How Children Learn

If a picture is worth a thousand words (or so the saying goes), what might pictures of schooling from around the world tell us?  How are images used (either implicitly or explicitly) to shape our constructions of education in a particular place?  British photographer Julian Germain has been working since 2004 to capture school life, and has recently published a book entitled Classroom Portraits, 2004-2012.  All together, Germain has taken more than 450 photographs in 20 different countries.  Here are some of my favorites.  (You can see more photographs here.)

Taiwanese Kindergarten

Taiwanese Kindergarten

Nigerian Secondary School

Nigerian Secondary School

Brazilian Elementary School

Brazilian Elementary School

Saudi Arabian Kindergarten

Saudi Arabian Kindergarten

Whenever I look at images like these I inevitably compare it to my own experiences teaching first grade in rural Louisiana or second grade in North Africa.  I think, what would my own classroom have looked like if someone came by one day?  Personal biases and reflections notwithstanding, I also think about what I see and what I do not see.  How are the students oriented?  Are they in a group?  Or facing the teacher?  Why might that be?  What types of materials and supplies are there available to the students (at least in the picture)?  How are students dressed?  Is there a uniform?  What purpose might that uniform (or lack of uniform) have?  What is the racial, ethnic, religious, gendered composition of the classroom (at least in this moment)?  Why did the photographer choose these schools or classrooms, as opposed to others?  What purpose might he have had in these choices?  What is the “absent presence”?

What do you think about when you see photos of other schools?

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