Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Results day at Gitarama

January 22nd

Into the office for seven o’clock; I know Claude has a big meeting he wants me to attend but I don’t know when it is. Emmanuelle rings me as I’m walking to work and tells me the meeting is at ten, and is for all the Headteachers, and won’t necessarily finish by early afternoon. That means that I can’t do my visit to her school, as I had intended, and also I can’t ring a substitute to do a compliance check on the new curriculum. So I have a blank afternoon to do some preparation for English lessons for the District Office staff. (Or so it looks at half past six….)

As soon as I get into the office, everything changes. Within seconds of opening up we’re mobbed by head teachers. It’s results day, not just for the primary P 6 exams but also for tronc commun. There is so much riding on these results for children – whether they have to repeat a year; whether they can go to secondary school, not to mention family pride. Even one of our cleaning ladies is patiently waiting in a corner to be put out of her misery as to how well her daughter has done. (Between us we find her child’s results quickly, and the little girl has passed very well).

Valerian, the Chargé, slaps two fat envelopes of results papers onto the table. There is only one copy of results for each school, and a dozen hands immediately start rifling through them to find what has happened at their particular school. I’m horrified – we need to make at least one copy of all the results slips because if the heads go off with the originals we have nothing to show what their results were. We only have one, very slow photocopying machine. Why on earth didn’t Claude call the meeting for Friday and give us all time to get things photocopied, and even a preliminary analysis of all the results done?

I’m redundant in the middle of all this excitement, so I settle down at the photocopier and in half an hour I have copied about eight schools’ results; all of Shyogwe secteur and a couple of others.

Just to make life even more exciting, this year they’ve completely changed the format of results. Languages (English, French, Kinyarwanda) results are not shown separately but amalgamated into one score. The overall scores are not given as percentages but as a number; I have no idea what the number actually means (is it a percentage compressed into a single digit number; does a “6” represent a score within a range of percentages)? Also this year they have classified results into four tiers – “Grand Distinction”; “Distinction”; “Satisfaction”; “Passable”. Note that these terms are all in French at a time when we are supposed to be speaking English. Best of all, the pupil with the lowest mark has the best result. So a total score of 3 means the child is exceptionally bright; a score of 27 suggests there’s nothing but fresh air between their ears.

When I get a few minutes to myself I start tabulating results, and find that the pass rates are enormously higher than last year. In English terms it’s like when we went from “O” level to GCSE and almost all the students passed. The words “pass” and “fail” lost their meanings and what really mattered was the grade you obtained. Well, the same is happening here in Rwanda today. Good schools like Ruli ADEPR and Gitarama primary are doing a lot of hand slapping over the number of their “Grand Distinctions”.

So in the very last year of the P 6 exams they have given us the results in a completely new format which makes it very difficult to draw comparisons with previous years. As I write this I can’t work out how I can show whether a school is on a continuous upwards trend with its results, or completely variable. To a certain extent my Rwandan colleagues aren’t bothered; every year’s results seem to be taken as isolated events and there’s little interest in longer term trends.

I start explaining something to a teacher in French and get told off by Claude who wants me to use only English. Then two minutes later I’m being demanded to tell them the English word for a stapler and staples.

Just before nine the pandemonium subsides; Claude has gathered up all the results and taken them into his office. I go and liberate them and in about an hour I have half of the entire results in summary form on my laptop. Now I’ve got a constant procession of teachers coming round behind me and tripping over my power cable, trying to copy their percentages from my computer screen.

At just before ten I go to the Maison de Culture, where the meeting is being held. I should be one of the last to arrive, but the place is three quarters empty. They arrive in dribs and drabs; I’m tucked away at the back, and the meeting finally starts just before eleven. Absolutely nobody except me has switched off their mobile phones, and every minute there’s a naff ring tone (“jingle bells”, I mean, come on chaps). Claude publicly asks me whether I mind if the meeting is in Kinyarwanda. Nanki bazo, I reply – I’m not worried. I’ve got one of the nice heads besides me who will translate just enough to keep me aware of what’s being discussed.

So for the next two and a half hours I’m trying and failing to stay alert in a stuffy room in a meeting I can’t really follow. Some of the topics being covered are to do with the new primary curriculum, and are the same issues I’ve picked up on my school visits. But because everything is in Kinyarwanda I can’t work out what they’ve decided. I nearly get up and give my version at one point, but decide that it’s their meeting. So I keep mum. I’ll talk to Claude at some later time. Other topics covered include pupils using mobile phones in class (now there’s an indication of how fast Rwanda is developing!); the new specialisms being offered by upper secondary schools, and the usual squabbles about money.

After the meeting I go to “Tranquillité”; it’s nearly two o’clock and I’m starving.
Michael is there, fuming because his motor bike has broken down yet again and prevented him for visiting Muhazi school this afternoon. I tell him not to bother; the head of Muhazi was in the meeting this morning, and is probably spending the afternoon gossiping with the other heads instead of returning to her school. He’ll have a wasted visit if he goes. The clutch cable on his bike is giving endless trouble, it’s the result of a crash somebody’s had on the bike in the distant past (maybe it was Geert coming off the machine on a bad road). Also the bike is drinking oil and petrol and costing Mike a small fortune in fuel.

We catch up on our various school visits (he is doing the same dipstick inspections as me, but concentrating on the local Anglican schools. I’ve got Catholic, Pentecostal, Adventist – you name it, I visit it)! I tell him about the results just in, and in a flash of inspiration I suggest he comes back to the office with me and we’ll photocopy all the Anglican school results for him.

So that’s what we do, and it fills the afternoon. We can’t do all his schools, but we do most of them. Various heads have taken swathes of results sheets and gone to find commercial photocopiers in the papeteries in town – the office photocopier is just too slow to cope, and today we’ve already used an entire fortnight’s worth of paper. Goodness knows when these heads will bring back the top copies of the sheets they have taken, but please, please let’s hope they do so!

By four o’clock I’m tired, and we go our ways, me with three secteurs’ worth of results in my rucksack to analyse for homework. I want to have done the analysis of all the schools which the new NAHT volunteers will be particularly supporting, and I need to give all this information to these people as part of their local briefing. I have discovered that one is called Sally and the other is Nicole, but I don’t know which is covering Cyeza and which is covering Shyogwe. The new volunteer based with Hayley is an Australian girl called Charlotte; I’ve seen her photo but know very little about her except that she’s about 24 and very well travelled.

At the flat I work right through the evening with a small pause to help Tom prepare our meal. We have a precious tin of chicken curry that Tom has brought back from England with him, and avocadoes and pineapple as starter and pudding, so its an absolute feast. We need it; we’re both working really hard at the moment, just as hard as if we were back in our respective old jobs in England.

Best thing about today – feeling welcomed by all the heads, and getting stuck into work.

Worst thing – nothing. That’s two really super days in a row. Two school visits tomorrow and then it’s PARTY WEEKEND in Kigali!

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