Wednesday, 28 January 2009

"ten old years" in Ruli

January 27th

Up early even though I don’t need to be – but there’s a lot to do today. I can’t believe how hectic life suddenly is, after all those occasions last year when there never seemed to be enough to be getting on with.

Today we have hot water, and plenty of water pressure in the taps for the first time since Friday, so happiness is a warm shower and a leisurely shave. I work at home for the first hour, then trundle up through town to Janine’s house to give her the key so she can clean. Fortunately she lives only a couple of hundred yards from my office. (It’s supposed to be the safest location for private housing in Gitarama, with police station, District Office, law courts and inland revenue office – all with armed guards – within shouting distance).

I drop off some papers in the office and then take a moto out to Ruli catholic primary. What I thought would just be a short check up turns out to take the entire morning. Ruli was very weak last year, but has had a good set of exam results which have propelled it well above the District average. Secondly its teachers, more than any other in the schools I have visited this term, have rolled up their sleeves and are having a good go at teaching in English in years 4 and 5. Even social studies is being taught in English. This is really encouraging, especially after the half heartedness I’ve seen in some schools.

I sit in on three lessons; the year 4’s are learning about their District. Geography is so downplayed in Rwandan schools that these children don’t even recognise a map of Muhanga when they see it; they don’t know how many secteurs there are, or even where their own (Shyogwe) secteur is on the map. There’s so much emphasis on maths and languages here that almost everything else is sidelined. In the new primary curriculum there’s no science until year 4. The first three years are: English 6 hrs a week, Maths 5 hrs, Kinyarwanda 5, “General paper” 3 and compulsory extra curricular activities 2 (giving 21 hours in all). For years 4-6 the curriculum is English 5, Maths 5, Science and Technology 5, Kinyarwanda 3, Social Studies 3 and extra curricular activities 2. Humanities, arts, sport and even religion are all sidelined.

To show you how great the level of confusion is (and how difficult communication is in rural Rwanda), the schools don’t know for sure whether there will be a P 6 exam next year, or what language it will be in if there is one, or whether there will be something at District level to replace it. I know the answers to these questions as I’m writing this blog in the evening, because I talked it all through with Claude. But the schools don’t yet know, and the only way I can contact them is to text them. (By the way, the answers are yes, there will be one final P 6 exam in 2009; it will be available in French and English and schools can choose which language they will use for it (identical questions in 2 languages), and there will be some sort of District wide assessment each year to decide who is promoted up a year and who has to redouble.

Tomorrow I must make ten minutes to at very least text the seven schools I’ve visited this January with this information. Roll on the day when we can communicate electronically with even the most isolated backwoods primary!

I spend the breaktime doing a tour round all the classrooms. These range from light and airy to appalling. The very oldest rooms date from the original mission school of the 1950s – narrow, cramped, with earth floor and leaky roof. It’s made of drystone and is simply not fit for purpose. Ruli is supposed to be starting a Tronc Commun section this term, but when the men from Mineduc came to look at the school they realised there wasn’t a hope in hell of fitting extra children in the oldest rooms. So the rooms that were supposed to be for the year 7-9 pupils are being used by the younger ones, and a building programme will be started this year ready for a January 2010 start. Meanwhile the tronc commun children who were due to come to Ruli are going to Gitarama primary instead.

On a blackboard there are the remains of English sentences, obviously written by teachers. One lovely little piece has confused our word order and reads “I am ten old years”. Come to think of it, it puts a whole new slant to growing up. I like the phrase!

I get a moto back into town and hook up with Soraya at Tranquillité. Her wrist is still giving her a lot of trouble where she sprained it playing badminton over the Christmas break, and I know it’s worrying her. It’s definitely not broken, but it hurts to carry anything heavy, and in her house there’s always great jerry cans of water to heave about as well as sacks of charcoal. To cap everything she’s picked up a flea from the dog. Poor Soraya; she really does seem to have a hard time of it!

In the afternoon I go up to the District office. Claude’s out, and there’s a new lock on his door. Béatrice has a key, so I pinch his modem and do some blogging and emailing. One email is a reply from Charlotte at Programme Office to some data I sent her to pass on to DFID to give them feedback on the effects of all these curriculum changes. Apparently DFID have passed my report, and those of other VSOs, to Mineduc. Mineduc is now rightly embarrassed over what’s becoming clear is a totally botched attempt at curriculum change. There’s too much already committed to pull back, but there’s a growing acknowledgement that they’re going to need as many of us experienced Education managers as possible to help schools through the muddle.

Védaste wants to work on the analysis of my statistics, but we cannot find a missing sheet of data. I keep trying to phone Étienne to see if he knows the figures I want, but his phone is not working. Claude eventually returns and we have a catching up session, but by then it’s the end of the afternoon and there isn’t time to say all the things I need to say to him. He’s really happy with what I’ve done so far this term, but wants me to get on and start analysing the tronc commun data as soon as I’ve finished with the primary stuff.

One upshot of all this frantic activity is that English lessons for the District Office people are going to be put on hold until I’ve got some time to prepare them.

Tom’s in Kigali tonight, so back at the flat I cobble together something to eat; it’s not very appealing to look at but it’s certainly filling. Then I work solidly on statistics until nearly ten o’clock, by which time I’ve finished the big analysis of primary schools and there’s just this one page of data which is holding me up from completing all the rest.

I’ve got 2 newspapers sitting on my table unread; at the moment as soon as I finish one task I seem to land myself with two more to follow it.

Best thing about today – being busy. Going to visit schools for a second time is real fun: I know where they are, how to get to them, how much to pay a moto; I know the head teachers; I know what to expect when I get there. It’s easier to do a professional job, but it’s relaxing at the same time. Despite all the things I’m saying today about workload, I’m really happy and I know I’m being useful to everyone and starting to make a difference. You can’t ask for more than that!

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