-time office manager, Dalle has found time to fundraise as well as organise workshops in Arusha that train teachers in special educational needs. In October she will host three Tanzanian teachers and their project co-ordinator.

During a two-month stay at Arusha’s Samaritan Village Orphanage, in 2013, Dalle was helping the children with their homework and realised some were struggling to learn.

For a while they raised money to pay for a teacher to provide extra help within the orphanage, but later decided to “go deeper and help the teachers in the schools”.

“We want to provide opportunities to more children,” she says. “Those from the orphanage are supposed to live on their own from the age of 18 – they have to be paid, to be organised, to be able to live their lives. I saw a lot of children over there who would have more opportunities if they had proper education and support.”

The project, which held two workshops in 2016 but has struggled to find recruits this year, is always seeking experienced former or current teachers and education students with a good knowledge of English. While donations are useful, Dalle says: “We don’t need so much money, we need people.”

Photo: The international colleagues in Arusha, Tanzania

Courtesy Els Dalle