Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The "How to....." guide for Education Managers

January 12th

Up at half past five; it’s only just light and feels impossibly early. Fortunately, once I’m properly awake I can get ready quickly and by just after half past six I’m out on the street in the fresh air. I’ve forgotten how nice it is to be up and about early here in Gitarama. At seven I’m off to Kigali on the bus. In my pocket is the dreaded flat key; once Kigali I mooch round the town centre trying to find somewhere to get a copy cut, preferably by someone who seems to have the right equipment and knows what they’re doing. Oh yeah! Some hopes! There’s not a single key cutter apparent anywhere in the town centre, and that’s ridiculous because the whole place is a warren of tiny workshops.

I don’t have time to search for long, because I have to be at the VSO office by 9.00. I just make it, and find myself plunged straight away into work. We’re producing a couple of “how to….” guides; in my case I’m one of 5 volunteers doing a “How to be a District Education Adviser” guide. The others have already been working on it for a week because almost all of them stayed over in Rwanda at Christmas. So I have to hit the ground running. In some ways that’s an easy job; after all I’ve been doing the job for a year. But the huge changes which are supposed to be starting this very morning (first day of the school year), after almost no preparation, are another matter altogether.

Fortunately someone has managed to get hold of a written copy of the document from MINEDUC setting out the proposed changes, and I hide myself away for a while to read it and try to absorb the implications. The more times I go through it, the more I can see what Mineduc thinks it can gain from the changes, but at the same time I can see lots of problems ahead. And the document rarely talks about the quality of education; it’s preoccupied with costs and the sheer volume of students. I think what it boils down to is that the Rwandan government is determined at any cast to meet the relevant Millennium Development Goad in 2015 because if it fails it might not attract overseas aid to the extent that it does at present. And if it can be held up as the golden example of African progressive development there might be all sorts of spin off with extra cash and foreign investment.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in any of my Muhanga primary schools today and just see whether they descent into total chaos or whether they simply ignore the new orders and start as they always have done. Secondary schools always seem to take a fortnight or so to get going at the start of the term, so I doubt whether it has affected any of their children yet.

We work hard throughout the day, punctuated by a super lunch inside the VSO building. I have been left to write the section on Inspections, because they’re seen as my special forte. Then I’m going through other sections with Mans or Joe or Sonya and smoothing the language and linking the text to dozens of example files which we’re putting as appendices. We are producing a written booklet and also a CD of materials. The ultimate objective is that all new volunteers doing our role will have a complete manual of not just what they’re supposed to be doing, but all the supporting documents they need – central strategic planning documents from MINEDUC, local examples of things like school census forms and primary exam results sheets which Mans and I took months to discover when we first arrived here. I would have given my right arm for this level of information when I got to Rwanda this time last year! I hope that VSO will send this material to all new volunteers before they leave England so they can do some reading and preparation before they arrive. It shows the extent to which VSO is getting more and more professional in its approach and moving further away from the pioneering days of sticking an intelligent westerner out in the outback and leaving them to find something to do and then make a difference!

By half past three we’re coming to a standstill and we’re all tired. I leave and hike down to Kersty’s house to deliver some goodies v- chocolate and cheese – which I’ve brought out from home and stored in the VSO office freezer all day. I daren’t leave them in the office overnight ‘cos I’m certain they’ll disappear if it do!

Kersty’s not there but I persuade the day guard (who must be new because we don’t recognise each other) to let me leave the stuff in her fridge for her. Then it’s a hurried trip on a tiny matata bus to Nyabogogo where I have been told there’s a decent key cutting workshop. I go to the right place, but there’s no sign of a workshop. I ask some of the locals and they direct me to one particular business. This consists of a tine room about the size of your average sitting room, containing two tiny booths for taking photos (every Rwandan document seems to need a passport-sized photo on it), a hairdressing chair and equipment, and a huge array of computers and DVD players which looks as though it’s a factory for making pirate DVDs. There’s a constant stream of people through the doors, mainly youngsters getting photos for school enrolment papers.

What’s conspicuously missing is any trace of key cutting hardware. I’m just about to give up when someone asks me what I want, so I explain. Yes, says this man, he’ll get me a key cut. He asks a ridiculous price and we haggle for five minutes until we agree on something which is too expensive but not outrageous. Then he takes my key and disappears round the corner. Twenty minutes is all he needs, he says. He’s obviously gone to find a mate somewhere who can get the key done. I have no alternative but to sit and wait. It crosses my mind that he might have swanned off with my key, but it wouldn’t be any use to him because he doesn’t know who I am or where I live, and he’s after my money which he won’t get without a copied key.

Thirty minutes later, just as I’m starting to get seriously worried and the light is fading fast and I’m worried about getting the last bus back to Gitarama, he reappears with a copy. The cutting looks as though it might just possibly fit. It’s certainly heaps better than the copy I had made in Gitarama market. So I pay, and have to travel home in a cramped, slow matata instead of the comfortable express bus.

On the way home we have to stop because some woman is refusing to pay the amount the conductor demands, and for fully five minutes there’s a stand up row between this woman and the driver and conductor. Then everyone else starts getting involved, some on one side and some on the other. It’s now dark; we just all want to get home. Because the haranguing is all in Kinyarwanda I don’t know how the situation is resolved; the woman gets off at this point but I can’t tell if it’s where she wanted to be dropped or not.

We finally stagger in to Gitarama. I’m very, very tired. The new key doesn’t work in the lock, and I decide I’m just going to hang on now and wait for the original to arrive in the post. I’ve done my best to get a key cut but the system has defeated me. Tom’s made a lovely meal, and after we’ve eaten we both opt for an early night.

Best thing about today – getting on with this “how to….” Guide.

Worst thing – keys. I hate keys.

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