Reflections of a Sudanese Community Member

Are there any significant differences in the educational system of your country of origin and the U.S. that would affect teaching an English language learner? What challenges would these pose both for teachers and students? Are there any advantages of coming from that educational system for your people? Which ones?

In Sudan the language of study from first grade is Arabic. Those students who started learning first grade in Sudan learned how to write from right to left. Here they might have a little problem in learning to write from left to right in English. Pronunciation may also become difficult for those children who began learning in Arabic. Children coming from refugees camps have less education or none at all. This may be first time that they have attended a class which means they are not familiar with the expectations in an educational setting. The advantage lies with those who had been in school before coming to United States.When they are here it looks like a continuation of their schooling whether they were in school in Arabic or in other languages. The children coming from cities had some knowledge which extended far beyond the camp living children.

Are there any cultural differences/tendencies that teachers need to keep in consideration (that they MAY encounter) when teaching people from your cultural group?

Sometimes yes. The student who started his/her education in a language other than English would rather feel shame than to reply his/her teacher that he/she didn’t understand the lecture. In this respect, the student goes home with an empty mind, meanwhile the teacher has the impression that all of his/her students understood the class because there were no questions. Our children never ask questions after a lecture because most of the children fear asking somebody older than them a question. Because of this cultural tendency, a teacher in the United States must make sure that his/her lecture is fully understood before the class is dismissed. The teacher needs to pose an individual check up to make sure that everyone is going home understanding the information.

What are the major religions within your ethnic group?

Almost all the Sudanese families here are Christians, but we still have a few Muslim families. The aspect of the Muslims’ culture that always goes together is that the Muslims believe in the doctrine of the book of Koran. Their identity is based on dress, food selection, and clearly defined gender roles.

Do you think religion has an impact/effect on the way people in your culture tend to learn?

Definetely yes. Religions like Islam have an impact on teaching or learning. There should be some identification to be considered based on Islamic beliefs. Islam first dominates the individual culture and accordingly all life circumstances. Everything is connected to the doctrine in the the holy book of the Koran. As I mentioned earlier, the Muslims always dress in long clothes, don’t eat fox meat, or many other items. Rather than looking into the implications of these differences, the key point is that these differences can be viewed as an opportunity to encourage respect and tolerance of different cultures, traditions, and religious backgrounds. Religious and cultural diversity are facts of life and a daily experience for people in many parts of Africa.

What factors in the home or family relationships are critical for a teacher to know?

Teachers need to make sure that the parents are literate, that they can read and write, otherwise these children may not get assistance at home to complete their work. Since most of the parents are uneducated, they don’t even check up on their childrens progress in school. Children from this type of background might need tutoring in school. Children might not understand to involve their parents in the homework process and so they do their work quietly without showing homework papers to their parents. Teachers need to keep parents informed about what day homework was assigned and what day it is due. Homework space is also a problem as there are many children who live in small crowded homes.

How do the circumstances of emigration, being a refugee as opposed to leaving by choice, impact the needs of the students and influence instruction?

Of course the children had no choice when they were in the refugee camps. Emigration was not even by choice, it happened conditionally due to the fact that these people’s political rights are ignored. Children may enjoy their new cultural study without being influenced by their background experience. Those who have left by choice come mostly from well educated families. They were exposed to the urban life and are far better prepared to meet the challenges of their new environments.

Are there any other issues that are important for teachers to understand that we have not identified? Please elaborate.

Teachers need to be aware about the cultural reaction between children and parents and between parents and teachers. The imposition of the new culture to the children in the school makes quite a difference between parents and children. Young children are acculturated faster than their parents and this creats more tension at home. The native culture expectations of their parents does not resonate as much with children after they have been in an American school setting. Children of different ages feel free to demonstrate American culture over their home culture and parents tend to oppose their teens new cultural development. The children tend to be more rebellious. Teachers need to teach children to respect their native culture at the same time as they are being exposed to a new one.