Bernardo Arsénio: Inspired teacher with a mission | Aga Khan Academies

Bernardo Arsénio: Inspired teacher with a mission

Bernardo learned from the Aga Khan Academy that knowledge cannot just be seen as something that starts and ends in a classroom, but that knowledge should also be applicable outside the classroom to solve real problems in real life.

Bernardo Arsénio’s journey to become a teacher started when he was in year 11 of his school in Maputo, Mozambique. He had a history teacher who used to make fun of him in the classroom. “He used to come to my desk and ask me what I was doing in his class,” Bernardo says. The teacher did that continuously throughout the year. This affected Bernardo’s performance and motivation to be in that class. He failed the class that year.

“But then I realized I could not let him win… I knew that I am supposed to be in class to learn and not to just let someone de-motivate me because he thinks I shouldn’t be there."  Bernardo went to talk to his principal who allowed him to attend the class with the same teacher in spite of failing the class. Bernardo later realised that he had to change his attitude if his teacher did not change his. “So I started attending his class – I used to do all the assignments, tests and homework. I never missed even one class in the year,” he says. Bernardo’s constant efforts were noticed by the teacher – Bernardo even achieved the highest mark that year. In turn, the teacher’s attitude towards him changed for the better.

By giving an example from his life, Bernardo explains why a healthy relationship between a teacher and a student is so important. Having a teacher who does not care and does not motivate the students can have negative consequences. “It almost happened to me and I did not let it happen. I used the negative motivation to change it into a positive one – that inspired me to become a teacher,” he says vehemently.

Bernardo pursued history at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo. After graduating with a degree in history and a minor in information management in 2015, Bernardo began teaching history in a private school – Centro de Exames de Admissão. Desiring even more teaching skills, Bernardo took a six-month postgraduate course in 2016 at Universidade Pedagógica, specialising in teaching methodology.

After a rigorous selection process, Bernardo was one of six individuals who were given the opportunity for a year-long exchange at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa as part of the Teacher Preparation Programme. “I was lucky to be in the group to come to Mombasa. That was when my journey started,” he says.  At the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, Bernardo went through three weeks of intensive English training. He humbly says, “We got support from each and every person in the Academy. To reach this level, for me to be able to communicate and to go to class and discuss a certain topic was all because we got so much help. I was challenged in class and felt I could not do it. When you feel you cannot do it, you think you are drowning but find yourself swimming and coming out of water; it was very meaningful.” Bernardo ended up teaching humanities and history to students in years 6 to 9.

When he came to the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, the first thing Bernardo noticed was how the students played an important role in their education and how they took the responsibility for their own education. He says, “Back at home, the environment is where the teacher owns the knowledge and dominates the classroom.” He also remembers going to a Theory of Knowledge class at the Academy and noticing how the students did not learn by rote but were encouraged to discuss and make sense of what was being taught. The method by which the class was taught thoroughly impressed him.

At the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, Bernardo mentions how amazed he was to see such cultural and religious diversity. He took note of the unity with which everyone participated in school, for example by focusing on their similarities instead of their differences. He was also impressed with how sports classes were taught at the Academy, utilised as an opportunity for students to get together and learn about their similarities and differences. Bernardo found the people in Mombasa very warm and friendly and he did not feel far away from home.

Bernardo is now back in Mozambique, teaching at the Aga Khan Academy Maputo. He will continue to be a humanities and history teacher and is helping support the growth of the Academy as they implement the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme. He strongly feels that a teacher should connect what is being taught to real life. For Bernardo, a teacher must motivate and support the students, and should enable students to develop and become better people.