Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Making resources for primary schools at Nyanza

July 14th

Up early today because we’re supposed to be in Nyanza and ready to start at 8.30. There’s a big problem with my porridge oats – the whole packet seems to have mould in it and even when cooked they taste off. I’ve eaten the stuff for a week and it hasn’t made me ill, so it’s not a huge deal but I can’t offer it to Kersti. Fortunately there’s a box of fruit salad in the fridge, so I impress her with our healthy breakfasts….. (You’re such a poseur - Ed!)

It seems to take forever to get to Nyanza on a slow bus, but we eventually find the school. At the back of Nyanza there’s a “Rue des Écoles” which lives up to its name – at least two secondary and three primary schools all in a long line. Maybe even more schools – I lost count after five!

We discover there’s a problem – Ken, who is the local District Officer and should be leading today’s session – won’t be with us except to introduce us and get the day started. Ken’s father is gravely ill and not expected to last beyond the week, and Ken is arranging with VSO to fly home urgently to be with him.

So the team is Mans, me, Kersti and Marisa who’s been drafted in at the last minute to replace Ken, and is late arriving because she’s got to make a double journey from Nyamata to be here. Mans is willing to take the lead and Kersti and I more than willing to let him. We’re doing the day in French and none of us is Francophone, but between us we manage well on vocabulary. It’s quite funny how each of us seems to know the vocabulary the others stumble over!

We seem to be very slow at getting started (not the brisk start that Cathie and I are used to!). Also, the purpose of the day is to make the Rwandan primary teachers think about what teaching resources they need in their classrooms as well as what things they can make in a day, and we don’t want to start the day by putting all our wares on display. We know that if/when we do that, all that will happen is that the Rwandans will dutifully make copies of everything and they won’t do any thinking for themselves about what they might need or what things they could design and make for themselves.

So the first hour is an excruciating session, getting them to think about resources. It’s like drawing teeth. We divide them into groups; one group comes up with a load of theoretical waffle about the need for and value of resources which is absolutely not what we wanted today – the idea was to make the session as practical as possible. But another group immediately comes up with two ideas for maths including an abacus made from Fanta bottle tops, which is a brilliant idea and better than some of ours.

After an hour and a half we buckle and start to show them our resources. I talk about maps. I tell them that I think they should all have at least five good maps in the classrooms – a map of the local District (required under Social Studies yr 4 programme), a map of Rwanda, a map of the East African Community because of the political expediency and imperative the Rwandan Government is putting on membership of it, a map of Africa and a map of the world. This goes down well. I then show them the examples I’ve made and they’re all smiles. I explain that they must make their maps simple and only put the minimum of information on them, and also that they must use colours in their labelling but do it systematically, and finally that it’s very important that they make their teaching copies of the maps as accurate as possible. (What I usually find on school visits is that the teacher has drawn a very approximate freehand version of the map on the blackboard or on Bristol paper; by the time the children have done their even more inaccurate copies freehand into their exercise books the finished result bares hardly any resemblance to the proper shape of the country). But then I’m just a fussy Geographer, aren’t I? I show them the copies I’ve made of the Rwandan coat of arms (mandatory under yr 3 social studies) and a history timeline. This gets nervous glances; history is so politically charged here that nobody wants to have anything to do with it until they get the official accepted line from Kigali. They understand the idea of a timeline but I can sense that this is one diagram they won’t be rushing to copy. Never mind, I’m planting seeds in their minds! My music sheet also gets appreciative comments, but nobody rushes to copy it because most music theory comes in the secondary schools.

Marisa and Mans and Kersti talk about other resources – we have a “towers of Hanoi” logic exercise, beautifully made for us by a local craftsman, and a very big wooden tangram set with sides 60cm long! They prove extremely popular – like me, there a lot of concrete learners among this audience! I decide I need to get one of Tom’s local craftsman to make me a tangram set to use with my Muhanga schools. It’s only a few saw cuts when you’ve got the piece of wood, and I’d want it varnished because this tangram of Ken’s is already starting to get splintery along the edges because so many people have been using it!

I go back to show them our bottle tops for teaching counting – I have a string of 100 tops from beer and fanta bottles. The tops are in groups of 10, and each successive ten is a different colour. Fanta citron bottles have green tops, Mutzig beer is white, coca cola is red, sprite is blue and so on. This makes the resource colourful as well as useful. We tell the teachers to cultivate their local restaurant or bar, or alternatively persuade their heads to drink loads of beer!

But the real surprise is when we show them our carpet-sized snakes and ladders game. This comes as a complete surprise to our Rwandan colleagues, who have never seen anything like it. Once we’ve explained the rules (and answered the obvious questions like “why snakes?” and “why ladders?” – does anyone reading this blog know the answer to those questions?) we play the game. We do it as a maths exercise using two massive foam rubber dice. These dice are cut from an old mattress and are about five inches across, so we use a litter bin as a shaker! We tell the Rwandan they must behave as year 2 or yr 3 pupils. When they have thrown the dice they must either add the two numbers or subtract them – so we’re getting basic maths skills into the game – and then we play a complete games of snakes and ladders. Leading one team is a headmistress who’s a nun in full habit; leading the other is a young girl with seriously complicated braiding in her hair and a brilliantly colourful robe. Within seconds all the other twenty or so teachers have taken sides and are cheering on; the room is erupting with laughter every time someone has to go down a snake. It the game is this popular with teachers, we all know it’s going to be a riot with the children.

By now it’s lunchtime and everyone is happy. We have a picnic lunch locally cooked – beautiful samosas, little meat pasties like miniature Cornish pasties but with more meat and less veg, meat balls spicy enough to blow your fuses and freshly make “kek” – light sponge cake. And the obligatory fanta. By the end of lunchtime I’ve got another thirty fanta bottle tops to string up!

In the afternoon everyone falls on our rice sack wall posters. My maps are popular, also my Rwandan coat of arms. (Damn it – I’ve made a spelling mistake in my Kinyarwanda in the national motto of ubumwe, umurimo, gukunda igihugu – unity, work and patriotism). For three hours solidly, every single person is frantically tracing, copying freehand, adapting our resources.

Ken’s a maths specialist and one of his offerings is a game of “four in a row” with the grid marked out on a rice sack, and using dice. You throw the two dice, subtract the smaller number from the bigger, and put your counter on a square containing the resulting number. We pit two male teachers against each other, and for ten minutes the atmosphere’s as concentrated as if it were a chess match.

By half past four we’ve managed to prise our stuff from the teachers, done a quick evaluation, and we’re rushing to get buses home. Kersti’s invited me up to Byumba on Thursday do help her make some more resources in preparation for the next one of these trainings, which will be at Byumba but during the time when I’m on leave with my family.

Poor old Ken; he’d have really enjoyed today. We discover that today’s flight home was full, and he’s stuck overnight in Kigali waiting for a space on the next flight from Rwanda to anywhere in Europe, and then on home to Ipswich.

It’s been a good day, and I’m really tired. I decide to do the cooking and Tom lets me get on with it; we’ve got very little food left in the fridge but a lot of odds and ends to use up, so we make a concoction which comes out surprisingly well. And for pud – gourmet living here we come! Fresh bananas made into a smoothie with yoghurt and honey, and topped with grated chocolate thanks to Kersti.

Isn’t it nice when you have a good day and work turns out well! Come to that, isn’t it nice to be working hard again!

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