July 9, 2024
3 Min. Read


New series: Living with kids in Zanzibar

Does one have to come to Africa to find intact schools? Started by parents, a small coastal school in Jambiani sets new standards.

Eight-thirty sharp, and school starts with a school assembly and joint singing. Quietly the kids have come in, each and every one washing their hands at a rustic water station past the entrance. Helpers are sweeping the earth floor. Director Gemma Davey from Manchester, 35, has an encouraging word and a warm smile for each class before they disperse to their classrooms in a simple bungalow compound in Jambiani. 

The South East Coast International School Zanzibar – in short SEC – was founded out of necessity eight years ago by a parental initiative when booming tourism was bringing more and more expats to the coast, and the International School in Zanzibar City was too far away.  

No class has more than 15 students, but all have two teachers. Now with 150 students from 24 nations aged between two and 14 years, the school seems to thrive on a mix of enthusiastic teachers, clever principles such as an “anti-bullying policy” and playful learning. This week’s project learning is “The Island”, an age-appropriate survival training. Which plants are edible? How does a sundial work? “Even if you are tired, it’s nice to come to school for such lessons”, says 13-year-old Aziza. Comparing the school to her native England, director Davey has observed: “Children seem happier here and more accepting of each other”. 

Sense of oneness

Where multiculturalism is the norm, binational kids are the majority and a good number of parents are immigrants – judging from Europe, one might expect quite some school chaos. The opposite is the case. A sense of oneness prevails: polo shirt school uniforms are mandatory; the standard British curriculum is complemented by bespoke subjects such as African history. “We teach subjects relevant to the location”, assures head teacher Davey. Nothing sums up the symbiosis of respectful togetherness and ambitious individuality than the slogan on a banner in the school yard: “Be kind, be safe, be ready”.

With ten international teachers and 18 local staff, the SEC eventually intends to reach up to A level. School fees differ for local and international students, the latter paying around $4000-6000 per year. For many parents on the East Coast, some of them freelancers and global nomads, its not easy to raise the money. Likewise, the school struggles with its finances; over 50 percent of fees go into taxes.                         

Information: www.seczanzibar.com

Next episode in the series: “How to motivate your child”, Mark McCarthy, head of the International School Zanzibar, has tips which really work 

“Celebrating diversity”

3 questions to SEC headteacher Gemma Davey

How do beach life and school uniforms go together?

We all come from different backgrounds but in school we are together as one. No matter how carefree beach life is, in school we have to be punctual. Children thrive on routine, on knowing their boundaries.

Do children from 24 different countries forget about their own roots?

No, we talk about who we are - most of all global citizens. We celebrate Christmas and the end of Ramadan, we celebrate diversity.

How do children cope with globetrotting parents?

Mostly, it makes them adaptable and resilient. When the child gets older, from 10-12 years onward, parents should try to move less. It’s difficult to relocate a teenager. 

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