Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Measles, potato mildew and cinnamon pancakes

February 24th

I spend an hour fiddling around trying to phone Cyeza school; neither the number for the primary head nor that for the T C head seem to be working. So in the end I give up and arrange to go and see Mata school out in Muhanga secteur. Mata also has a tronc commun section, and what I really want to do is see how the TC sections are settling down.

I show Claude the draft certificates for good achievement that I’ve done for the best performing primary schools; he’s very happy with them and tells me to do some for the best secondaries as well. I want to find some decent card to print them on, but I remember from last year that the very thick card doesn’t go well through either the computer printers or the big offset machine upstairs.

As I take a (slow) moto out to Mata I’ve got time to look around me. It’s a fabulous morning. After Sunday’s rain the air is clear; it’s very cool and crisp, and every single line of hills stands out sharply. The sun is low and everything is backlit to perfection. It’s “good to be alive” weather. In the valley floors there is dense white mist, flat topped as if someone had levelled it with a ruler, and as we grind our way along the tarmac road I can see the mist slowly rising as the sun draws it out of the valleys.

By the time I reach Mata school the mist has risen to road level and visibility is down to a few yards. That means that if we hear an Onatracom bus charging towards us we have to get on to the verge and cringe – the stupid bus drivers stop for nobody and take no account of road conditions. They rely on the fact that their vehicles are built like tanks, and however many other people they kill, they will always come out unscathed.

Mata has long drives, one more than a kilometre long, but I find it easier to use an unofficial entrance which is a steep ramp up from the tarmac road. To my surprise I find that this has been made into a nice flight of concrete steps since my last visit. But when I reach the top of the steps the fog is so dense I can’t get my bearings. Fortunately I’ve been to this school twice before and know it must be slightly uphill from where I’m standing, so I grope through the fog until, sure enough, I see the buildings looming just above me. If it was a school I’d never visited before I would have had great difficulty finding the place.

Claudine, the head of the primary section, remembers me and makes me welcome. Mugabo, the head of the TC section, also knows me because I’ve printed off a lot of syllabus material for him. They have partitioned Claudine’s office into two. I’m still not exactly sure how this new system works; Claudine and Mugabo seem to have a modus operandi as two equal heads of the two parts of the school, but at Kabgayi I know that the TC heads insist that they are the overall heads of the whole school and the existing and very experienced primary head is relegated to a deputy head position. It’s a strange set-up and I don’t really like it. It makes me feel uneasy, especially when I know the primary heads very well and the TC heads are total strangers.

I do my usual dipstick inspection with Claudine, and we watch a maths lesson. The children are yr 4 and are still struggling somewhat with English numbers. They’re very reluctant to speak in English even when they’re confident with the maths operations. But there are children sitting by the door who never volunteer answers to questions, and the teacher never goes near them, so they daydream contentedly all through the lesson. And the children don’t seem to want to take the initiative and use tables to solve the enumeration questions he has set, so most of them end up with only two or three correct answers out of seven. It’s all a bit listless and feeble. And, of course, the room is bleak and bare with virtually nothing up on the walls, nothing to stimulate or help them. There’s just one rice sack poster from the training session Cathie and I did here back in June, and it’s drooping, out of context and all but forgotten, in one corner.

The tronc commun section is based in the better rooms, and the primary children have had to reoccupy the older rooms with lower ceilings and no glass in the windows.

I see two lessons in the TC part, an English one and a Science one. The English lesson is pretty dreadful. The teacher is acutely nervous of having a native English speaker in with him. He shouts rather than talks, and in the entire lesson he does nothing more than revise material they’ve already covered. The class consists of 33 young people with ages ranging from about 13 or 14 up to well beyond English student age. I’d say the oldest are in their mid twenties. I’ve no doubt that some of the women are married and with children. (And bear in mind that this is a first year secondary class – year 7 in English parlance).

The entire lesson is spent listening to this man haranguing them and answering the questions he fires at them to check understanding. There’s absolutely nothing remotely active or participative in their learning, and nothing contextual or to give interest. If this were to be an English school, the class would have rioted or walked out after thirty minutes.

Then I go into a science lesson. Here, again, we spend twenty minutes revising previous work but at least the woman covers some new material. I can’t work out how what she’s doing relates in any logical way to a syllabus. It’s all about diseases, and is simply a list of diseases, their symptoms, their causes and their prevention. But in one lesson she’s covering viruses and fungal diseases, she’s covering diseases of humans and plants – it’s a mish mash. So after 45 minutes I’ve learned all about measles and potato mildew, and about a human scalp disease called Tenia which is new to me.

This tronc commun section seems to have no books or resource materials at all. It consists of 33 children in a room, and a teacher using his or her notes, which I wouldn’t mind betting are their notes from when they themselves were at secondary school. How on earth can we teach science to “world class standards”, as the government intends, and prepare these children to compete with their counterparts in Europe and Asia, when there’s not a book in the entire place?

I’m in the middle of debriefing with Mugabo when Claude suddenly arrives at the school. And he’s not alone. With him is an official Rwandan Government school inspector. Fortunately the inspector is looking at buildings and facilities rather than classes, and both he and I see the funny side of both of us descending on the same school. I tell him what I’ve seen in terms of lack of resources, and he shrugs and says it’s the same everywhere. He doesn’t quite say “what idiot decided that all this change had to be done instantly and without any preparation?”, but it’s implied in his tone.

Claude and the inspector go on to look at Mushushiro; I go back to Gitarama. I’m determined not to have to hire a moto or a vĂ©lo taxi, so I walk a mile or so up the road, and sure enough I’m able to hitch a life. Here I am in Rwanda. In a Japanese made lorry, with a Congolese driver and a Chinese civil engineer. Yes folks, it’s the Chinese road builders coming to my rescue yet again! We eventually find that I can speak in French to the Congolese driver, and he can simplify Kinyarwanda enough to talk to the Chinese guy. They drop me right outside the office, and I give the driver money for a fanta. The beam on his face says that if I ever meet him again he’ll always stop for me!

Back at the office I write my report and go home. Hayley and Charlotte drop in to remind me its pancake day today, so I whizz round the market with them and buy up some veg. Tom is working late again in Kigali, and by the time he arrives I’ve got avocado and salsa all ready, and also the batter for pancakes. We nip across the road and buy a couple of bottles of Primus while we decide what we’re going to do with our batter. In the end we make a macedoine of vegetables and fry them till cooked, then pour most of our batter over the top so that we have a thick vegetable pancake. It’s something between a filled pancake and an omelette special with flour rather than eggs, but it works. It’s certainly very filling!

And then to crown the day, we have proper pancakes with cinnamon and syrup. (Thank you, Cathie, for leaving us a little tub of cinnamon powder when you left!).

At this point we’ve barely got enough energy to do the washing up, and by just after nine o’clock I’m tucked up in bed listening to music.

Best thing about today – the food, the lift home, being out in the countryside.

Worst thing – the lack of resources in the tronc commun sections of our schools, and the poor deal these wretched children are getting. If they could spend a week seeing the amount of kit and resources their English counterparts take for granted, there’d be a revolution here in Rwanda tomorrow….

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