Tuesday, 27 January 2009

compliance checking at Kabgayi

January 21st

Two schools to do today; both at Kabgayi and both within easy walking distance of the flat. This means I can have a lie in on a working day. Soraya arrives at half past seven, and by eight o’clock we’ve walked to our first school. It’s one of the beautiful African mornings with thick mist rising out of the valleys, and a near cloudless blue sky above. At this time of the morning it’s cool and fresh, and the whole day makes you want to get up and work.

Kabgayi B has a formidable head in Christine, but she likes us and we are welcomed like long-lost friends. She has thought about what she wants to tell us, and we gallop through all the questions I need to ask. It’s typical of Christine that she insists that all the conversation be held in English, and we only revert to French when she gets stuck. (Just as well, because I have to translate back into English for Soraya).

What is interesting is that the concerns she raises are almost identical to those Iphig√©nie told us yesterday. And some are entirely predictable. Fort example, the decision to start the school day at 7.15 is causing 60% of Christine’s pupils to arrive late, some very late. The reason is that parents still insist that children do chores – feeding goats, fetching firewood, getting water – before they set out for school. The children are already getting up at crack of dawn. None of their houses has electricity, and it’s virtually impossible to expect them to get up and start doing chores or getting ready for school in the dark. OK, so those at school in the morning have all afternoon to do chores, but there are some chores, especially with animals, which have to be done in the mornings. We are going to need to educate the parents to make other arrangements for their chores and ensure their children are at school punctually, but that will take time.

There is a hair raising tale to tell of timetables. Christine shows us hers, and then that for Biti school. (Remember that every head teacher has had to write a timetable and not one of them has had any training in the art). Christine has every class covered, but at the expense of her staff. Rwandan teacher contracts stipulate a 40 hour week, with actual class contact time varying between 24 (secondary) and 30 (primary) hours. The cost of covering all her classes means that all her staff are on 38-40 hour contact time. They have almost no time for marking or preparation, and they aren’t happy. In addition, many of them are trying to do degree courses at evening classes in the town, and others are going to special English classes set up over the last few weeks to improve their ability to communicate with their classes. They are underpaid, undervalued and not necessarily bolshy or lazy.

At Biti, by comparison, the head has stuck rigidly to a 30 hour maximum contact time, and with the teachers she has been allocated by the government it means there are lots of classes left unsupervised. So we have reception children in first year left to their own devices in classes of around 50 for long periods of time. There is simply nobody to teach them. Rwanda doesn’t have any system of ancillary teachers, teaching assistants, or surveillants. The safety implications are worrying, to put it mildly. We agree that I will raise the issue at my meeting tomorrow with Claude as a matter of the highest priority. This is, after all, exactly why Claude wanted me to visit schools and see what was going on.

We go into a couple of lessons, an STE (sciences terre et √©conomie) which is doing farm implements exactly the same as at Mbare yesterday, and then a good maths lesson. The teacher sticks to English the whole time. She is actually doing some maths, but the children are working far behind where they should be at this age because they’re using most of their brains to remember the correct words for numbers in English. Eighty three minus fifty one is not easy when you’re only ten and you’re doing all this in your third language. I marvel at the teachers’ dedication and the sheer sticking power of most of the children.

We leave Christine’s school after a couple of hours and walk back to the flat. We have a long lunch break and write up our report. I’ve made another of my fresh salsas; Soraya goes across the road and comes back with bread so fresh it’s almost still warm. We dine on cheddar cheese sandwiches and salsa.

In the afternoon we walk all the way back to Kabgayi to visit Goretti’s school (Kabgayi “A”). This turns out to be a very different proposition. First of all Goretti herself asks to speak in French rather than English. Goretti is nervous and defensive, but much more seriously the place seems almost at a standstill because they haven’t received specific instructions as to what to do. They seem to be petrified to take any initiative in case it turns out to be the wrong move and they get criticised. So, for example, they don’t know whether religious education is supposed to be in French, Kinyarwanda or English, so they’re not doing it. Likewise the “General Paper” in infants, and the Social Studies component in juniors. There is a well established Social Studies syllabus, but it, and the newly arrived books, are in French, and they don’t feel competent to translate it.

The afternoon feels as though it has become one long complaint and list of reasons why they can’t or shouldn’t do various things. I feel like banging my head against a wall at one point.

The most surreal moment comes when I look at some children’s books. The year 4 STE teacher is doing farm implements, just like those at Mbare and Kabgayi “B”. And here’s the difference: at both the other schools the teacher wrote in English and tried her best to explain in English. Despite my mocking her pronunciation, the Mbare teacher did at least try her best to teach in English. Here at Kabgayi “A” the teacher has drawn all the implements on the board and the children have dutifully copied them into their books. But there’s not a word of explanation in any language, and the whole lesson has been conducted in silence. The teacher says she can’t cope with the English; she’s not supposed to be teaching in French, so she opts to play safe and not say anything at all. I can’t think of anything which better illustrates the Rwandan terror of being found to be in the wrong. My God, what a situation! How on earth are these children ever going to learn and become confident users of English in this environment.

At about this point I decide I need to get out of the school to preserve my sanity. The three schools will have an NAHT volunteer arriving on Wednesday to help them, at my behest, and I need somehow to brief this woman before she launches into them!

Back at the flat just before it rains, I write my report. The walk home with Soraya has given me time to simmer down. I’ve now been to three schools in a day and a half, and have three more to do before the weekend, plus ten more next week. I do a quick flick round the market. We haven’t had much fruit for a long time; we keep intending to ask Janine to get us the fruit salad ingredients at Rwanda prices, but I can’t wait. I get a lovely ripe pineapple for a good price, and do even better on ripe avocadoes.

Tom gets out his new oven and we have a three course dinner of avocado, spicy pasta bake, and fresh pineapple chunks. I can almost sense the roughage building up in me……

Best thing about today – being out to schools, the weather, our evening meal.

Worst thing – nothing. Bring it on!

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