Sunday, 28 September 2008

Francoise's shopping list at Kaduha

September 26th

Today makes a straight five in a row of school inspections. I’m feeling the strain; today it’s a case of “thank God it’s Friday!

I get some stuff printed off in the District Office. Not in the education office though – there’s still no power in the wall plugs, but in the process of fiddling around with themI get a shock off one of the connections. Rwandan wiring isn’t what is ought to be.

Claude’s in at the office. It turns out he’s running a two-day INSET on inclusive education for all the secteur reps. I feel a bit miffed that neither Soraya nor I have been asked to contribute or even to sit in. We could both of us make a contribution, after all! And also I’ve been left out from a mass inspection this week. Have I offended somebody? I don’t think so….. Anyway, I’m having a ball travelling out to the rural schools.

I show Claude where I’m planning to go next week and tell him that none of the schools has yet confirmed. “Give me the list” says Claude, “and I’ll just tell them you’re coming”… Nice one Claude – that’s everything I needed!

We ordered our motos last night and they’re ready waiting for us. They charge us far too much. It seems you can’t win. As soon as you try to make a regular booking with one of them, they take it as licence to rook you. Next week I’ll just go to the bus park and choose somebody different. I’ve pretty well done almost all of the close-in schools, and each journey will now get seriously expensive, and even more so next year unless I have my own transport.

The entire main road from District Office to Mushubati junction is now dug up; parts have been rollered flat with earth and gravel all ready for the tarmac, so it’s faster than yesterday. But we still end up playing chicken with oncoming traffic in some sections.

Today we’re off to Kaduha. This is a small primary by Rwandan standards – a mere 570 children. It’s way out in the countryside in Nyarusange secteur, but only just off the main road to Kibuye. Getting to it is easy, and we arrive punctual and relaxed. Soraya’s with me today again, and I like it when I’m inspecting with someone else. It’s less pressure. The only problem is that while Soraya can understand my broken French, she isn’t confident enough to speak it herself, so I have to do most of the talking.

Today is easy for Soraya. Eugène, the head, speaks quite a lot of English. This is the guy who was doing an inspection at Gikomero when I was also there, and he listened in to my debrief. So he already knows my style and knows what I want to see. He’s primed his staff, and it’s a nice, relaxed, easy morning.

Kaduha is a relatively new school; originally it was an annexe of the bigger school at Cyiciro, but has now expanded to its current size and contains children in all six years from 1ère to 6ème so it counts as a separate school. The buildings are fair; the grounds are huge but you can’t say where the school property ends and the Catholic Church lands begin. That tells you a great deal about how closely the church and primary schools are intertwined here. At one end of the site there’s an old mission church built by a Spanish monk in 1938. The building is so old it almost counts as a historic monument by local standards. The whitefriar monk was the first missionary here, and he in effect brought Christianity single handedly to this corner of Rwanda. The church is no longer used, but the building is stoutly built in stone with courses of brick. The roof is intact and with a reasonable amount of money it would make a big room for a maternelle. I must tell all this to Claude. Anything rather than these crummy mud-brick buildings people keep putting up. The problem with maternelles is that the District doesn’t want to know. It can’t afford to build them, so it tells parents it’s their responsibility. That means you get the parents in each parish pulling together and building their own maternelle, which they run as an association. All very well, but these are poor people, so they obviously build as cheaply as they can That means cramped, mud brick buildings which need constant maintenance and are never really fit for the job. Here at Kaduha you have potentially the best maternelle in Muhanga. All it needs is enough money to rehabilitate the building. Come to think of it, the interior space is big enough for a badminton court.

There’s a water tap on site, but it’s also used by the local villagers. During the entire morning there’s an endless procession of women and children filling up jerrycans and traipsing to and fro across the school green.

There – I knew it! There’s been something niggling at the back of my mind all day and I’ve just realised what it is! Kaduha’s grounds are grassy, with lovely eucalyptus trees for shade all round the edges. Virtually every other school has a yard of bare mud or (worst of all) bare, jagged rocks. Kaduha is green. It has grounds that any of you reading this would want to sit on and picnic while you look out at the mountains across the valley.

Both Soraya and I observe three lessons each. One of mine is the same lesson about household budgeting that I saw at Buringa on Wednesday. The teacher faces the same problem of an abstract concept with which most of the class can’t identify. So she sets them to make a shopping list; then they price it out. Bananas, maize flour, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, and tomatoes – they price it all up at about RwF5000 for family sized quantities. (Interesting, because it tells me how much I’m still being overcharged at muzungu prices!). Then she tells the children they’ve only got an income of RwF2000, so they have to cut out some of the food. The ensuing discussion is good, and the kids learn the concept of budgeting. Lets give a big round of applause to Françoise, the class teacher, because she’s done exactly what I wanted her to do and go from a concrete example to the theory. She gets a “très bien”; if she’d done a bit more to make her room visually stimulating she’d have got an “elite”. See, there’s hope yet for the Rwandan education system!

That turns out to be the best lesson I see. I like the rapport between teachers and children at Kaduha; people don’t need to raise their voices and the children are pleasant and at ease. Eugène pops in and out of the lessons I’m watching; he’s clearly nervous about what I’ll think. He tells the children to not be frightened of me and act normally. Which, of course, absolutely terrifies them…..

At breaktime we’re not mobbed by all the children, which is unusual. They’re all off into the ground playing football of watching us from a distance. So we’re able to talk to the teachers. One of them has a gorgeous six month old baby with her. With all the others we’re sitting on the grass in the playground. The baby cries, so she whips out a breast and starts feeding the child in mid conversation with us. The other children are so used to this that they don’t even notice…. But I find it difficult to sustain a conversation with someone while there’s slurping and hiccupping coming from her chest….

Unusually for a country school, Kaduha doesn’t have any gardens, never mind livestock. Eugène is negotiating with the priest to take over a patch of abandoned land to use for farming.

It isn’t till we’re ready to debrief to the whole staff that I realise I’ve forgotten all about the inspection administrative. I’ve been so enjoying sitting in on lessons. So we do a lightning speed inspection which ticks the boxes but leaves out most of the detail. I’ll have to wing it when I write my report.

Finally a “pearls of wisdom” session with the staff, all ten of them. These sessions are definitely getting easier because I’m tending to say the same things each time. You feel like a politician on the stump. Leave them feeling good; praise whatever you can find to praise, just give two or three things you want to see different next time.

I like Kaduha; it’s a welcoming school and it reminds me of some of our rural primaries back in England.

Back in Gitarama I buy a housewarming present for Soraya, then go home for a siesta and to write up my report. It turns out that I have to do a lot more imaginative recreation of things I forgot to ask than I bargained for….

During the evening my next week’s plans are thrown into confusion. My Monday school asks me to come on Tuesday; but my Tuesday school can’t have me on Monday. Then I discover there’s a very little school called Muhazi which seems to have escaped all the exam results statistics – it just doesn’t appear anywhere. I’d have thought it didn’t exist except that I’ve got the census sheet for it on my bed. Perhaps I’ll give them a call on Monday morning.

Best thing about today – being out in the country. Inspecting schools and actually feeling relaxed about it. Even my French is getting better by the day.

Worst thing about today – nothing at all. For the millionth time, this is exactly what I came here to do.

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