Tuesday, 27 January 2009

wierbollows in Shyogwe

January 20th

Up early as usual and off to the office. Tom, meanwhile is back to Kigali and breaks his record by taking barely 25 minutes from out of bed to out of the house. There’s no way I can do things that fast and I’m not giving up breakfast for anybody!

On the way to the office I detour via the middle (earth) road and call in at Janine’s house to give her the key so that she can clean and collect our laundry. Now we’d arranged it all last night, but when I arrive she has to be dug out of bed by the housegirl, and a beautiful but sleepy eyed Janine comes to the door in her pink pyjamas. The three of you reading this who know Janine will understand the joke – she is never, ever, anything other than immaculate when she comes round to the flat – Janine couldn’t be scruffy if she tried. So, of course, I pull her leg.

Fortunately her first evening at University (last night) has gone well; they seem to have been talked at rather than done a lot of serious work, but she’s still keen.

At the office I manage to get the modem off Claude and download the Antivirus programme, and generally catch up on even more emails. Védaste asks me to help him; his personal laptop has some strange pattern of markings on the screen. It can’t be from dropping it or jabbing the screen with something sharp; it has to be a virus. Fortunately, because I still have the modem, I can upgrade his virus catcher, and then we check the two flash drives he’s using. One has only about 5 or 6 viruses on it; the other has 44. And he wonders why his machine is crashing?

At lunchtime I collect the key back from Janine (who by now is dressed, as usual, like a model, but is engaged in doing our laundry), and chug back to “Tranquillité” where I’ve arranged to eat with Soraya. Then it’s off on a moto to Mbare school to meet Michael and do my first school visit of 2009. I like Mbare and I like Iphigénie, the head. The school sits on a hilltop surrounded by banana fields; you’d never guess that if you walked a couple of hundred yards in one direction you would see the whole of Gitarama laid out before you.

The visit goes well. Iphigénie, as per when I did the formal inspection, is well organised and just so pleasant. She’s only had a couple of hours warning that I’m coming, so everything is very much “as you find us”, including herself who is late getting back for the afternoon session because of some domestic crisis. I’m not so keen on the teachers who are hanging around outside their doors gossiping just because Iphigénie isn’t there to crack the whip at them. Honestly, they’re worse than some of the children. As soon as they see her approaching they scuttle back into their rooms.

Among the problems are the ones we suspected – teachers have been doing INSET courses virtually non stop since the end of the autumn term – ICT, Maths, Science, English, and the extra hours they are having to work this term are putting all sorts of stress on them. Marking and lesson preparation are suffering.

The text books they use in subjects like maths are still in French, but they are having to do the teaching in English. (For example, how many of you reading this blog could give commands to add, subtract, divide or multiply in French)?

The lunchtime is too short for the teachers to eat properly, and certainly not long enough to enable them to go home to eat, which is what most of them had been doing. The answer seems to be to shorten the morning and afternoon breaks, and I’m sure that’s what Iphigénie will do in due course.

Also, we predicted that writing a timetable would prove to be a problem, and in Mbare’s case it has given real hassle. They have a very big year 4 which needs splitting into three classes to keep within the government’s maximum of 50 children per class. So they actually have 11 teachers but every afternoon there are 12 classes to teach. So either Iphigénie has to buckle down and teach (which she shouldn’t do because she’s needed to manage the place and do internal lesson observations, to say nothing covering for absent staff), or a whole series of classes does “General Studies” or “Social Studies” untaught. It’s not a recipe for success, and it’s to the children’s credit that the place is remarkably quiet during our visit even though there are at least two classes going untaught (another teacher is off ill, which is worrying at this stage of the term).

The extent of the problems facing these schools becomes apparent when I sit in on a year 5 Social Studies lesson. They’re doing the provinces of Rwanda – a simple map of Rwanda with the vocabulary of North/South etc and Northern, Southern. Not more than about ten words of English, but the word order can be tricky if you’re used to French (Province de l’Est = Eastern province). The teacher is pretty good with his English, but a lot of the children are very weak. “What’s this province?” says the teacher. “Eet ees Rwanda” answers a boy at the back. I really feel for the teacher, especially with a muzungu in the room. At the end of the lesson I give them some pronunciation practise and at least get them all up to speed with the compass directions. What more can I do?

Michael leaves at afternoon break to go to a meeting with Bishop Jared at Shyogwe Diocese Office; this is when he’s going to broach with Jared the possibility of our borrowing the Diocesan 4x4 to go up country and do a general inspection at Nyabinoni. If Jared wants any more leaning on, then I’ll see him and lend support – but I think Michael’s probably more persuasive than I am!

My second lesson is yr 3 STE – science and technology. The lady teacher has prepared beautifully, with a blackboard full of drawings of farming implements, and has brought examples of almost all of them to show the children. So far so good, but her pronunciation is so poor it negates everything else. A hoe is a hoo; a rake is a lake (this Rwandan mixing of “R” and “L” sounds), and I can barely keep a straight face when she says “you use a wierbollow to carry the sowa”. (You use a wheelbarrow to carry the soil). I try to correct the pronunciation with the children, but they’re too used to this woman’s version and mine is harder for them.

So, what do we conclude? – at one level the schools are coping remarkably well with these changes. The heads are stressed to the limit, and the class teachers worn out already in the second week of term. But classes are under 50, English is being used, and double shifting is in place. Only about half the previous amount of material is being taught in each lesson, but its early days and we live in hope that things will improve.

One example of just how confusing the changeover is comes in maths. Do they use American English or English English? In one room I see “four hundred twenty six” on the board (American version). Raima on Saturday asked me whether she is to put commas or full stops to indicate thousands (i.e. 1,000 or 1.000). Do we write today’s date as 20/01/2009 or 01/20/2009? All these decisions need taking and communicating. I tell Iphigénie to always use the English version, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

I walk all the way home from Mbare; I did this walk in November and know every inch of the way, so it’s a relaxing end to the working day. I just get home before we have a huge downpour which lasts some three hours, unusually long for Rwanda.

Tom gets back from Kigali very tired again, and we combine to cook up a storm including a precious tin of herrings which he brought from England.

In the evening we listen to Barak Obama’s coronation on World Service. The whole of East Africa is ecstatic about having a black man in the White House, and expectations are high, especially in his ancestral Kenya. We listen to his inauguration speech, where he systematically ticks all the boxes – military, African roots, slavery, religion etc. Both of us can’t resist thinking about who wrote the speech, and we have in mind Toby Zeigler from “West Wing” and his team of helpers, drafting and re-drafting to exhaustion point. It’s a good speech and I really hope he can deliver. If it all turns sour there will be plenty of people here in Africa ready to quote it back to him.

Christi’s back from America today, and Tom has picked her up at the airport, so the only one of our regular gang not yet back is Tinks. There are domestic reasons why she can’t return yet, but she’ll be with us some time in February.

Best thing about today – getting my antivirus fixed; visiting a school. And there are two more booked for tomorrow.

Worst thing about today – still no keys, just a delayed Christmas card for Tom and Christi. I’m trying to break in a pair of new shoes during the evenings and they are giving my feet hell. I think my feet must have swollen in the heat out here.

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