Friday, 6 February 2009

Jane, the most gorgeous headteacher in Rwanda...

February 5th

I manage to get the modem off Claude today; he’s preoccupied with a group of three head teachers just arriving to work in Muhanga. Now this starts ringing alarm bells. Firstly, Nicole and I have been talking about whether we should offer to do some INSET for newly appointed heads, because there doesn’t seem to be anything doing at official level, at least not here in the district. Secondly, there seem to be far too many new heads; there are no schools that I’m aware of which don’t have anybody in post. I think we might be going into something new, a system where the primary schools extending into nine years’ basic education are being renamed “groupes scolaires” and have an assistant head as well as an overall head. The assistant head is probably going to be someone straight from university, reasonably fluent in English, and responsible for the tronc commun section of the school.

My list of contact numbers is printed off and stuck on the office wall for anyone to use; I’ve made it clear that it’s an interim version until we clarify some missing details. And if we really are having a lot of assistant heads appointed, then they ought to be added to the list. The trouble is, as always, trying to pin Claude down on the specifics. I’ve already asked him if we’re going out to inspect Remera school this afternoon (one of our poorest performers). On Tuesday he was definite about coming with me; today he says he is too busy and that we’ll have to put it off to next Tuesday. I don’t mind because I haven’t rung the school yet, but I bet there’ll be some other good reason for delaying when we come to next Tuesday.

At half past eight I walk down the road to inspect Nyabisindu, one of our nearest schools. I’m expecting to find Florent, the secteur rep, in his office. Instead I find some gorgeous looking young girl. She’s introduced to me. She’s Jane (I think I’ve got that right; it’s a very unusual name for a Rwandan woman and sounds too westernised to be true). Jane is one of these assistant heads. She’s straight out of university, competent in English, and very, very pleasant. She’s also the same age as my youngest daughter, and here she is trying to run a school of just under a thousand pupils. Florent’s there as well, but I never quite get to the bottom of who’s responsible for what. Jane’s been in post for just two days, and I’m the first official visitor she’s had. She's dressed like a model and has a figure to die for. Just about the complete opposite of the "traditional African ladies" who occupy a lot of the other positions....

We do the usual stuff about how the school’s coping with all the changes. I ask to visit some lessons. I’d like to see social studies and “General Paper”, but I’m always being steered away from them towards Maths, Science or English. I know the reason – there aren’t any textbooks in English and they’re terrified of criticism because they’re either having to teach in French or, worse, they’re not teaching anything at all. It says so much for the Rwandan state of mind that they’d rather not teach a class, and risk having discipline trouble, than just get on with it and run the risk of being accused of teaching the wrong thing or doing it in the wrong language. Nobody is willing to go out on a limb. Nobody’s willing to use their initiative. There’s no creativity, no lateral thinking. Everyone’s waiting for Kigali to dot the ”I”s and cross the “T”s and tell them exactly what to do. It’s driving me nuts!

I see a good maths lesson with yr 4. The teacher is competent and her English is good. Children sidle up to her and whisper to her in Kinyarwanda if they don’t understand something, but she’s having none of it and tells them to speak in English or go back and sit down. So they have to try their English, which is good.

I join the same class after break for English. This teacher, Judith, has them doing group work which is an excellent thing, but all her instructions are in Kinyarwanda and for an English lesson there’s just far too much Kinya being spoken in the classroom. At the end of the lesson the children are getting all the work right, and I’m more than a bit suspicious that this is yet another one of these re-runs of a lesson she’s already given them. Hmm! How do I grade that lesson?

Back at the office Emmanuelle comes in; she shows me a report she’s written in English on some training her secteur did earlier in January. I correct and smooth the language, and then realise that I’ve scribbled over her official copy for the mayor, so I offer to type it up for her. She jumps at the offer, so I spend half an hour doing it and she goes off all smiles with four top copies in English so good that the chargé will think a miracle has happened during a week’s training course!

In the afternoon I plan to visit Shyogwe; I have money to give to Stéphanie and I want to visit some of her classes. But unfortunately I can’t get through to her on her phone, and I’m not going all the way out there on the off chance. Instead, I have a siesta (I’m beginning to get run down with all these early mornings and late nights), and start translating Social Science work for year 4 at Gatenzi and anywhere else that needs it.

Well, it’s nearly ten o’clock at night again and I’m a quarter of the way through one book out of three that need translating. I’m very tired and I’m calling it a day. Thank God it’s Friday tomorrow!

Best thing about today – meeting some bright, enthusiastic new young heads – four of them so far.

Worst thing – nothing really; it’s just that at the moment there seems to be so much work to do! And I really ought to get talking to Claude about training for these new heads.

The headline in the "New Times" today is that Electrogaz have fixed the water problems at Gisenyi so people no longer need to draw water from the lake. Can't have all this negative publicity interfering with their grand plans, now can we? It wouldn't fit Rwanda's "onwards and upwards" image to have people dying of cholera.....

I'd love to have been a fly on the wall during some phone calls between the President's office and Electrogaz headquarters!

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